Wolves, neo-Nazis and Germanys population crash
March 19, 2010 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Due to population decline, Detroit plans on bulldozing roughly a quarter of the 139-square-mile city into semi-rural farmland. It is a worst case scenario in America, but pales to the problem of Eastern Germany, where demographic collapse in some towns is so severe, urban-wolves and neo-Nazis are the new order of the day. The mayor of one town says: "You can't go into the forest without a knife anymore." posted by stbalbach (114 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
It is a worst case scenario in America

As a native Detroiter, I must say that returning large sections of Detroit to semi-rural farmland is the scenario that many of us have been dreaming of and hoping for for decades. Worst-case scenario? Psh. Best-case.
posted by The World Famous at 11:00 AM on March 19, 2010 [44 favorites]


In some ways, it is sad to live at the low point of man's relationship with the rest of nature. On the other hand, it is so thrilling to see some hope of improvement.
posted by No Robots at 11:01 AM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Aside from the inevitable political ugliness and unfairness that will come with the decisions about which parts to raze, this is an excellent idea. It would be even better if the city would lease the land to small farmers who would dedicate a good portion the crops reaped back to the people in Detroit who are struggling. I wonder, though, how much reclamation would be necessary to make the soil fertile (and non-toxic)? That alone could cost millions of dollars, if what they really want to do is grow stuff.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:03 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


As a native Detroiter, I must say that returning large sections of Detroit to semi-rural farmland is the scenario that many of us have been dreaming of and hoping for for decades. Worst-case scenario? Psh. Best-case.

I've only been to Detroit a few times, but I agree - this seems like an almost impossibly sensible idea. I'm impressed that politicians are willing to face reality and speak publicly about the need for change on this level. It needs to be done in parts of St. Louis as well.
posted by something something at 11:03 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


*pictures urban-wolves taking the subway to work*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:05 AM on March 19, 2010 [11 favorites]


Detroit is going to become an economy based off of supporting photographers who take pictures of ... rural landscapes?
posted by charred husk at 11:07 AM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


*pictures urban-wolves taking the subway to work*

"Morning, Sam."
"Morning, Ralph."
posted by entropicamericana at 11:08 AM on March 19, 2010 [111 favorites]


Exactly.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:09 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm just hoping they're paying careful attention to what areas are toxic. I have a friend in the fire dept. out there who explained that there's entire buildings they've been instructed to abandon to fire- because no one knows what toxic stuff is in there and it's too poisonous for the firefighters to be exposed to.
posted by yeloson at 11:17 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


*pictures urban-wolves taking the subway to work*

"Morning, Sam."
"Morning, Ralph."


"You've got a little Neo-Nazi on your chin there."
"Where, here?"
"No, the other side. Wait, let me get it."
"Thanks, Ralph."
posted by filthy light thief at 11:19 AM on March 19, 2010 [27 favorites]


This is much more difficult to implement than just signing a document and making it happen. Flint has been doing this for a few years but it is very slow going.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:22 AM on March 19, 2010




Love this idea.

In the future, will archaeologists bemoan the loss of all that treasure trove of information lost to wanton destruction?
posted by annsunny at 11:24 AM on March 19, 2010


urban-wolves

Lupo-Americans, if you please...
posted by Mister_A at 11:25 AM on March 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


In the future, will archaeologists bemoan the loss of all that treasure trove of information lost to wanton destruction?

I think a bit of urban America might still survive.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:28 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apparently, the werewolves of London take something called the "tube".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:31 AM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


You joke about wolves riding trains. Stray dogs in Moscow already do it.

On the one hand, yay for the return of the wolf to the woods.

On the other, it makes me sad to think of all the wonderful small villages I drove through in east Germany going away. But then, people move where jobs are, or at least where they hope jobs are. And there is not much one can do about it.

On the gripping hand, I suppose I'm not surprised about so many cities seeking to shrink now.
posted by strixus at 11:32 AM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Germany certainly has a big challenge on its hand. While population contraction is not necessarily a bad thing it is definitely unprecedented in human history and whether anyone knows how to manage it is a big unknown. Plus it may finally be the test to see if all economic growth is, at its root, population growth.
posted by GuyZero at 11:34 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


What kind of t-shirts do urban-wolf hipsters wear?
posted by bonehead at 11:35 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the Detroit article: Suburban commuters heading into the city center might pass through what looks like the countryside to get there. Why the deuce are you still commuting? Why not buy half a block closer to work and make it your own? I realize I'm simplifying the whole thing, but it seems like commuting to work in Detroit while there are still good neighborhoods would be a good idea.

Without knowing the layout of neighborhoods, it seems like the best plan would be to shrink the whole city, not to make swiss cheese of things. Unfortunately, it looks like the core is the empty part, assuming the city grew up next to the river.

In the future, will archaeologists bemoan the loss of all that treasure trove of information lost to wanton destruction?

