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Old 09-07-2014, 05:16 PM
Status: "Summer!" (set 18 days ago)
Location: Foot of the Rockies
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Originally Posted by wburg View Post
There were two schools of thought during the Progressive Era intended to address the problem of cities. One asked, how do we fix the problems of cities? The results they came up with included better sanitation, sewage disposal, safe water, building safety codes, better public fire and hospitals, pollution controls and public education. The other asked, how do we escape the problems of cities? The result was suburban sprawl and subsidy of automobile transportation. The latter was easier as we had room to move, abundant energy and wealth, but progress never quite stopped on the former. Now that we are starting to run out of easy room, energy and wealth, we're returning to the more difficult work of urban repair, but it requires less subsidy of the "escape from the cities" strategy--even as the suburbs start to feel the effects of the same problems.
Define sprawl.
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Old 09-07-2014, 05:19 PM
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Originally Posted by kidphilly View Post
I don't mean actual house size I mean Household size

for example today the average HH size is 2.4 occupants in 1950 at the population peak it was 3.4. There were approximately the same number of housing units then but a ~30% reduction in HH size. So with a peak loss of 26% of population a majority is directly attributable to HH size change. Philly was mostly built out at the peak in 1950
Right, that's my mistake. Many cities have suffered from a lower household size. But blight and population drain has had just as large of an effect on many cities, and that's what we're focusing on here.
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Old 09-07-2014, 06:52 PM
Location: Chicago - Logan Square
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Pollution has definitely played a role in how desirable urban living has been, but in the US in the late 20th century I think the role it played is somewhat different than what you've posted. I think it helped enabled a return to many cities in the 90's, but didn't actually drive it.

I am old enough to remember a few cities getting rid of some of their worst polluters (my personal and family experiences were with Boston, London, and NYC). Every US city today is much, much cleaner than it was 40 or 50 years ago. I remember things like cleaning soot off our car on days when the garbage incineration plant was running, and closing my bedroom window when the wind was coming from the South to keep soot out of the house. My grandfather used to tell me stories about how much worse things were in the 20's, which is what he pegged as the worst time for pollution (we were all a bunch of wimps for complaining about the pollution of the late 60's/early 70's). My parents felt that things improved a lot after WWII, and then again in the 70's.

I saw the environment in Boston and NYC improve dramatically starting in the 70's. I think there are 3 things that played a large role in this: The creation of OSHA, The Clean Water Act, and strengthening of the Clean Air Act in 1970 (which started the phase out of leaded gas). I think the problem with saying that pollution was what led people to leave is that in most cities the greatest population drops were happening at the same time that urban environments were improving dramatically. You're right to point out that improvements began in the 50's, and then gained steam in the early 60's with the first Clean Air act. I think those improvements really took hold in the early 70's. Things had improved so much that the impact of the decline of manufacturing in the 80's was minimal at best.

Looking at it that way, that means that the same time period that saw the greatest improvement of urban environments (1953-1973) also saw the largest declines in urban populations. The declines continued in the 80's even as environmental improvements had taken hold and remained pretty steady. For that reason I don't think pollution drove the move from urban areas, although I'm sure that the improvements made it easier for people who started moving back to cities in the 90's.
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Old 09-07-2014, 06:56 PM
Location: Thunder Bay, ON
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I think one thing that can happen is displacement of housing by industry. The way most North American cities were laid out, industry began near railways or harbours, which was usually in or around the centre of the city. Transit lines mostly converged onto these centres, making them desirable for workplaces since they had access to a wide labour pool (by transit) on top of having good access to markets (via rail/harbours, and also downtown shops). If not for pollution, these central areas would have also been desirable for residents, due to the convenience of the location. However, because of pollution, the wealthy left and many central neighbourhoods became working class and somewhat run-down. It would have probably been relatively cheap for industry to displace these residences and take advantage of the central location, so you assuming a city and its industrial base was growing, this is what would have happened, and it's what you saw in I think many neighbourhoods of Montreal, Chicago and Toronto.

