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A Research Agenda for Shrinking Cities

Justin B. Hollander

This prescient book presents the intellectual terrain of shrinking cities while exploring the key research questions in each of the field’s sub-domains and reviewing the range of methodologies within these topics.
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Chapter 5: Downtowns

Justin B. Hollander

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Scholars of shrinking cities typically spend their time scrolling their way through vast spreadsheets on demographic, economic, land use, and housing characteristics. To do research around the problems of decline (used here as a noun connoting a loss, as in income, population, jobs, etc.) often entails spending an inordinate amount of effort documenting and analyzing that loss. Previous chapters have certainly made a case for doing so, offering a variety of methods that can help untangle and make sense of the ways in which a place might change in the face of loss.

I have not yet touched on the less tangible dimension of decline, emotional loss. It is that dimension, so thoughtfully documented in the seminal Steeltown USA: Work and Memory in Youngstown (Linkon and Russo 2002) and elsewhere, that is an equally worthwhile topic of inquiry in the arena of shrinking cities.

About two hours of driving from Boston, mainly on highways and then through a tangle of arterial roads, eventually led me into downtown Holyoke. It was just a few years ago, but it was my first visit to the city known well for its job losses, unemployment, and crime. The city’s main street was a disaster; more than half the storefronts were shuttered, and scores were in derelict condition – siding falling off, windows shattered (see Figures 5.1 and 5.2). The most prominent, best-cared-for structure on this city’s main commercial drag was the La Rose Funeral Home. This place stank of...

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