I'd imagine that Detroit will have to create reports to address NEPA, as they're receiving federal funding. In plain English, this means they need to address potential impacts to a variety of factors, including cultural (historic and living). Someone will probably address the potential for historic resources, though it might be a quick note stating all the residences are not old enough, and nothing of significant remark happened there. There are still records of what was there in some government files (the tax assessors keep record of building sizes and uses, for instance). It won't completely be as if they never existed.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:36 AM on March 19, 2010


GuyZero: "While population contraction is not necessarily a bad thing it is definitely unprecedented in human history"

It happened all the time, it's just that instead of dying of old age without having two or more children, people were killed by wars, famine, disease, and pestilence. Dying of old age isn't that bad in the grand scheme of things.
posted by mullingitover at 11:36 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


You joke about wolves riding trains. Stray dogs in Moscow already do it.

On the one hand, yay for the return of the wolf to the woods.


See, Europe has a much better public transportation infrastructure. Here in North America you're lucky if the trains go as far as the suburbs.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:36 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


What kind of t-shirts do urban-wolf hipsters wear?

They wear suits to be ironic.
posted by Hiker at 11:39 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, ok, first-world not-a-war population contraction. Besides, most wars end up with a follow-on population boom, even in Germany. I doubt there's going to be a baby-boom ending to the current germany population cycle.
posted by GuyZero at 11:39 AM on March 19, 2010


Things like famine and wars are generally pretty good for the economy in the end, if you ever had one (i.e. yes, I realize that famine wasn't that great for Ethiopia). People simply stopping having children is pretty unusual.
posted by GuyZero at 11:40 AM on March 19, 2010


In some ways, it is sad to live at the low point of man's relationship with the rest of nature. On the other hand, it is so thrilling to see some hope of improvement.

This is hardly the case. We have far less per-capita impact now than we ever have since the transition to industrialism. I don't think you'd have wanted to see parts of industrial Europe before environmental regulations were put in place. 19th and early 20th century industrial cities in Britain, Germany etc. were horrid places to live, and the pollution they emitted was unimaginably damaging to the environment. We're much better off these days.

I agree with reclaiming of parts of Detroit. All civilizations go through regular cycles of advancement and decline. Detroit is declining, and it should be managed appropriately. There's no sense in letting areas rot - it's not good for anyone. Moving residents into better, established neighbourhoods strengthens the local economies of those areas and makes providing services for those people much easier and cheaper. It also speeds the ecological recovery of the reclaimed areas.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:41 AM on March 19, 2010


"...but pales to the problem of Eastern Germany, where demographic collapse in some towns is so severe, urban-wolves and neo-Nazis are the new order of the day. The mayor of one town says: "You can't go into the forest without a knife anymore."

Detroit doesn't "pale" next to East Germany. According to Wikipedia 1.7 million people have left the old East Germany, which is a drop of about 12%. Detroit has lost 50% of its population since 1950, and about 11% since 1990. Some towns like Hoyerswerda are known to be particularly badly hit, but it's a one time problem. Had freedom of movement been around through the second half of the 1900s, this migration - and similar ones in other Eastern European countries - would not be so noticeable.

The fertility rates are something else entirely, and very much pan-European. I'm sure we've had it out before, but I don't see it being as great a problem as people play it up to be.
posted by Sova at 11:41 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Some of those GDR-in-freefall links are several years old, and circumstances have begun to change dramatically in certain spots, as a result of its pioneering feed-in tariff for renewable energy:

German Solar Boom Shines Its Light on Depressed East
The extraordinary transformation of Bitterfeld

It hasn't fixed everything by any means, but the green-collar boom in the ex-GDR has staunched the hemorrhaging and brought unemployment rates down in some regions from pushing 30 to the low teens. I've made several research trips to the green-collared ex-GDR in recent years, and given the utter ruin elsewhere, it's been truly breathtaking in its transformative power. Bitterfeld (in second link above) was the epicentre of the GDR's chemical industry, and it was a toxic wasteland with 45,000 workers rendered redundant overnight in 1990. In recent years, it's restyled itself as the sort of urban hub of "Solar Valley," and local officials even dare to dream now that someone might settle there instead of Berlin or Leipzig. They filled in the old coal quarry with water, turned it into a waterfront, and they're actually launching new housing developments there now.

America, no matter what Fox News is telling you about commie climate plots, this is your best reason to go green: it's the fastest and most thoroughgoing way to resuscitate the Rust Belt.
posted by gompa at 11:41 AM on March 19, 2010 [18 favorites]


Apparently, the werewolves of London take something called the "tube".

Their hair? Perfect.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


(PS I know a lot of Detroit's population has moved far, rather just outside the city's limits.)
posted by Sova at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2010


While population contraction is not necessarily a bad thing it is definitely unprecedented in human history.

You're joking, right?
posted by jimmythefish at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Illinois white-power contingent has expressed its desire to establish a 503c exchange program just as soon as its dealt with these two orphan boys in the police cruiser.
posted by griphus at 11:43 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, I wonder what Russia is doing to address their population decline. According to Wikipedia, the population has decreased by some 6.76 million people in less than 20 years (historic peak at 148,689,000 in 1991, to 141,927,297 as of 1 January 2010). The decline of about 0.5% per year stopped in 2009, with an annual growth of 23.3 thousand.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:44 AM on March 19, 2010


The reappearance of wolves seems like a good thing, actually.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:45 AM on March 19, 2010


One of my favorite examples of William Gibson cool is the tiny scene in one of the novels (Count Zero?) where some window-display TVs are showing a nature program set among the buildings of the abandoned Detroit.
posted by grobstein at 11:45 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Trantor.

