Few people doubt that the city of Detroit is mired in a generation-long crisis. As one preacher in this CNN report puts it, “The city that put the world on wheels has run out of gas,” and thousands of abandoned homes and buildings stand in mute evidence of Motor City’s decline. Four months ago, Steven Crowder documented the problems that led to the disaster in Detroit and its destruction through poverty and bad political leadership. Now its current political leadership wants to solve the problem, through the literal destruction of dying neighborhoods:
This brings up a very interesting debate, and one not easily resolved. The decaying neighborhoods undoubtedly use a disproportionate amount of resources for the city, especially police and rescue, as the abandoned buildings make for easy shelters for the drug trade. Detroit doesn’t have an abundance of money anyway, and eliminating the most problematic neighborhoods and replacing them with “the world’s largest urban farm” would make the use of those limited funds much more efficient.
When the buildings are empty and abandoned, that’s an easy decision. However, the neighborhoods themselves still have residents in many of the houses and buildings who would have to relocate for this unusual form of urban renewal. People who own those properties want to remain in them. Cities have the power of eminent domain, powers which have unfortunately increased under decisions like Kelo, but those powers are generally understood to be used for public improvements, not willy-nilly destruction for destruction’s sake. Should the city force “densification” onto people who bought their houses because they didn’t like densification in the first place?
People will be watching Detroit to see how this plays out. Detroit may be in the worst shape of all America’s urban areas, but that’s a matter of scope. Other cities facing similar if less pressing crises may follow suit if densification rescues Detroit. To be honest, I’m sympathetic to both sides of this argument. Detroit has become such a disaster that some sort of drastic action has become necessary, but I’m inclined to support the private-property rights of homeowners in these neighborhoods who have stood by the city and their communities while others abandoned them.