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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 8: Conclusion: A look to the future

Justin B. Hollander


Rutland, Vermont, population 15 824, has been in steady decline along with much of northern New England for the last half-century (see Figure 8.1). The fortunes of the city, once a major railroad crossroads and center for marble, have waned, and its population has fallen 18 percent since its peak in 1970 (Bidgood 2017; U.S. Census 2017). You would not necessarily expect a spotlight on this out-of-the-way small city, but on New Year’s Day I read in the New York Times a probing account of the city and a plan underway to bring Syrian and Iraqi refugees there (Bidgood 2017).

Figure 8.1  Downtown Rutland, Vermont

Source: Wikimedia,,_Vermont.jpg; author: Garry Dee; Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.

After years of ongoing economic and population decline, many of the city’s leaders felt that these refugees were exactly what was needed to re-energize Rutland. As Mayor Christopher Louras put it, “We need people” (Bidgood 2017, p. A1). The current plan would bring 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, but a group called Rutland First has mobilized to fight the resettlement. They worry about the costs of caring for, housing, and educating these refugees. The conflict is what helped land the story on the cover of the Times.

While journalists are always looking for good drama, this story is really about shrinking cities research. The pro-refugees side believes that resettling the Syrians and Iraqis will increase the city’s population and ultimately catalyze economic...

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