(Also, I don't get why turning urban sprawl to farm-land is a "worst-case scenario".)
posted by DU at 11:46 AM on March 19, 2010


Casper the commuter cat. Casper was killed a few months ago by a non-public transport used, probably someone in a beamer I would guess.
posted by biffa at 11:46 AM on March 19, 2010


Why the deuce are you still commuting? Why not buy half a block closer to work and make it your own? I realize I'm simplifying the whole thing, but it seems like commuting to work in Detroit while there are still good neighborhoods would be a good idea.

Because you don't want your kids to go to Detroit schools.

Without knowing the layout of neighborhoods, it seems like the best plan would be to shrink the whole city, not to make swiss cheese of things. Unfortunately, it looks like the core is the empty part, assuming the city grew up next to the river.

Yeah, you really can't pick up a nice, established suburb with good schools and infrastructure, lakes, neighborhoods, manicured lawns, etc. and move it closer to the city.
posted by The World Famous at 11:48 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am pleased to report that in Sweden - where we offer parents 360 days of parental leave at nearly full pay, universal health care, and excellent day care - there has been a baby boom for 15 years. The birthrate is the highest in Europe and sustains the level of population at present levels.

Make it possible for women to be mothers AND have a career and things work themselves out.
posted by three blind mice at 11:51 AM on March 19, 2010 [22 favorites]




It happened all the time, it's just that instead of dying of old age without having two or more children, people were killed by wars, famine, disease, and pestilence. Dying of old age isn't that bad in the grand scheme of things.

This is incorrect. Previous slow-growth populations and earlier mortality were a result of high infant mortality often in the first year, but also up to the age of 7.

Paradoxically, the only way (well, the only intelligent, thoughtful and humane way) to curb population growth is to address and decrease infant mortality.

Families tend to have more children as a hedge against infant mortality so that at least some children survive to adulthood.

Part of the problem is that while infant mortality has been reduced in developing countries, it has not been reduced enough. Enough children still die that families continue to hedge and have more children. However, enough children now survive that populations increase exponentially.

Improve living conditions, increase affluence, and increase education rates and you will do more to save this planet than all the statements claiming PEOPLE DYING HORRIBLY = GOOD
posted by KokuRyu at 11:51 AM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


The World Without Us has some great passages about nature reclaiming urban environments. Looks like it's happening.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:51 AM on March 19, 2010


Also also: The Underwolves (YouTube: song, video)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:53 AM on March 19, 2010


On the gripping hand...

Don't do that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:53 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


yeloson: "I'm just hoping they're paying careful attention to what areas are toxic. "

If it's anything like Pittsburgh, and I'm pretty sure it is, there's lots and lots of undocumented nasty shit in the ground. Lead, asbestos, arsenic, cobalt and other fun stuff show up in the soil in rust belt cities.
posted by octothorpe at 11:56 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


While population contraction is not necessarily a bad thing it is definitely unprecedented in human history and whether anyone knows how to manage it is a big unknown.


This is actually untrue. The total population of the Roman Empire started dropping in the late 2nd century with a series of devastating plauges (note: same thing happened at the same time in Han China leading to the Yellow Turban Rebellion) and continued to drop, year over year, continuously until the 7th or 8th century.

There was also massive population decline begining around the era of the 12th century BCE.
posted by Riemann at 12:01 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


We have far less per-capita impact now than we ever have since the transition to industrialism.

If the concept of "nature" wasn't just a way of separating humans from the rest of the world then "nature" wouldn't give a shit about your per-capita impact. "Nature" would only care about human society's total impact. Which is way too much.
posted by symbollocks at 12:01 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


> this is your best reason to go green: it's the fastest and most thoroughgoing way to resuscitate the Rust Belt.

There's a significant segment of Michigan that's pushing hard to turn semiskilled auto manufacturing labor into semiskilled/skilled labor for wind, solar, etc. manufacture (not to mention unrelated industries ranging from cabinetry to medical equipment). It's difficult to tell right now whether this will work: There are a lot more people being laid off by old industry than are needed by new industry, the work environment is going to change, and there are various other factors at play, and skepticism can be a self-fullfilling prophesy.

There's increasing awareness from multiple quarters that this may be the last best hope. I'm not nearly close enough to the action to tell whether this'll resuscitate the Rust Belt, but there are definitely a lot of people trying it.
posted by ardgedee at 12:03 PM on March 19, 2010


Why the deuce are you still commuting? Why not buy half a block closer to work and make it your own? I realize I'm simplifying the whole thing, but it seems like commuting to work in Detroit while there are still good neighborhoods would be a good idea.

