It’s been more than a week since officials in Detroit, Mich. announced the city was broke. News of Detroit’s intent to file bankruptcy has everyone talking about cities, everything from post-industrialization, urban sprawl, the automobile itself and good planning practices. Paul Krugman called the city “the new Greece” in an op-ed at the New York Times, Fox News blamed bloated government for the budget embroglio and Slate offered a plan to “save” the Motor City.

Over at NPR’s Morning Edition, Robin Boyle, professor at Detroit’s Wayne State University Urban Studies and Planning Department, describes the challenges facing Detroit, a city once home to close to 2 million people, but now, just over 700,000. Boyle told Morning Edition’s Renee Montagne that while some new development is taking place in the city, it’s in an area roughly 7.2 square miles in size, out of a city that spans more than 130 square miles.

From Morning Edition:

Well, there really is two cities here. We’ve got the traditional downtown, and an area we call Midtown that is becoming really very attractive, attractive to new businesses that are, in turn, attracting a new demographic: a younger, more educated population coming into these areas, filling in jobs in technology, some attracted by the businesses that were here before, but many actually starting up new businesses that are trying to change—change the nature, change the trajectory of the city of Detroit.

Shrinking Detroit to a more manageable size in its post-industrial life is a modern reality. According to Dan Balz, writing for the Washington Post, while federal policy has long affected American cities, including Detroit, a national policy on cities would not have saved the Motor City from its fall from grace. But the city’s bankruptcy begs the question: what is the role of the federal government in fostering urban vitality?

It’s not that Washington ignores the cities. There are many programs that have an impact on big cities. Education policies and particularly Title I assistance to disadvantaged students play an important role in urban school districts, where the problems remain substantial. Housing policy is another, as are safety net programs such as food stamps, welfare and Medicaid. The president’s stimulus program deposited considerable money into the cities.

Balz notes that federal policy hasn’t always been a benefit to America’s urban areas. In Boise and elsewhere, federal urban renewal policy resulted–in the case of the Boise Redevelopment Agency–a policy of offering up cash to tear down historic downtown blocks.

Visitors flock to New York City's High Line.

Flickr user Brian Kusler
Visitors flock to New York City’s High Line.

New York City’s High Line was envisioned as a ribbon-like stretch of greenway, a park built on an old freight line suspended above the city. While the park has been immensely popular as a place of repose in The City That Never Sleeps, Matt Flegenheimer at The New York Times notes that the High Line has also become a de facto transportation network.

Pedestrian commuters can shave minutes off their travels, even with stairs, by using the High Line. Flegenheimer’s trials found a New Yorker walking from Gansevoort Street to West 30th Street took 15 minutes to travel the distance, in contrast to a 20-minute walk at street-level.

From the Times:

This is the best-kept secret of the High Line’s least romantic visitors: With no traffic lights, no cars or bikes and few tourists during the morning rush, the raised stretch has come to attract commuters—not because it is picturesque, but because it is faster.

The Boise River Greenbelt, not yet one of "America's Best Bike Paths."

Flickr user Kenneth Freeman.
The Boise River Greenbelt, not yet one of “America’s Best Bike Paths.”

The Boise River Greenbelt exhibits a similar dichotomy. Many use 25-mile stretch of greenspace as an efficient network connecting the valley’s cities. Others think of it as a park system.

Boise State Public Radio’s Frankie Barnhill notes that while Boise is often included in numerous “Top 10” lists published across the country, the Treasure Valley’s much-lauded Boise River Greenbelt is absent from a recent list of “America’s 19 Best City Bike Paths.” Why didn’t Boise’s path, arguably one of the city’s best alternative transportation networks, make the cut?

The answer may lie in how the Boise River greenbelt provides access to commercial services, and how it connects to other portions of the transportation network. Barnhill looks more closely at the issue, and provides insight from the Boise Department of Parks and Recreation, which manages the path.

Read more at Boise State Public Radio.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.