Thursday, June 28, 2007

Shinking City

We don't really need newspaper stories about census estimates to tell us that Akron is getting smaller. It's enough to just drive around the city a bit and see houses like this one.

Part of it is the burbs. When I go to my dad's house near Wadsworth the farms I used to bike by are now sprouting McMansions like toadstools.

Part of it is that families are simply smaller these days. We lived for a while in a three bedroom bungalow that a generation earlier housed a family with six kids.

Part is people simply up and leaving for where the jobs are. And not just private sector jobs. The DDN pointed out earlier this week that when teachers get laid off, the often head out of state Meanwhile class sizes go up, which means more people want to move out to the burbs, which means less money and more layoffs . . .

Intertwined with all this is the simple fact that cities like Akron don't attract young families much anymore. Our population is aging and, not to put too fine a point on it, dying off. And fewer young people are moving in and having babies to replace those folks.

Mayor Don Plusquellec is stubbornly optimistic. I don't know enough about "smart shrinkage" to know whether we need to follow Youngstown's model. But if we get to that point, it's an open question whether the administration would be willing to do so, or whether Plusquellec would fight it as somehow giving up.

For all of that, I still love this city. I still see great things happening and great potential. Part of that is measured by the fact that our shrinkage rate is well below that of the other northern cities.


Anonymous said...

I was thinking about this very topic recently. As my wife and I are nearing the point proffesionally where we want to hae children we have been looking at where (if we stay in ne ohio) we would want to raise children. Unfortunately the suburban schools and safety are far more appealing.
I feel that part of Plusquelic's optimism is justified, (especially in comparison to Youngstown and Canton) but he needs to continue working on his biomedical research corridor and supporting the growth of UA. Even in my age group (28-32) people are leaving NE Ohio in droves. There is the infrastruture to support alot of growth (other than just retail) and instead of trying to lure in more business some home grown operations would be good. ANy ideas on how to do this? The only thing I can think of is offer similar enticements to upstarts that we are dangling in front of relocating businesses

Anonymous said...

I strongly suggest not taking the annual census estimate of city population very seriously. Take a look at how it's done here.

The 1999 estimate for Akron, issued in 2000, was 211,822. The actual census count for that year turned out to be 217,074. (Cleveland's was just as far off, but in the opposite direction.)

Reporters are covering these annual Census press releases way too literally.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, that second link should have been "just as far off".

NEO said...

I totally echo t-dawg. I'm 29, and edging more and more towards someplace down south... Columbus now, Charlotte or Raleigh-Durham, NC maybe in a year or two. I love Akron. I really do. But I'm getting nowhere here right now, and I simply can't afford to wait 10 to 15 years until Plusquellic's and the U of A's planted seeds have sprouted and grown into a true renaissance for this town's economy. These days, one has to leave town for one of the boom cities in order to start his or her professional career. Of course, you can always come back later, but who actually does when things are going so much better elsewhere?

Even so, I don't see Akron going the way of Youngstown just yet. The U of A has already prevented Akron from declining into Canton-like stagnation and irrelevancy, and Akron never sustained the total collapse of its local industry like Y-town did. I see Akron of the future under its' present trajectory probably stablizing around a population of about 190,000ish, leaner yet resillient, supported by an economy based around a college-town atmosphere and biomedical research. Just wish I could find that remote to press FF.

_ said...

I left Akron for the coast years ago. I'm living in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area now and sort of miss what I had grown to take for granted in Akron. The population of this metro area is quite large; 1.6 million, but it lacks the urban feel I had grown accoustomed to in Akron and elsewhere up North. The older cities like Norfolk are very urban, cities like Virginia Beach are overgrown suburbs. This area is a psychic and paradigm shift between attitudes about urbanism that often clash and can become quite confrontational at times.

Aside from the fact that the place isn't on the same page, and, in a sense, mirrors attitudes about development elsewhere in the country I still wouldn't consider Akron with a serious post-graduate education. You're wasting your time; around here or in Northern Virginia you can walk off the street and make $10 - $20 an hour in a call center or entry level tech job. You just can't find that back home, perhaps in Columbus from what I've heard but certainly not in Akron. The state capital is the largest city, and the state itself could care less what happens to the rest of Ohio. All of Ohio is bracing for a smaller, scaled back new urbanist model that does not take into account the excesses of the older models. It's funny that you mention Youngstown because I first heard of that approach when I was leaving Dayton.

I have a love hate relationship with Akron that people typically have when they leave a town for better opportunities. When I lived there it was boring, and I couldn't wait to leave. Now I'm to believe that this is just the way that it is in a lot of cities, and that other cities have Akron's or Ohio's problems on a larger scale. It isn't very encouraging whatsoever.

I'm not sure what Plusquelic has in mind for Akron, but someone needs to continue doing what good has been done in the city since I left. The city doesn't necessarily need an identity, because that will come on its own; you can't create it if you wanted to, but they do need to build on the technology and research they're already doing a good job with. Further economic and cultural diversification is needed, obviously. Some have even suggested that the city could stand to become more cosmopolitain, this all sounds good, but as people move into the area they will bring a lot of these things with them. But you have to get them there in the first place. Akron may not have the skyscrapers, the immense downtown area and the expansive growth of other cities, but that will come in time if they focus on what is important for the time being.