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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 6: Social equity

Justin B. Hollander


I began my career as an urban planner in 1998 at a regional planning agency based in Fitchburg, a city of 40 000 in north central Massachusetts (see Figure 6.1). A post-industrial, Rust Belt American city, Fitchburg’s heyday had passed three decades prior, and my first day on the job the city was a mess.

High crime, poorly funded public schools, a fiscally stressed city government, and the ongoing pressure of further depopulation made Fitchburg a highly undesirable location. In the years leading up to my arrival in Fitchburg, the city had lost more than 5 percent of its population (from 1990 to 2000, according to the U.S. Census). My job as a regional planner was to consider the broader regional development patterns at work; I quickly discovered that those patterns were primarily aligned around growth. The broader north central Massachusetts region was experiencing extraordinary growth pressures at that time, accompanied by large influxes of population and new housing in the suburban and rural communities surrounding Fitchburg.

Figure 6.1  The Upper Common in Fitchburg, Massachusetts in 2013

Source: Wikimedia,,_Massachusetts_-_DSC08570.JPG; author; Daderot; public domain.

My main task was to collect and analyze data that would help make the case for land use policies that discouraged new housing development in the suburban and exurban towns and instead focused real estate investments and migration policies towards the urban core cities in the region, like...

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