It seems virtually everyone—from Wall Street bankers to small business owners—has been affected by the economic downturn. Now, the recession’s latest victims may be American cities. The Obama administration is reportedly considering plans to raze sections of 50 economically depressed US cities, condensing these towns’ shrinking populations and city services to smaller areas. The plan, dubbed “shrink to survive,” may seem kooky, but it could be big news for environmentalists: In many cases, bulldozed districts would be returned to nature via forests or meadows.

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The plan is modeled after a proposal currently underway in Flint, Michigan, the original home of General Motors. The town now suffers from a higher-than-average unemployment rate (about 20 percent) and a rapidly dwindling population, and local politicians claim the city must reduce its size by as much as 40 percent to avoid bankruptcy. Flint’s shrinkage plan is spearheaded by Genesee County treasurer Dan Kildee, who was reportedly approached by the Obama administration to look into other areas of the country that would also benefit from a size reduction.

Kildee says he will focus on 50 US cities identified by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization. The list may surprise some, as it contains major metropolises like Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Memphis, as well as other former industrial hotspots. Kildee and some government officials believe that downsizing these economically depressed cities will provide citizens with greater quality of life and more efficiently utilize city services.

While bulldozing beloved towns may cause some citizens to cringe, from an environmental standpoint, shrinking cities could provide a planetary benefit. Urban sprawl has devastated ecosystems—condensing urban areas and letting lots go back to nature could restore animal populations and add needed greenery. Plus, more green space helps cool cities and mitigate the heat island effect.

Via Telegraph UK

Lead photo by Brett Weinstein, second photo by GETTY