Detroit Shrinks Itself  

Posted by Big Gav in

The Wall Street Journal reports that Detroit (probably the starkest example of the deindustrialisation of the US) has received funding to start demolishing abandoned buildings and return the land to farm or park land - Detroit Shrinks Itself, Historic Homes and All.

Detroit is finally chipping away at a glut of abandoned homes that has been piling up for decades, and intends to take advantage of warm weather and new federal funding to demolish some 3,000 buildings by the end of September.

Mayor Dave Bing has pledged to knock down 10,000 structures in his first term as part of a nascent plan to "right-size" Detroit, or reconfigure the city to reflect its shrinking population.

When it's all over, said Karla Henderson, director of the Detroit Building Department, "There's going to be a lot of empty space."

Mr. Bing hasn't yet fully articulated his ultimate vision for what comes after demolition, but he has said entire areas will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. For now, his plan calls for the tracts to be converted to other uses, such as parks or farms.

Even when the demolitions are complete, Detroit will still have a huge problem on its hands. The city has roughly 90,000 abandoned or vacant homes and residential lots, according to Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit that tracks demographic data for the city.

After a stuttering start, caused by a dispute over the disposal of asbestos from demolished homes, the program is just now gaining pace.

City officials say they aren't sure how many structures ultimately need to be torn down. The mortgage crisis compounded Detroit's economic decline, leaving nearly 30% of the city's housing stock vacant, according to Data Driven Detroit.

"Neighborhoods that are considered stable are now at 20% vacancy," said Deborah Younger, a development consultant involved in the demolition effort.

Until recently, the city didn't have the funds to tackle its growing list of houses slated for demolition. But $20 million in federal funds, primarily stimulus dollars has helped to kick-start the effort.


Both de-industrialization and shifting industrialization.

The big car manufacturers set up shop in Detroit largely because Lake Michigan made it easy to ship in large amounts of iron ore. Modern cars are not so much about steel, but more about aluminum and plastic.

Back when Detroit was built up it was easier to heat a building in the winter than to cool one in the summer. With air conditioning the US population is moving into states where hot, humid summers used to make life miserable for much of the year.

We've got several car manufacturers now in business in the Southeast part of the country and likely to see even more as rising petroleum prices and resulting shipping costs shift economic advantage toward more local manufacturing.

Downsizing cities in the rust belt makes sense to me. Take large cities and turn them into modern 'villages' surrounded by green spaces/farms and connect them with good public transportation.

Get rid of old, inefficient houses and replace them with houses that use only a small fraction of the energy required to make those old leaky boxes comfortable.

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