For many decades, the primary challenge of land use law has been how to promote and channel growth and development. Nobody wants stagnation; the cure is growth, and lately the cure has been “smart growth.” In the last several years, however, some cities have begun openly to address a previously unacknowledged truth: some cities will and do shrink. They lose population and have no foreseeable prospect of ever regaining it. The land use planning community has begun to grapple with the issue of the shrinking city, asking how we can achieve managed, “smart” shrinkage To some extent, the answer is to shift density and promote green uses of various kinds This brings us to the legal question Does an organized effort to help a city shrink pose any distinctive legal issues? What constraints might the law impose on a city’s goals of diminishing its infrastructure responsibilities, downzoning its land to less intensive uses, or taking other steps consistent with a goal of managed shrinkage This paper explores a few of those issues, using Cleveland, Ohio as an example. It considers legal challenges the shrinking city might face, particularly when downzoning urban property to promote urban agriculture and other green uses, focusing on the application of takings law It also briefly considers the fairness issues associated with downzoning and the limitations of the current legal structure for revitalizing Brownfields in a setting where traditional redevelopment is unlikely.


Land Use, Growth and Development, Smart Growth, Law Use Planning, Smart Shrinkage, Density, Green Use, Urban Agriculture, Downzoning, Cleveland, Ohio, Zoning, Regulatory Takings, Shrinking Cities, Brownfields

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The Urban Lawyer

Publication Information

42 The Urban Lawyer 225 (Spring 2010)

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Land Use Law Commons