Urban Shrinkage: A means for “Transnational” Informality…..How, Why, When do we intervene?

Good evening!

My name is Edwin, the kid from South Florida with a heart for the nations and tonight’s post will look at a phenomenon happening in South Florida as well as other cities. If you can’t already tell, this blog will serve as a platform for me to discuss what’s on my mind in the most simple way, leaving the world of academia and GRE lexicon.

Unfortunately, the term Urban Shrinkage is gaining popularity within the United States. For those who haven’t heard the term, a “shrinking” city can be characterized by a decreasing population base amongst other things like, a declining local economy, a disappearing of cultural institutions, and the deterioration of the housing stock. In South Florida, cities like Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, and Hollywood are experiencing some of the symptoms above. “On paper” these cities are losing their population to larger cities like Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, and Miami where there are more employment opportunities, housing options, and so forth. My observation however, is that these cities do not “look” as they are shrinking. The population is more diverse than ever, seeming as if the model of growth is in full force.


Informality: Economies, Cultural Institutions, and Housing Options

South Florida is home to a large agricultural industry based on sugar cane and citrus fruits. These farms need workers. Who are these workers? Immigrants from south of the border. Part of my family has made a living on the informalities of farm labor and getting paid “under the table,” but what does any of this have to do with “shrinkage?!”

On paper, many South Florida cities are shrinking, however, populations that are not accounted for are thriving more and more each day. In the city of Lake Worth, there is a whole neighborhood, the “Western Neighborhood,” where most of all inhabitants are Central American. In fear of deportation, they do not vote, they put off hospital visits, and draw no attention to themselves. But driving through this neighborhood, you’ll see that they have made homes out of the old and forgotten housing stock of a shrinking city. Vacant lots are now the new hangout spots, most stores have Western union for money transfers back home, and a large collection of ethnic restaurants appear almost overnight. In fact, a large portion of the population has been found to be of Guatemalan decent which explains why there is a Mayan center in the Western Neighborhood.

Don’t you see? Our idea of a shrinking city is actually serving as a platform for informality. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as they say.

Now the big question is…… Do we, as planners, intervene? How do we intervene? What are those intervention strategies?

Also, in the South Florida case, informality has helped create a whole new community that is thriving, but what happens when informality manifests in an “ugly” way? Informal economies, like seen in many of our high crime communities, can also be fueled by illegal activity. This indeed furthers the symptoms of Shrinkage.

The floor is now open…….

Do we intervene? How do we intervene?





3 thoughts on “Urban Shrinkage: A means for “Transnational” Informality…..How, Why, When do we intervene?

  1. Edwin, this is so very insightful. it would be so good if you could dig into the story of Lake Worth and its ‘informalizing’ neighborhoods. Perhaps a capstone/ a summer research? a winter break field study?

  2. I meant to add, what you are describing as happening in Lake Worth sounds different from what Mukhil and Monkkonen describe in colonias of Arizona or California in the border lands.Am I right? in what ways different and / or similar?

    What’s in a Name? A Critique of Colonias in the United States

    Mukhija, V. and P. Monkkonen, forthcoming (Fall 2007), “What’s in a Name? A Critique of Colonies in the United States,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.
    Federal Colonias Policy in California: Too Broad and Too Narrow

    Mukhija, V. and P. Monkkonen, 2006, “Federal Colonies Policy in California: Too Broad and Too Narrow,” Housing Policy Debate, Vol. 17(4), 755-780.

  3. Pingback: Story Collecting and Using Objects to understand place and plan better cities | Transnational Planning

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s