Because those city services which still exist quite frankly suck. Dial 911 for an ambulance? You'll get a busy signal for the first dozen tries, then when you do get a live operator she'll tell you that there's an hour wait for EMS, you'll be better off just going to the hospital on your own. If the lone working streetlight on your block dies, forget about getting it repaired. There's a waiting list. Many residents have to actually vigilantly protect their local fire hydrants from vandals, because there are so few working ones left. If you get a flat tire or have car trouble on your way to work good luck finding a tow company willing to come to your area. The one reliable (and above par, compared to several surrounding suburbs) service we had when I still lived on Detroit's east side was the garbage collection. The trucks came around weekly on schedule, and once per month they had "bulk pick-up" which meant you could put anything on the curb - old sofas, huge cardboard boxes, tree limbs, etc - and the truck would pick it up. Sadly, at that time only certain neighborhoods were still getting this kind of regular sanitation service, and the City has since discontinued the bulk pick-up. Oh, and just try to get affordable auto insurance if you live in Detroit. It's bad enough to work in the City (a lot of folks lie about that to save money), but if you live there, too, your rates go through the roof.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:07 PM on March 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


Though not due to any momentary urban plan, by the 1300s the Roman Forum had become the Campo Vaccino, or cow field. Many other neighborhoods and public spaces had gone to brush, some being renovated into medieval gardens, including the great former imperial palace on the Palatine, which became the Farnese Gardens in 1550.

Right now, I'm picturing Wall Street in the year 3010 . . .

-
posted by General Tonic at 12:07 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tyler Durden approves.
posted by LordSludge at 12:08 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


What kind of t-shirts do urban-wolf hipsters wear?

Three-hipster moon.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:10 PM on March 19, 2010 [21 favorites]


octothorpe: "If it's anything like Pittsburgh, and I'm pretty sure it is, there's lots and lots of undocumented nasty shit in the ground. Lead, asbestos, arsenic, cobalt and other fun stuff show up in the soil in rust belt cities."

Buddy of mine used to work in an old brake plant in St. Louis. Outside one of the buildings was some open ground that the old-timers reminisced about dumping anything liquid on.
The mortar in the basement walls adjoining this patch of ground oozed *grease*. I would not believe it I'd not seen it myself, but there was something that looked like fresh axle grease oozing out in a brick pattern from the mortar.

So yeah, kinda scared to see what's in other places.
posted by notsnot at 12:10 PM on March 19, 2010


So yeah, kinda scared to see what's in other places.

Said firefighter friend told me about a fire that happened at one of these places right after he got off shift. They contained the fire, one guy was about to go off shift, got out of his gear, the wind shifted and he got hit with the smoke from the place.

Died one week later, body full of cancerous growths.

So.

Farming edibles? Maybe not such a good idea.
posted by yeloson at 12:16 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oriole Adams, thanks for the insight.

yeloson - that's spooky like none other. It sounds like something of a superfund city. Maybe shifting the City to the west isn't such a bad idea.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:21 PM on March 19, 2010


What kind of t-shirts do urban-wolf hipsters wear?

Silly question! A three hipster moon shirt of course.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:25 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


returning large sections of Detroit to semi-rural farmland is the scenario that many of us have been dreaming of and hoping for for decades.

This sounds a lot more expensive to accomplish than just demolishing the homes, though, if you eventually want to drag farm implements across the soil. I assume one would have to locate and remove all of the utility grid as well - sewers, manholes, conduits, water mains, hydro lines - not to mention scooping up every piece of foundation, sidewalk, curb and asphalt. I used to marvel at the huge mossy piles of stones at the corners of random farm fields and think at the pre-industrial effort required to locate, dig up and drag them all there - the erasure of suburbia would be much more labour intensive, despite mechanization.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:26 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


where we offer parents 360 days of parental leave at nearly full pay

Okay, that's cool, and I am jealous. However, as a crazy person, I have this question: Why not go the whole way and throw in those extra five days and make it a full year? It's kind of bugging me.
posted by theredpen at 12:26 PM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Tradeoffs, theredpen. In Sweden they've only got 360 days in a year.
posted by grobstein at 12:28 PM on March 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


If the concept of "nature" wasn't just a way of separating humans from the rest of the world then "nature" wouldn't give a shit about your per-capita impact. "Nature" would only care about human society's total impact. Which is way too much.

Not sure about that. On one hand, obviously total global impact is an issue, yes, but what is a good measure of total global impact? How much is too much? I'd think the amount of total local impact around human settlements which really matters most in contributing, in turn, to total global impact. I was speaking to the initial poster's comment about 'relationship with nature'. We're far more aware of our impacts than we ever have been - we no longer think of the Earth as having endless carrying capacity. In that sense, we're not at a low point at all.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:30 PM on March 19, 2010


GuyZero: "24Well, ok, first-world not-a-war population contraction. "

Black Plague.
posted by Bonzai at 12:35 PM on March 19, 2010


(Also, I don't get why turning urban sprawl to farm-land is a "worst-case scenario".)

Didn't we already discuss this? Unless alien robot rape-dragons are involved, "worst case" phrasing just seems silly.