In some cases though, for whatever, reason, either there's more of an oversupply of housing, or the population is wealthier (so more people can afford to move away), or industry is not expanding as fast, or maybe the pollution is particularly bad or the housing was built in a way that it ages particularly badly, and possibly other problems (crime, redlining) driving people away, so people move out faster than industry moves in and housing gets abandoned with vacant lots and such.

For one reason or another, in Toronto and Montreal the situation wasn't too bad by the time pollution became more reasonable as a result of regulations and industry moving to the suburbs or overseas. Many of the working class homes were modernized, or replaced with newer homes after WWII. In many American cities, I think you didn't have this kind of reinvestment after WWII.
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Old 09-07-2014, 09:29 PM
Location: Thunder Bay, ON
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Pointe Saint-Charles, a working class formerly industrial area south of Downtown Montreal near the Lachine Canal and a large railyard.

Héritage Montréal

Deurbanization in Montreal’s City Centre | Taylor Noakes {.} Com

This area did experience pretty intense redevelopment, though some areas are better preserved. In some cases, the housing was converted to parking lots and low density industrial uses, which has since been getting redeveloped into condos in the last decade. In other cases older housing was replaced with newer housing in the 60s-80s. Older, higher density and higher quality industrial buildings were converted to lofts.

But not all of them are worthy of loft conversions, especially the post-WWII ones (at least not office/residential, they could be divided into small workshops I suppose).
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Old 09-07-2014, 10:17 PM
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The real change started after massive infrastructure improvements thru out country during the war. No longer was transport and energy needed concentrated. People moved to urban areas for jobs and slowly the jobs moved mostly because of cost factors. My people are from Penn. but few live there anymore.
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Old 09-07-2014, 11:25 PM
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Originally Posted by OuttaTheLouBurbs View Post
Good comments everyone, keep them coming. I'll try to respond to everyone's points:

And yes, there were a lot of neighborhoods that declined that weren't near factories. But usually, these neighborhoods went into decline for some reason related to industrial pollution-for example, if a neighborhood declined due to White Flight, then perhaps the blacks moving into the neighborhood that the white residents are fleeing were trying to move out of an industrial neighborhood that's very close to a busy railroad yard or steel mill and trying to escape the pollution from those facilities.
Not quite. The suburbs always existed but before the model T and before the highway system they were more for the rich than for the working class. The factory owner could afford to catch the commuter train or ride the long street car out to the less industrial burbs and clean air, the workers could not afford this luxury. The automobile changed that. First people no longer needed to live near the factory or near a street car line to the factory. The highway system expanded that.

One of the biggest weakness of public transit is how much longer it takes to get from point A to point B on average and someone who is dependent on transit is much more limited in what locations offer an sane transit time to work. This is why people tended to live near the factory due to cost(transfers and monthly passes or any really discount for use is pretty non-existent before the 1950ies so each ride and transfer costs full fare.) and time(what could take an street car or bus an hour to do an car could do in 20 mins.). Only the better paid could afford to live further away.

Post WWI and until about the 1960ies large numbers of blacks(and some poor whites) were moving into northern cities seeking industrial jobs that paid a lot more than share cropping. This is what is increasing demand for housing and grew some late blooming cities like Detroit and post WWII it sparks white flight as the barriers that kept blacks isolated in small overcrowded and substandard parts of town began to fall. White then could use housing prices to keep minorities at bay (since not as many blacks could afford a new house in the burbs as whites).

This is actually what I plan to get into later. With deindustrialization, most of those polluting factories are gone now. So why aren't people flocking back to those cities? Because the effects caused by this initial evacuation led to a domino effect (as JR_C said) that brought about negative attributes like crime, poverty, and bad schools/services. Those are all barriers that stand in the way of the growth of these cities.

