Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Chen, Xuwei

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Geographic and Atmospheric Sciences


Geography; City planning


Hundreds of U.S. cities, termed shrinking cities, suffered notable population loss during the period of 1910-2010. The effects of such urban depopulation range from minor problems associated with a weakened tax base or housing market, to major problems associated with widespread abandonment and dereliction. A shrinking city literature that began in the mid-2000s has grown significantly in recent years, however, it still struggles with defining which cities belong in the shrinking city discussion, how urban systems unfold within a shrinking city, and what strategies are best to put forth to rectify their problems. The objective of this research is to understand how multidimensional urban processes unfold in shrinking U. S. cities across different scales. Specifically, this research aims to 1) develop a better understanding of the types of shrinking cities in the U.S., 2) examine the efficacy of right-sizing strategies in an iconic shrinking central city, and 3) understand how neighborhood change spatially manifests in a metropolitan area anchored by a large central city. To achieve those goals, this dissertation conducted studies on shrinking cities at different scales by 1) developing a shrinking city typology to help differentiate and illustrate heterogenous clusters of shrinking cities, 2) analyzing the property tax foreclosure and auction process of the nation's most iconic shrinking city, Detroit, and 3) examining the spatial patterns of variables associated with income ascent and decline within the largest shrinking city in the country, Chicago. The typology model uses a Geographic Information System (GIS) and a K-means cluster analysis to identify seven types of shrinking cities in the United States: 1) Large Shrinking Central Cities, 2) Inner-Ring Suburbs of Shrinking Central Cities, 3) Outer-Ring Suburbs of Shrinking Central Cities, 4) Inner-Ring Suburbs of Growing Central Cities, 5) Outer-Ring Suburbs of Growing Central Cities, 6) Small Shrinking Central Cities in Small Metropolitan Statistical Areas, and 7) Small Shrinking Cities in Small Micropolitan Statistical Areas. The foreclosure model uses spatial autocorrelation techniques and a Geographic Information System (GIS) to assess whether Detroit's foreclosure and auction process benefits the city and fits within its stated right sizing planning goals. The income change model used for the Chicago analysis employs a geographically weighted regression technique to determine the spatially varying effect of variables upon per capita income change within the neighborhoods and suburbs of Chicago. The seven clusters identified in the typology model provide a new perspective for addressing the problems faced by America's shrinking cities, which could help inform solutions and strategies to address problems associated with population loss. The foreclosure analysis finds that the foreclosure/auction process currently operationalized in Detroit is inefficient relative to its stated right sizing planning goals. The Chicago examination found that 1) the areas that rose the most in per capita income relative to the overall Chicago metro area were the gentrified Chicago neighborhoods and sprawling southwestern suburbs, while the city's inner ring suburbs declined the most, and 2) the use of GWR revealed hidden spatially varying associations between the explanatory variables and income change. It identified that the income change had 1) a stronger positive association with college education in the central city, distance to downtown in the suburbs, the percent of Hispanics in the suburban fringe as well as a positive association with percent of African-Americans in the central city and western suburbs; 2) a negative association with female-led households everywhere except the northern suburbs and a stronger negative association with foreign-born population in the northern and southwestern suburbs. By conducting multi-scalar investigations of urban processes across and within U.S. shrinking cities, this research contributes to the urban literature a deeper ontological understanding of what constitutes a shrinking city and how groups of shrinking cities can differ. It is worth noting how these multiscale results may intertwine. The shrinking city typology presented in this dissertation may help inform research at smaller scales by providing homogenized units of inputs of analysis. The lessons learned from problems in Detroit can be applied elsewhere to shrinking cities either to address budding similar problems, or in a preventative manner. The study of Chicago could provide insights into the spatially varying effects of gentrification and its associated factors within the metropolitan area of a shrinking city, revealing how neighborhood change evolves in American metropolitan areas generally, and in shrinking cities particularly.


Advisors: Xuwei Chen.||Committee members: Anne G. Hanley; Andrew Krmenec; James Wilson.||Includes illustrations and maps.||Includes bibliographical references.


164 pages




Northern Illinois University

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