But seriously; Wolves mostly good, neo-Nazis consistently bad. It's my line in the sand.
posted by quin at 12:40 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


In some ways, it is sad to live at the low point of man's relationship with the rest of nature. On the other hand, it is so thrilling to see some hope of improvement. -No Robots

It is all so very Thomas-Cole's-Course of the Empire these days, isn't it? Sigh.
posted by ifjuly at 12:42 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Died one week later, body full of cancerous growths.
posted by yeloson


Is that actually possible? Not the death, but doesn't cancer take a long time to grow regardless? My instinctual skeptic nature says this sounds like an apocryphal story.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:44 PM on March 19, 2010 [13 favorites]


Wolves mostly good, neo-Nazis consistently bad

I don't know about that. The wolves have to eat something.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:45 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


The thing with Eastern Germany is interesting, because it's basically the same thing you see in rural areas of the US and elsewhere -- the young women are the first to leave. To me, it's not so much a wonder that the women leave -- the question is why in hell do the men stay? I mean, it would be bad enough not being able to get a job. But you take away the women, and what the hell do you have left? XBox? Seriously, what is up with these dudes? Are they just lazy or demotivated or what?

Of course, I could be biased -- I grew up in a failed rustbelt city, and got the hell out as soon as I was done with college -- first to NYC, and now SF.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:48 PM on March 19, 2010


Of course, I could be biased -- I grew up in a failed rustbelt city, and got the hell out as soon as I was done with college -- first to NYC, and now SF.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:48 PM


I would say that a college education is the ticket out. Without one, I would not have considered moving to NYC.
posted by bastionofsanity at 12:58 PM on March 19, 2010


My understanding is that from a purely economic point of view the back plague wasn't so bad.
posted by GuyZero at 1:01 PM on March 19, 2010


While population contraction is not necessarily a bad thing it is definitely unprecedented in human history.

Grrrr.

Spain, 1492, population: 14 million (est).

Spain, 1898, population: 10 million.

Would you care to discuss Spain's fortunes from the time of the European acknowledgement of America up until the losses of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines?
posted by jsavimbi at 1:01 PM on March 19, 2010


I am pleased to report that in Sweden - where we offer parents 360 days of parental leave at nearly full pay, universal health care, and excellent day care - there has been a baby boom for 15 years. The birthrate is the highest in Europe and sustains the level of population at present levels.

I'm wondering where you're getting your information. This and this and every other site I checked suggest that Sweden is neither the highest birth rate in Europe nor even at replacement levels. Moreover, and I add this simply to shade the issue, the highest birth rates within Sweden are not among native born Swedes. If you have other cites, I'd be happy to see them.

Though not due to any momentary urban plan, by the 1300s the Roman Forum had become the Campo Vaccino, or cow field.


Much the same thing was the case in Constantinople by 1453 just before the Ottomans took over. The new proprietor had to forcibly import citizens from the far reaches of the Empire. (And let's not even get started about the effects of the Black Death on Europe.)

On preview- part of the Spanish question had to do with kicking out Jews and Muslims after 1492. Led to quite the decline in so many ways.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:06 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


While population contraction is not necessarily a bad thing it is definitely unprecedented in human history.

Yeah, um, I'm gonna have to say no to that one as well.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:08 PM on March 19, 2010


We're far more aware of our impacts than we ever have been - we no longer think of the Earth as having endless carrying capacity. In that sense, we're not at a low point at all.

Well, it is the growing pervasiveness of this awareness that makes me think that we are emerging from the low point. Please don't make me give the litany of the past century's ecology disasters.

Why worry about converting urban land to farm land? Why not just let it grow wild for a century or two?
posted by No Robots at 1:09 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


From the first link: ...calls for turning large swaths of this now-blighted, rusted-out city back into the fields and farmland that existed before the automobile.

How 'bout we turn them back into the forests that existed before the fields and farmlands? Because Michigan forests are absolutely beautiful, where they've been allowed to stand, or even re-grow.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:11 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not sure about the quality of previously-urbanized land, but is it not a generally recognized fact that a lot of prime farmland has been covered over by city expansion? The reasons for this reversion may be sad, but that doesn't make the result a bad thing.

If it's anything like Pittsburgh, and I'm pretty sure it is, there's lots and lots of undocumented nasty shit in the ground. Lead, asbestos, arsenic, cobalt and other fun stuff show up in the soil in rust belt cities.

Yeah, this is the nasty bit.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:16 PM on March 19, 2010


yeah, yelolson, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that growing a lot of cancerous growths from nothing in a week=not happening. I mean, Chernobyl didn't kill people by cancer that fast, did it?

Now, he could have breathed something that damaged his lungs so badly he was gone in a week, sure, though I would think a lot of other people downwind would have died or been injured too. Or he could have had undiagnosed cancer that took him in a week afterwards. Assuming the whole story isn't just completely fake.

Not that any of that contradicts the gigantic cleanup it would take to make Detroit soil safe for growing food again, though.

...back to the point...

I have never understood the glum faces whenever a town's life cycle comes to an end, or the population goes down...you'd think humans were on the brink of extinction. Why should a town be kept alive after its reason for existing ends? We should preserve its history, sure, and maybe any buildings that have significance, and its sad for those that once lived there, but...it's just a collection of buildings and streets. We can always make more if we need them.

And why should we be sad if populations go down? Still lots and lots of people about who aren't going anywhere.
posted by emjaybee at 1:16 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Just to add on to what emjaybee was saying, it's not like these populaions are declining due to genocide or some horrific epidemic, they're just moving to other places.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:26 PM on March 19, 2010


"Morning, Sam."
"Morning, Ralph."

