Cooper-McCann, Patrick. “The Trap of Triage: Lessons from the ‘Team Four Plan.’” Journal of Planning History 15, no. 2 (2016): 149-169. doi: 10.1177/1538513215602026. (PDF)

This paper addresses the politics of spatial targeting: how city leaders should decide where to direct scarce funding for community development. In 1975, consultants from the planning and urban design firm Team Four Inc. advised St. Louis planners to pursue a strategy of neighborhood triage: ‘‘conservation’’ for areas in good health, ‘‘redevelopment’’ for areas just starting to decline, and ‘‘depletion’’ for areas already in severe distress. The firm’s recommended strategy reflected the latest thinking among urban planners, but it provoked outrage among residents of the city’s predominantly black North Side, who read ‘‘depletion’’ as a promise of benign neglect. In my article, I explain how Team Four justified its advice, and why, four decades later, the controversy over its memo persists. I argue that racial equity must be a factor in targeting community development funds, and that planners must develop alternative strategies to revitalize neighborhoods that are not targeted for redevelopment.


Dewar, Margaret, Matthew Weber, Eric Seymour, Meagan Elliott, and Patrick Cooper-McCann. “Learning from Detroit: How Research on a Declining City Enriches Urban Studies.” In Reinventing Detroit: The Politics of Possibility, edited by Michael Peter Smith and L. Owen Kirkpatrick, 37-56. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2015. (PDF)

Today, Detroit stands alone among large American cities in both the depth and breadth of its distress. Thousands of homes and many acres of land are vacant and abandoned. Residents are disproportionately poor and racially segregated. The tax base is decimated. What can scholars and practitioners learn about urban processes and planning from research on such an outlier city? We argue, based on examination of literature, that research on Detroit can advance understanding of cities and urban planning because of its extreme conditions. Researchers, for example, are able to observe phenomena in Detroit that likely exist elsewhere but go unnoticed. The magnifying effects of the city’s decline make the invisible visible. Detroit also allows researchers to untangle certain phenomena, such as gentrification, from the context of growth where they are usually observed, casting those phenomena in a new light. The large swaths of vacant urban land in Detroit are also an asset to researchers. They allow testing of hypotheses that would be difficult to assess in more intact, densely populated areas. Such research can have broad application to heavily developed urban areas elsewhere. Furthermore, Detroit research can expose the shortcomings of policies that presume strong real estate markets but do not work as expected in disinvested neighborhoods where property demand is very weak. Detroit’s extreme conditions also pose a challenge for some of the disciplines that contribute to urban planning. These disciplines have tended to focus on how and why cities and regions grow, who benefits when they do, and how to renew growth when it ebbs. Not enough attention has been paid to understanding decline. Scholars have figuratively modeled urban phenomena only across the range that variables exhibit during growth, leaving out the range during decline. The challenge that Detroit poses for urban studies is to flesh out that model – to understand the spatial, social, political and economic dynamics of change and how decline may differ from growth.


Cooper-McCann, Patrick. “The Promise of Parkland: Planning Detroit’s Public Spaces, 1805-2017.” PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2019. (PDF)

This dissertation investigates how and why the provision of urban parkland has changed over time, with different levels of government and different organizations in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors taking on different responsibilities. Based on a case study of park provision in Detroit in six sequential periods spanning 1805 to 2018, I argue that governance influences more than just the “publicness” of any given park or plaza. It also matters for socioeconomic and racial equity at a metropolitan scale, influencing which kinds of spaces and facilities get funded, how many spaces and facilities are provided, where they are provided, for whom they are provided, and who sets these priorities.

Cooper-McCann, Patrick. “Urban Triage in Cleveland and St. Louis.” Master’s thesis, University of Michigan, 2013. (PDF)

This thesis examines the historical record of “urban triage,” a controversial planning policy that called for the rehabilitation of areas in the early stages of decline over those in greater need, with the goal of stabilizing the greatest part of the city with the least resources. Similar policies are being proposed today in response to enduring population loss and fiscal crisis in cities like Youngstown, Flint, and Detroit, but few contemporary planners are aware of the previous cases or the body of planning literature that arose in response to them. Using planning records, newspaper accounts, and interviews with planners involved in the cases, this paper first defines urban triage, situating the policy as a response to a deepening fiscal and urban crisis, cutbacks in federal aid, and the transition from categorical federal grants to block grants. It then analyzes the challenges planners faced, practically and politically, in their efforts to turn urban triage into policy in St. Louis and Cleveland. It argues that urban triage was distinct from policies of urban renewal or planned shrinkage and could be justified theoretically in terms of both efficiency and equity. However, in practice, the difficulty of implementing urban triage appears to have prevented the realization of either goal.

Last updated on October 19, 2021.