What U.S. CIty Has Had The Worst Decline?

I feel some need to defend St. Louis. There are definite problems here, but on the whole, the city is not a bad place to live. There are many very high-rent districts and other neat areas, and there are many plans (some of them even being implimented) for renourishing dying neighborhoods. It certainly has its problems, though, number one being urban sprawl. Some 2.5 million people live in the metro area, which is probably hundreds of miles in diameter. Still better than Detroit, I think.

Tough to pick a “winner” here. I’ll agree that Allentown has fallen pretty far (but I haven’t been there in ten years). Newark, N.J. is a scary place (or was the last time I was there), but even 50 years ago I think it was noted for its corruption. Lawrence is depressing. Lowell is in the same boat, but has the UMass campus there to help keep it from sliding.

The worst declines I’ve seen aren’t in big cities, but small towns woth single industries that have dried up and gone away. Lots of mining towns in eastern Utah, and small towns in Maine that fit that description.

I was going to nominate the city in which I have lived all my life - Buffalo, NY - but I must admit that Niagara Falls has had it worse. I’m sure if Buffalo made a significant comeback it would greatly help our little brother to the north, but it hasn’t happened and it isn’t just over the horizon either. Bad politicians and bad politics have made it that way for the last several decades.

Buffalo is still a great place to live if you can keep a good paying job. That is still possible, as I have for several years now, but difficult for many.

Hey now, Pittsburgh isn’t THAT bad. We still have our universities, our museums, our ethnic restaurants. Just that our economy sucks.


And we don’t have the pollution we had prior to the 1960s.

Some rulings:

  1. Based on Ralph124c’s comments, Lawrence has been in its’ current state since 1920, making it ineligible under Rule 1.

  2. No community of under 50,000 shall be under discussion, and we shall stay away from regions, as that complicates matters.

  3. East St. Louis is ineligible under Rule 2 (the “Cicero Rule”).

  4. As New Jersey goes, Newark (though, according to my mother, who spent time in the early 1960’s there due to my grandfather’s business, always ugly) is eligible, but Camden is eliminated by Rule 2 (and, quite possibly, Rule 1 as well).

I’ll have to agree with Mojo and say Baltimore, based mainly on every single minute I’ve spent up there. Alleys full of rotting garbage, sidewalks that get slimy when it rains, copious amounts of litter strewn about, boarded-up buildings everywhere, the car I was using broken into three our of four times I’ve been there. Maybe I’ve just chosen the wrong streets to drive on (as I suspect Weirddave has done in DC), but that’s what I see whenever I go up there. It was depressing.

In contrast, I’ll have to stand up for my hometown because of the huge improvements I’ve seen in city services over the past 5 or so years. You can go online to the dept. of public works and submit a maintenance request (like a street light out or missing trach can) and actually see results within the week. I was truly amazed. The general state of morale seems to be way up too. You can see groups of neighborhood citizens get together on weekends to work on some beautification project. I also like that our elected council members actually come to our neighborhoods to hold regular meetings with us, instead of making us go to them. It makes me feel like I actually have a hand in my local government.

I agree. It’s more than an economic depression going on there, some sort of virulent civic disease took over completely.

My grandmother grew up there. My cousin arranged to have her deceased parents moved out of the cemetary and reburied elsewhere - people don’t even want their dead relatives in Lawrence. How bad is that.

Hey, don’t knock Baltimore, man. We’re doing pretty well here. We’ve got several high rent districts. Off the top of my head I can come up with Federal Hill, Butchers Hill, Canton, Mt. Vernon and Fells Point. There are more on the way. Downtown Baltimore’s not bad. Not bad at all.

Although I just moved from the city to the country it was a move for the kids. If it were solely up to me, I’d still live in downtown Baltimore and I miss it immensely.

The first thing that came to my mind was East St. Louis, IL too.

In the '50’s it was actually voted Small Town USA. In the '70’s and '80’s, massive “white flight.” Now it’s a lawless wasteland slum without even basic sanitation services.

Before the days of cell phones, and probably still, people’s greatest fear out there was having your car break down on the freeway in the vicinity.


We’re talking about the Baltimore in Maryland, right? The city that was the heroin capital of the US less than 2 years ago? The Baltimore that’s the 2nd most dangerous city, 5th most dangerous metro area (DC is 4th and 14th, respectively)? Don’t get me wrong, I like ©harm City and the situation has started to improve in the past 2 years, but things there are a lot worse than they were 15-20 years ago. DC on the other hand hit it’s low point in the late 80s and has shown marked improvements every year since Williams was first elected mayor (FTR I’m a DC resident and native).

