The Rusting Belt: Peoria Ill

Vacant homes. Empty commercial space. Unfilled parking lots. Open streets. Large industrial corporations migrating to other cities. Crime rates spiking and populations declining. It's the stuff you read about... so far removed from your own reality that its hard to imagine or even find a place for it in your mind. I had heard of the infamous epidemic Detroit has been facing for years. It really exists and the hollow feeling of empty towns is hard to shake off.

I just got back from Peoria Illinois and caught a glimpse of what the recession, outsourcing, advancing technology, economics, and basically what time can bring to a city. Things change.

It's a city that feels bigger than what it really is. Its like a over sized fridge that when you open the doors has just an assortment of condiments and other odds and ends. You can see marks from where it was filled to capacity not long ago. You kept asking yourself and even aloud, as you drove past big empty buildings, "what happened here?"

First, there is a greater trend in the Midwest that people are moving away. It's not growing and Peoria has seen the its population decline since 2010. The declining population, coupled with the 2008 housing crisis, has made way for a significant side affect - vacant homes and declining home values.

There are areas of Peoria that have vacancy of 25-40%. This is outrageously high and dangerous. A home in some parts of Peoria go for as little as $20K. Just scroll through Zillow - there are plenty of foreclosed homes for you to consider. The city of Peoria has been looking for new ways to deal with the vacancy problems. Even proposing to allow citizens to gain rights to abandoned lots/homes if they are adjacent to their current lot. (One item that was mentioned on several occasions was a rising crime rate -- while this is technically true if you look Year over Year, the annual report for 2016 does not paint a desperate picture comparatively to the historical records. And it's still early for 2017, but it has gotten off to a hotter start than the average.) This surely is the sickness that eliminates community after community until a city is dead.

It's not just people looking to leave - it's Fortune 500 companies are even looking to re-locate.
This move by CAT just illustrates a continuing issue that the city is already suffering from; downtown Peoria has a vacancy rate of 25%. Not only do they take up office space, they employ tens of thousands of people and are responsible for tens of millions of dollars for the local economy (see 2012 report, Table VII and XV). From donations to sheer taxable value, losing CAT is a huge blow to this already struggling city and economy.

This is a multifaceted problem with many contributing factors. But when people and businesses leave, its a recipe for disaster. It was a humbling experience to just observe. 

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