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September 30, 1975 – Options: Growing Economic Problems For U.S. Cities – National Public Radio – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Cities on the Edge and in crisis. 1975 signaled a year of economic despair that threatened to sweep over America. We were in the midst of a recession – cities were facing economic downturns as never before. There was a mass exodus to the suburbs, leaving urban centers to fall into disrepair, abandonment and deterioration. Unemployment was skyrocketing. Major urban centers such as New York city were facing bankruptcy. Manufacturing centers, those cities whose economy depended on factories were facing a closing of plants, with companies moving off-shore to cheaper sources of labor and leaving the cities and the people they depended on abandoned and adrift. A new word was creeping into our lexicon; Urban Decay.
Urban decay (also known as urban rot and urban blight) is the sociological process by which a previously functioning city, or part of a city, falls into disrepair and decrepitude. It may feature deindustrialization, depopulation or deurbanization, economic restructuring, abandoned buildings and infrastructure, high local unemployment, increased poverty, fragmented families, low overall living standards and quality of life, political disenfranchisement, crime, elevated levels of pollution, and a desolate cityscape, known as greyfield or urban prairie. Since the 1970s and 1980s, urban decay has been associated with Western cities, especially in North America and parts of Europe (mostly the United Kingdom and France). Since then, major structural changes in global economies, transportation, and government policy created the economic and then the social conditions resulting in urban decay.
The effects counter the development of most of Europe and North America; on other continents, urban decay is manifested in the peripheral slums at the outskirts of a metropolis, while the city center and the inner city retain high real estate values and sustain a steadily increasing populace. In contrast, North American and British cities often experience population flights to the suburbs and exurb commuter towns; often in the form of white flight. Another characteristic of urban decay is blight—the visual, psychological, and physical effects of living among empty lots, buildings and condemned houses.
Urban decay has no single cause; it results from combinations of inter-related socio-economic conditions—including the city’s urban planning decisions, tight rent control, the poverty of the local populace, the construction of freeway roads and rail road lines that bypass—or run through—the area, depopulation by suburbanization of peripheral lands, real estate neighborhood redlining, and immigration restrictions.
This documentary, part of the series Options produced by National Public Radio, looks at the problem and the issues behind it.
And five decades later . . . .