"Wanna buy some nuke?"
"Dude, ixnay on the ukenay"
"Oh, fuck it's Robocop!"
"Thanks for riding on the OCP subway, have a nice day"
posted by qvantamon at 1:40 PM on March 19, 2010


I was also wondering about three blind mice's statistics, and everywhere I looked there seems to be at least half a dozen European countries with higher birthrates, including all the other Nordic countries, but more importantly: France.

(This does not contradict tbm's general thesis, since all of those countries are indeed countries that offer pretty generous benefits for child-rearing.)
posted by Dumsnill at 1:44 PM on March 19, 2010


Assuming the whole story isn't just completely fake.

Regardless of actual exact cause of death, firefighters don't joke about losing their own.

But anecdotal, anecdotal.

I'm sure someone can do some investigations on Detroit Fire records and chemical fires as well as EPA reports, if they're really interested in the pollution levels.
posted by yeloson at 1:52 PM on March 19, 2010


I would think the ideal population of the planet is something like 1 billion humans, or less. We could stand a LOT of "below replacement" shrinkage.

I really dig the idea of returning sections of the city to something more rural. I wish we did urban/rural better than we do, making a fairly clean demarcation and eliminating the endless strip-mall sprawl which lines the outskirts of our cities now.
posted by maxwelton at 1:57 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


One of the worst consequences of the imminent population peak would be if we lost our nerve and started encouraging more reproduction.

We're — that is to say, all of humanity in general — is poised to dodge a bullet, if we don't (in some sense literally) fuck it up.

Population growth cannot continue forever. We've pulled a bunch of neat stunts to keep the unprecedented population boom triggered by the Industrial Revolution going, but they have come at extremely high ecological cost. Those bills are just starting to come due, in the form of anthropogenic climate change, topsoil depletion, salinification, aquifer and groundwater depletion, soil and ocean nitrification... it's a long list.

It would be incredibly stupid to encourage people to breed in order to preserve economic systems that were stupidly premised on continual population growth, rather than fixing those economic systems to cope with decline. A growing population is nothing to brag about.

We've held off Mr Malthus for centuries and in all likelihood we can probably do it for a few more, with sufficient cleverness: built a ton of nuclear reactors, bioengineer salt-tolerant crops, desalinate seawater when the groundwater runs out, learn to love carp. Climate change might require some desperate measures, since it seems doubtful we'll resist the temptation of all that coal and shale oil ... I wouldn't want to own real estate in Bangladesh. But most of our current problems probably can be solved, at least individually.

But many of those 'solutions' will inevitably create their own problems — just as the Haber-Bosch process, which saved first Europe and later Asia from famine in the 20th century has created a host of problems that we're going to need to tackle in the 21st — and there will be other, completely new issues. More and more balls to juggle, and we only need to drop one to create a true disaster.

So the question is not whether we can keep the whole growth mess trucking along for another century or so, the question is why would we want to. Why, when we have it within our reach to go another route: let the population begin to slowly decrease, while using productivity gains to maintain and spread the standard of living that right now only a small minority of humanity can hope to have.

If there is one thing — one single thing — that Western civilization has figured out in the late 20th century, it seems to be a way to stop population expansion without going down the traditional, bloody paths of war or famine. Women's rights, reliable contraception, secularism, environmental awareness, retirement systems — whatever the magic ingredients are, they seem to finally be working.

It absolutely floors me that there are people who, when faced with what looks to me like the triumph, the saving grace of high-impact technological civilization in the face of so many obvious downsides and failings, so much oppression and industrialized death, want to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by encouraging people — paying them outright, in some cases — to have more babies. Insanity.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:11 PM on March 19, 2010 [25 favorites]


> If the concept of "nature" wasn't just a way of separating humans from the rest of the world then "nature" wouldn't give a shit about your per-capita impact. "Nature" would only care about human society's total impact. Which is way too much.

In other words, nature has nothing to do with it. Humans have too much impact according to the authority of symbollocks. How much are you willing to sacrifice for your belief? How much are you willing to make me sacrifice?

Back to the Detroit article, it seems like a potential government funded clusterfuck waiting to happen. Razing abandoned buildings is one thing. Turning it into productive farmland is something else entirely. Significant eminent domain issues may arise. And who will benefit?

I do find it sad that Detroit faces such choices, not because it signifies anything in the grand scheme of things. But rather because much of the city's misfortune was to a large extent self inflicted by it's own residents over the course of years in millions of little (and some not so little) actions. Resulting in enough despair among individuals and collective entities that it was better to simply relocate than reinvest. There's a lesson for every center of prosperity to be found here.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:16 PM on March 19, 2010



(This does not contradict tbm's general thesis, since all of those countries are indeed countries that offer pretty generous benefits for child-rearing.)


But the thesis (as I understood it) was that with sufficient child care, "things work themselves out".