Don’t get me started on the fact that the Inner Harbor is now all chain restaurants…

i feel the need to chime in about a few things.

first, Duke hit the nail on the head. buffalo and nf ny have got to be about the worst shadows of their former selves other than old southwest mining towns. i’m not sure niagara falls has experienced a bigger decline than buffalo, but only because buffalo had farther to go. around the turn of the century, it was among the biggest grain hubs in the country (if not the biggest, i forget), it hosted the pan-american expo, and has played an important historical role since the war of 1812. certainly right now, nf is more sad because it clearly has much more unrealized potential than buffalo. just look across the river to nf, ontario. it’s a beautiful place to be, whereas the ny side is sad and hollow.

second, i also want come to the defense of pittsburgh. i moved to pittsburgh from buffalo for school, and stayed here cuz i got a great job right out of college. pittsburgh’s tech community is right up there with cambridge, ma, and palo alto, ca. thanks to cmu and pitt, there are many things happening in pittsburgh that aren’t happening anywhere else in the world. also, there are plenty of cultural aspects about pittsburgh that make it a nice place to live, and you can’t beat the rivers and trees and bridges for a pretty landscape. it’s definitely a city on the rise. if you look at average professional salary, it may be significantly less than say, nyc. but if you look at the cost of living as well, it’s one of the most well-paying areas in the country. i haven’t really seen any indications (from my somewhat well-off point of view) that the economy is on the decline here, and every indication that pittsburgh is positioning itself as one of the leading cities in techonological revolutions.

Ranking the Michigan cities, I’d say that Flint is worse than Detroit (I am right in the middle of downtown Detroit as I type this).

Detroit has lots of problems, not the least of which is the leadership, not to mention the crumbling tax base, but even in the 1980’s (when things were really bad) there were still reasons to go to Detroit- the art museum, the baseball stadium/hockey stadium. They’re rebuilding the Book-Cadillac Hotel, which closed in like 1984, and GM has moved in and spent a boatload on the Renaissance Center to refurbish it.

Flint, however, used to be a thriving city, until Buick pulled out. I don’t think that there was any industry after that, and the city sort of collapsed in on itself, and isn’t really regenerating.


This thread makes me want to cry. All of these cities played a part in the development of our country, and now they’re just a bunch of toilets waiting to be flushed. I don’t understand how this can happen to so many cities. I understand economics and crime, etc., but it just amazes me that it’s so widespread. And why some towns and not others?

Camden’s still pretty bad, from what I hear, but they’re making a lot of progress with their waterfront. It has the Aquarium, the Tweeter Center (formerly called the E-Center), and the newish baseball field for the city’s minor league team, the Camden Riversharks. There’s probably more on the waterfront I’m forgetting.

How about Atlantic City? I always heard it was an absolutely beautiful place back in the day, and now it’s pretty scuzzy; it’s not a good idea to wander too far from the boardwalk.

I disagree with Governor Quinn’s ruling about Camden, NJ.

A quick search shows a population of almost 80,000 as of the 2000 census, so it still qualifies under Rule 2.

As to Rule 1, according to my wife and her family and friends, who grew up there in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, it used to be a pretty nice place until the riots in the 60’s and the subsequent white flight. My wife has often described to me the beautiful houses, some with cool architectural features, and how she watched them burn down or get looted/destroyed one by one as the city declined. So I would say Camden began its big decline after the 50’s.

It’s true, as dantheman said, that development at the waterfront has helped, but really, it’s only helped the waterfront. There are little pockets of niceness here and there, and a few minor spots to visit (like the Campbell’s soup toureen museum) aside from the waterfront, but on the whole it is a very distressed place with no tax base, horrible schools, no real shopping centers, no theaters, no great restaurants, etc.

I don’t know how that compares to Newark, NJ or any of the other cities mentioned, but in my opinion it should be in the running, and definitely not disqualified.

But Camden was such a gutted pile of poop that any improvement, even if it’s just to the waterfront, is palpable. I went to school there, and you couldn’t walk a block or two from campus without running into trouble.

As late as the early 70s, when we lived in a Pennsylvania suburb of Philadelphia, my dad went to Camden regularly to see a medical specialist. I doubt he would do the same today.


Allentown has had some recovery in the 90’s. They mansged to shift away from the last elements of the Iron & Steel industry and into some new markets. They’ve done amuch better job than a lot of single industry towns, who seem to think that if they invoke the magical rites then the jobs will come back.

Trouble is, even when Allentown was thriving it was a depressing loooking place. I used to go there about 6 times a year (usually int he fall) and I swear the sun just never shined on Allentown/Bethelhem.

I gotta chime in and vote for Baltimore. I’m from there originally and while it was never a great place, in the 50s and 60s at least there were jobs and people gave a damn. It went into the shitter big time in the 70s when Bethlehem Steel started laying people off and was still there when I left a few years back. Blocks of abandoned houses, trash everywhere, junk cars on blocks in the street. And more crack than a million junkies could smoke in a million years. Your basic urban hellhole. Check the site below for some info on the population decline. And AFAIK, it’s all still sitting there basically waiting for someone to pull the handle, open the valve and flush it into the Chesapeake. Sad.
Population decline in Baltimore

Oh, and Duke is right. NEVER call it Pittsburg. They tried to pull that shit on us back in the early 1900s. We fought it then, and if someone tries to do that, we’ll take yinz dahntahn an throw yinz in da Mon an 'at!