Urban schools and crime have been and always will be problems. Moving out to the burbs moved people away from the poor which drive both crime and poor schools. Urban schools have always had to cope with immigrant children who are not good at English. In the burbs the more well off could move away from the recent immigrants, the poor sharing croppers coming from the south and so on which means more tax money can go to push the better off students. Lower population density and fewer poor people usually mean less crime. City services are usually not better or worse than the burbs unless things have truely gone dysfunctional.

But, when these barriers are removed (easier said than done), then suburban preferences melts away. Basically, all of these emptied cities aren't doomed-they're lying dormant, waiting for a catalyst to reverse the chain of decline, to make them viable again. Cities can be viable places to live, and we need to dispel the notion that people are opposed to them. Rather, people are opposed to the poor conditions associated with many inner cities. I'll delve into this some more in a follow up post later.
Not really. The burbs do have some attractive features like larger houses, larger lawns, less noise, traffic and crowding as well as low crime and decent to excellent schools. In addition with the rise of light industry, office parks, and malls there actually are jobs in the burbs that could be lacking in the city.

What causes the cities populations to rise before the 1950ies and esp. before the 1930ies was the need for workers and the need for rail. With those gone work no longer is confined to the city and workers have much more freedom of travel.

Last edited by chirack; 09-07-2014 at 11:34 PM..
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Old 09-08-2014, 08:33 AM
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
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While I agree that pollution (and related issues, like noise, odors, and sanitation issues from living close to active industries) played a key role in the initial suburbanization of America's population, few people would now see these early suburbs as suburban today. That is because they were mainly railroad and streetcar suburbs, built before the widespread use of the automobile took off.

Streetcar suburbs have some similarities with modern suburbs, most notably that there were no major employment centers within a reasonable walking distance. However, there was usually at least some commercial interspersed, often with a main commercial "drag" near the streetcar that was easily walkable from the most desirable portions of the neighborhood. The housing styles also tended towards urban as well. We can see the suburban characteristics of early 20th century streetcar suburbs like this, but not so much the 19th century examples, which often looked more like this.

Further complicating this, in most of the country the majority of streetcar suburbs ended up within city limits, although there are some cities like Boston where a great number remained in "suburban" municipalities. Municipal annexation even in the Northeast and Midwest was still feasible through the 20s and 30s, and many cities still had wide swathes of undeveloped land within their long established borders as well (for example, much of Northeast Philadelphia was still farmland). Hence while it was undoubtedly the first step in suburbanization, it didn't tend to contribute much to population decline of cities per se, just core mixed-use neighborhoods within the city.
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Old 09-08-2014, 08:55 AM
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So what you're saying is pollution would have more of an effect on the earlier "streetcar suburb" era suburbs, which are usually quite different (in density, walkability) of later developments?
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Old 09-08-2014, 09:15 AM
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What a great thread, this is one of my favorite subjects.

I really don't think pollution was the primary motivator for the decline of the American city from the 1950s -1990s. I really think it was the mass production of the automobile and the economic ability of the masses to be able to attain them that was the core issue. Pre-1950s people really had to live in cities, they were attracted by better paying jobs and a better life. You had to live close to where you worked because transportation options were limited. Hence why older cities are so much more dense. Things like pollution were more a part of life, that and I don't think we became fully educated to such things until the 60's and 70s.

Suburbs were cheaper, quieter and more convenient. Couple that with the implementation of the Eisenhower interstate system and you have the invention of the American commuter. No I'd say pollution, crime, racial tensions, traffic, and inconvenience all played a role. On top of that you reached the pinnacle of the Manufacturing economy and the slow transition to a more knowledge based sustainable economy. That hit industrial centers even harder as it became cheaper to outsource low education jobs to areas with cheaper labor, i.e. the American South/3rd world.

As a student of this I often hear Detroit get lumped in with the other industrial centers. I feel the situation in Detroit is unique to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo ect. If you research it I imagine others would agree. Detroit was destroyed by inept leadership at the city, regional, and state level. More so than anything economic.
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