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Contraction action

Shrinking Cities presents Detroit as a classic example of suburbanization, in which much of the population moved outside of the city during a 50-year process. Here are some stats on Detroit and the other focus cities, as presented by Shrinking Cities:

Detroit developed from 1900 as the center of the global auto industry. In 1930, it was the fourth-largest city in the United States and grew to a population of 1.8 million by 1950. From then on, suburbanization followed a decentralization of the auto industry. By 2000, the city had shrunk to 950,000 residents, while the surrounding suburban population grew to nearly 4 million.

The suburbanization is characterized by racial segregation: In 1998, 78 percent of suburbanites were white, while 79 percent of city residents were black. The average income in metropolitan Detroit is almost twice as high as in the city. Many buildings erected during the construction boom of the 1920s have been torn down, leaving large empty spaces. Many of the remaining, isolated buildings are vacant.

Ivanovo, Russia, population 450,000 residents, is about 250 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of Moscow and serves as an example of post-socialist transformation. Beginning in the mid-19th century, the region developed from a village pattern of life to the center of the Russian textile industry and the Russian workers’ movement. Its population grew rapidly between 1920 and 1960. The population fell rapidly in the 1990s along with the decline in the textile industry, and today there is a high unemployment rate; there are also many abandoned factories. Most residents live in prefabricated concrete-slab homes, and there is a housing shortage.

Manchester/Liverpool in northern England is an example of deindustrialization, and is characterized by a decades-long process of depopulation. Liverpool and Manchester have half as many inhabitants as they did in the 1930s. Liverpool, with 439,000 residents, is declining. The area’s overdependence on its harbor economy is exacerbated by a low level of education among residents. Huge empty areas in the inner city have resulted from constant building demolition. Manchester, with 393,000 residents, resurged in the 1990s into a regional center of service industries and an important cultural city. Nevertheless, large parts of the city outside of its center are plagued by poverty, segregation and depopulation. Empty lots and empty buildings are common.

Halle and Leipzig, Germany, are examples of post-socialist transformation, deindustrialization and suburbanization. The region once thrived on mining and the chemical industry, but unemployment now hovers at 20 percent. An initial wave of migration to other parts of Germany in the 1990s was followed by a flight of residents and businesses to the suburbs. The city struggles with empty buildings in medieval and baroque city centers. Leipzig has lost a sixth of its population since 1990.


Read more about Shrinking Cities:

Detroit is not alone

Kyong Park and his talking house

Ghetto palm

Detroit's contributions to Shrinking Cities


For more on Shrinking Cities, see and

Lisa M. Collins is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail