30 June 2008

No More Babies

For many of us who live in certain Brooklyn neighborhoods, we've been privvy to a sort of mini population explosion over the past few years. I don't necessarily want to say that Williamsburg is becoming the new Park Slope, but it's definitely heading in that direction. Most of my friends, at least at this stage in their lives, are anti-breeders, so such a trend is discouraging. To many demographers this is welcome news however. The U.S. has the industrial world's highest birth rate, a whopping 2.1%, that far surpasses its European and Asian rivals. What's happening there do you ask? Declining birth rates and steady population losses. Yesterday's NYTimes Magazine had a feature article by Russell Shorto that outlined many of the issues surrounding the "problem" of population loss.

I, for one, don't consider this to be an actual problem. Truthfully, I think it's a good thing societally and ecologically, but I'm in the minority. Luckily, there are some folks out there (in the former East Germany) who are thinking creatively about their demographic issues and don't see it as a problem but as a chance for some creative thinking about urbanism and how we live today. Here's an excerpt of a piece I just wrote over on the Helium.com site on this topic:

What if "dying" cities began to reclaim abandoned urban spaces for localized agricultural purposes? That would not only be a smart ecological move, but it could foster a sense of pride in place and tie existing residents to the "soul" of the city. Who knows, that may encourage people to have kids to grow up and inherit this city with newfound love.
There are many cities whose population bases are shrinking but can't seem to get out of the "We must grow and expand to survive!" mode of thinking. Unfortunately they can't seem to realize that their time in the sun is over and they must move on, establish a new rationale for existing. As I mention in my article, Detroit is a city that could use some new thinking like this. So much of that landscape is comprised of (nearly) contiguous abandoned buildings and empty lots that they could establish all manner of parks, urban gardens, local farm plots. Of course a lot of work and bureaucratic wrangling would have to occur, but it's not beyond the scope of actual planning. Population decrease doesn't have to be the monumental catastrophe that too many people are making it out to be, but it does require a shift in our thinking; a shift in our perceptions of where our societies should be heading and the goals we should really be focusing on.

1 comment:

noga said...

congrats on writing for helium! are you gonna be swimming in sweet helium cash? is it going to make your voice funny?

very interesting topic.

of course the main problem is that cities that have reached a state of deterioration and decay usually lack the resources, both financial and emotional, to make radical positive change.

i don't know, call me a good old fashioned nazi, but i say we round up those pesky obnoxious Brooklyn-based new families and ship them off to Detroit.

with all their obnoxiously positive energy, i'm sure they can make change.

they'll found the first official Baby Einstein Church, build shopping centers consisting only of Baby Gap and puppy clothes.

all the women will work as yoga instructors, all the men will spend all day blogging about how that makes them feel.

they'll have so many parks, their parks will have mini parks inside of them.

the only type of crime they'll have is baby stroller drive-by's.

etc.

lets make a change, alex.