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Decline Machines and Economic Development: Rust Belt Cities and Flint, Michigan.

Authors: David Wilson*, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Melissa Heil, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: decline machines, Flint, rust belt, economic development, racialization
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Analysis of one of the global west’s quintessential Rust Belt cities, Flint, Michigan, chronicles its current economic development as spearheaded by what we term “decline machines.” The decline machine notion has only recently been invoked to understand current economic development. Our revised growth machine thesis highlights, first, that today actors creatively use notions of decline to propel economic development; and second, that race is one core dimension through which this process proceeds. Our thesis follows from recent hints by urbanists that notions of decline meaningfully embed in current rust belt city politics. Our position: austerity and neoliberal days impose intense resource constraints on key coalition actors, notably local states and their economic development sectors, which create wider-ranging hunts for “resources” to use. At the same time, coalition actors dive into deepened race-class demonizing spurred by this available opportunity structure in intensified whiteness-Trumpian times. We show that decline, anything but growth’s deadened end-product, helps to constitute growth, which speaks to this economic development’s current complexity.

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