If the thing working out means replacement level birth rates and we see that these are not being achieved in Sweden (or anyplace else with generous child care for that matter), then the thesis falls apart, no? Clearly other factors are at work.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:19 PM on March 19, 2010


If there is one thing — one single thing — that Western civilization has figured out in the late 20th century, it seems to be a way to stop population expansion

If there's another thing Western civilization has figured out in the late 20th century, it's that we are not slaves to some arbitrary population ceiling. The "growth mess" hasn't actually led to much of a mess. I suspect that humanity is more prosperous as a whole no than it has ever been, as a product of growth. During the course of growth, some places will inevitably go by the wayside, like Detroit. But unless it's the result of war or disease, it's because there are better prospects elsewhere.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:33 PM on March 19, 2010


by encouraging people — paying them outright, in some cases — to have more babies. Insanity.

Sure, but can you see how some countries, like much of Northern Europe, are inclined to "pay people to have babies" for gender-equality reasons? And that a side-effect of that is that it prevents the local population (native or immigrant) from shrinking at a locally disastrous pace? (It's still below replacement level in most of these places, but when you include net migration it's pretty close to demographic stability.)
posted by Dumsnill at 2:33 PM on March 19, 2010


But the thesis (as I understood it) was that with sufficient child care, "things work themselves out".

Well, if that was the thesis, then yes.
posted by Dumsnill at 2:35 PM on March 19, 2010


My understanding is that from a purely economic point of view the black plague wasn't so bad.

In truth, it is difficult to design and implement a plague that only takes out economists. You invariably wipe out some bankers, marketers, and quants, too. Some models suggest this may be 'value added', but I've found it surprisingly difficult to find potential fellow researchers/researchees for this matter.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:16 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Interesting. They interviewed Mark Dowie on CBC about this story on Monday. It's worth listening to, as it presents a completely different version of the issue than what you'd find in this thread. I thought it was a hopeful development, and it would be a shining example of forward thinking if the result is anywhere close to what he's talking about in the radio interview.
posted by sneebler at 5:58 PM on March 19, 2010


I'm saddened by the fact that what people get excited about is stuff like the destruction of part of a city and its takeover by wildlife. I'm not trying to say that this plan is a bad idea or anything, from a practical standpoint, just that I've never understood why decay is such a pleasant thing in today's postmodern aesthetic (I see this everywhere now, in lots of different contexts in the arts).

So, yeah, I guess in some way that my mind has a hard time fully processing, someone somehow is better off, but nonetheless, I can't help but:

.
posted by Xezlec at 8:32 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]




Population growth cannot continue forever.

Well, it won't. The world's population is supposed to peak in 2050 and decline after that
posted by KokuRyu at 11:18 PM on March 19, 2010


Regardless of actual exact cause of death, firefighters don't joke about losing their own.

Yeah, but we didn't hear the story from a "firefighter," we heard it from you. Besides, I am sorry to say, I've known a few firemen in my life, and they absolutely do joke about morbid shit, and exaggerate both the risks and the heroics of their job for entertainment effect, esp. with relatively gullible non-firefighters.

You would not have a body "riddled with cancerous growths" a week after exposure to nearly anything, not even a direct injection of polonium 90.

There are, absolutely, substances you could inhale in airborne form in the course of fighting a fire that could kill you instantly, let alone in a week, but not by means of metastatizing carcinoma.

Urban legend, for sure.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:51 AM on March 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


it makes me sad to think of all the wonderful small villages I drove through in east Germany going away

Well, they don't have to disappear.

YOU HEAR ME, small villages in Eastern Germany?

You want a POPULATION? I can guarantee you at least half a million people, right off-the-bat, in one easy step. Seriously. One step.

Open your immigration doors to Americans. Seriously. If you'll take Americans, I can guarantee you, right now, no problem, half a million people that would happily come live in your villages. Offer up the chance at an EU passport, with your free health care and your sensible drug laws, you'll fill up the country in no time.

I'll tell you something else, Eastern Germany. A lot of people think housing is still overvalued in this fucked up country, and just want a chance to have their own place without being forced to pay 2006 prices. You offer some cheap land in the bargain along with citizenship, and you can double that number, easy.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:38 AM on March 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


i'd rather they gave it to the wolves.
posted by yoHighness at 5:50 AM on March 20, 2010


[not american-ist]
posted by yoHighness at 6:03 AM on March 20, 2010


All of you disputing the claim that human population has never declined using local statistics are missing the point: the GLOBAL population has never declined.

Also, the costs of land reclamation and brown-field cleanup aren't justifiable with a declining population: you've got a surplus of land and some spots require major investment to cleanup even while the potential return on investment decreases with the declining population. It's easier to cordon them off than to clean them up.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:25 AM on March 20, 2010


This is a great idea for Detroit. My helpful suggestion: deconstruct, don't demolish. Help local folks setup deconstruction companies; provide loan guarantees; give them tax free status for a few years; help them train people to deconstruct houses. You create business opportunities, jobs, new job skills; you preserve resources and avoid adding to the problems associated with construction and demolition landfills. It looks like they already have a program in place, so they could just expand that.
posted by effwerd at 8:40 AM on March 20, 2010


the GLOBAL population has never declined

Right. Currently the entire world is trending towards, or gone over the line of, under replacement rate. This is new. It began in the 1960s and 70s with the green revolution (no more need for farm labor) and contraception. There is no reason to see why this would change in the future (unless cities are abandoned and rubbers go extinct) so really the odds are extremely high the world population will peak and then decline in the 21st century. Think of it as like Peak Oil, but Peak Population - once we pass that peak, things will change!
posted by stbalbach at 9:56 AM on March 20, 2010


