Shrinking city, shrinking region: A socio-spatial analysis of demolitions in Buffalo and the emergence of regional shrinkage in Erie County, New York
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In shrinking cities demolitions are a constant factor in the ever changing urban landscape. As these cities continue to lose population and jobs, their housing markets continue to weaken, leaving behind a vast portfolio of vacant, abandoned, and distressed properties. Many left behind in shrinking cities are impoverished and often racial minorities and researchers have called for a social equity planning agenda in shrinking cities whereby those left behind are considered and planned for. In managing this oversupply of vacant and abandoned properties, however, there is a considerable disconnect between demolition policy and social equity. The findings herein suggest that demolitions are highly clustered within specified neighborhoods of a shrinking city, Buffalo, NY. Further, those living in these neighborhoods are typically impoverished, minority residents, which seems inevitable in a city known as one of America's most impoverished and racially segregated. These findings support calls for a social equity agenda in planning for shrinking cities, and in the case of demolitions, that large scale demolition programs focus on the strategic reuse of vacant lots to ensure that these lots are an improvement over the structures they replaced. America's suburbs have been in decline for decades yet little research has addressed the physical factors known to indicate shrinkage, specifically vacant and abandoned properties. As suburbs continue to undergo the increase in poverty and decline in population and income that was symptomatic of shrinking cities, it stands to reason that when this becomes evident in the suburbs, shrinkage soon follows. Through a case study of Erie County, NY that introduces a growing crisis of tax delinquent properties; this research extends the geographic bounds of shrinking cities into the suburbs. As shrinkage crosses geographic boundaries and jurisdictions, a regional approach to managing shrinkage appears necessary. However, as evident in Erie County, multiple jurisdictions engaged in the administration of building code enforcement, tax collection, and foreclosure systems present obstacles to adequately controlling regional shrinkage. In New York, land bank legislation was enacted as a tool to address vacant, abandoned, and tax delinquent properties yet as the disconnected code enforcement, tax collection, and foreclosure systems in Erie County remain unchanged, a recently created county-wide land may be successful at managing an increasing supply of vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties but is likely to function as a perpetual depository for problem properties that are at once a significant consequence of larger economic issues but exacerbated by poorly administered systems at the local and county level.