This is a great idea for Detroit. My helpful suggestion: deconstruct, don't demolish. Help local folks setup deconstruction companies; provide loan guarantees; give them tax free status for a few years; help them train people to deconstruct houses. You create business opportunities, jobs,

Another problem with bringing jobs to Detroit is the human resources pool. When the last major grocery store left town, one of their complaints was having difficulty hiring qualified local employees. Only 25% of the population graduates from high school, 47% of Detroit adults are functionally illiterate and then there's the problem of finding someone who can pass a drug test and who doesn't have a previous felony record. Most of the businesses operating in Detroit that aren't fast food or mom 'n pop shops hire workers from the suburbs.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:04 AM on March 20, 2010


I'm saddened by the fact that what people get excited about is stuff like the destruction of part of a city and its takeover by wildlife. I'm not trying to say that this plan is a bad idea or anything, from a practical standpoint, just that I've never understood why decay is such a pleasant thing in today's postmodern aesthetic (I see this everywhere now, in lots of different contexts in the arts).

A fashion for beautiful decay has been a part of the Romantic Canon since at least the 1700s.
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 AM on March 20, 2010


that being said, a certain fetishism for World Without Us-style speculation is popular now and a bit creepy. You could spend a whole dorm room afternoon bean plating it
posted by The Whelk at 10:12 AM on March 20, 2010


Romantic Canon since at least the 1700s.

"Sublime" being the aesthetic value, an "agreeable horror". See also the theory of Ruin Value.
posted by stbalbach at 11:11 AM on March 20, 2010


Open your immigration doors to Americans. Seriously. If you'll take Americans, I can guarantee you, right now, no problem, half a million people that would happily come live in your villages. Offer up the chance at an EU passport, with your free health care and your sensible drug laws, you'll fill up the country in no time.

Half a million Americans of the sort who are willing to move someplace with no prospects of gainful employment because they think they'll have free health care and be allowed to get high? Yeah, that's exactly what Germany wants.
posted by The World Famous at 11:29 AM on March 20, 2010


Reverse Adelsverin! Set Up a Little America to bring our local crafts and customs to the blighted villages.
posted by The Whelk at 11:42 AM on March 20, 2010


OK, true enough, I guess. But it still bugs me.

By God, I will figure out the meaning of these garbanzos...
posted by Xezlec at 11:48 AM on March 20, 2010


All of you disputing the claim that human population has never declined using local statistics are missing the point: the GLOBAL population has never declined.

Yep. Here in Fort Worth they are projecting a population boom of something like 50% increase over the next 20 years. The "brownfields" south of downtown are already being gentrified. If all goes as planned, I'll soon be part of that movement of population from the suburbs toward the city core.
posted by Doohickie at 2:04 PM on March 20, 2010


We've held off Mr Malthus for centuries

Because he was--what do you call it?--wrong.

Declining population is not in itself an ecological boon. It depends on how we live. It is pretty clear that societies need to achieve a certain stage of growth to be be able to afford environmental protection. The trick with global downsizing will be to do it in ways that protect the environment rather than abandoning unneeded chemical plants and such and walking away.
posted by LarryC at 2:04 PM on March 20, 2010


Yeah, that's exactly what Germany wants.

They said they needed people. I didn't hear anything about quality control.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:22 PM on March 20, 2010


Isn't quality control sort of implied when you're talking about anything German?
posted by The World Famous at 12:40 PM on March 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because he was--what do you call it?--wrong.

Exactly. More evil has been done in fear of a Malthusian crisis than has ever occurred from a Malthusian crisis. The Irish Potato Famine was partly a result of British policy that allowed it to occur - while millions died, the Brits exported food from Ireland - all those starving people were a "natural" purging of over-population, they thought, Malthus said so! Many other examples of self-fulfilling Malthusian prophecies. A lot of modern-day environmentalism is (uncomfortably) rooted in Malthus and Eugenics. One can see it even in some of the posts in this thread - it's hard to touch Demographics without sounding like a colonial-era racists, so much of what we take as common truth is actually a holdover from 18th and 19th century racist and colonial mindsets.
posted by stbalbach at 7:58 PM on March 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, Malthus was wrong? So... global population can increase without bound despite the world having finite resources? I don't think I'm being closed-minded to say that's counterintuitive. How does that work, exactly?
posted by Xezlec at 7:23 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, Malthus was wrong? So... global population can increase without bound despite the world having finite resources? I don't think I'm being closed-minded to say that's counterintuitive. How does that work, exactly?

Malthus predicted that this would happen, and it didn't.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:39 AM on March 23, 2010


They said they needed people. I didn't hear anything about quality control.

This is silly, they don't want "people" they want Germans. If they wanted "people" they could open it up to Moldovans or Turks or Africans or Chinese or, hell, if they really meant that they needed "people" they'd lift all restrictions on "second-tier" EU members!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:11 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Malthus predicted that this would happen, and it didn't.

Oh. Well, sure, I mean, condoms. And such.
posted by Xezlec at 7:07 PM on March 23, 2010


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