Video: Demolishing and “densifying” Detroit

posted at 3:43 pm on April 29, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

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.

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Four months ago, Steven Crowder documented the problems that led to the disaster in Detroit and its destruction through poverty and Democrat bad political leadership.

FIFY

Akzed on April 29, 2010 at 3:47 PM

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,

… like maybe electing a conservative government and kicking out the liberals? Nah …. lets bulldoze the place first. Yeah, that’ll work.

PackerBronco on April 29, 2010 at 3:47 PM

Detroit is a great example of what Democrat leadership can do to a city.

theCork on April 29, 2010 at 3:47 PM

Are they gonna replace Old Detroit with Delta City?

Doughboy on April 29, 2010 at 3:48 PM

Drop a bomb on Detroit. No one will know the difference.

andy85719 on April 29, 2010 at 3:48 PM

tough problem to solve, no matter how you slice it. Weighing the costs/benefits of the individuals in the area who want to stay, versus the cost of continuing to police/fire/rescue/water/electricity is daunting.

I’m sure we’ll get a grandiose green plan stamped with a union label that’ll be more expensive than if we just “did nothing.” As long as it makes someone feel good, then—I guess it’s worth it.

/liberalthought patterns.

ted c on April 29, 2010 at 3:48 PM

put up some Obamavilles? Right where they build Obamamobiles?

ted c on April 29, 2010 at 3:49 PM

PackerBronco on April 29, 2010 at 3:47 PM

Call in Rudy Giuliani. He knows how to repair a city.

Holger on April 29, 2010 at 3:50 PM

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.

This is the problem with “seeing the other side”, they haven’t abandoned the party that created this mess…they will still elect democrats who have no ability or desire to do what is needed to be done to rebuild the city.
So they woefully lament, and whine about how unfair, and then go to the poles and elect people that will continue the problem.
The other day on a black program they were extolling the virtues of a “black” high school and its new program…a program that has been promoted by conservatives for decades, and they find it a “miracle”, because a democrat instituted it.
So many lives lost, thrown away, all for a few votes…and a little power.

right2bright on April 29, 2010 at 3:50 PM

Detroit is a great example of what Democrat leadership can do to a city.

theCork on April 29, 2010 at 3:47 PM

Every major inner city is run by dems…every major inner city school is run by dems…what a mess.

right2bright on April 29, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Amputation works on gangrene, but doesn’t necessarily work on cancer.

Vashta.Nerada on April 29, 2010 at 3:56 PM

I’ll just be as they knock the buildings down you’ll see tent cities and shanty towns go up…

rollthedice on April 29, 2010 at 3:56 PM

Nothing OCP can’t handle.

Midas on April 29, 2010 at 3:56 PM

be = bet

rollthedice on April 29, 2010 at 3:56 PM

I hear the union goons living at Grosse Point are doing pretty well…

Seven Percent Solution on April 29, 2010 at 3:56 PM

The solution was outlined in a movie called “Escape from New York.”

pedestrian on April 29, 2010 at 3:57 PM

Where is Peter Weller when you need him?

Holger on April 29, 2010 at 3:57 PM

One third of the city’s residential areas are vacant – 45 square miles.

That says it all.

Vashta.Nerada on April 29, 2010 at 3:57 PM

Since all those houses have already bee looted of anything of value, there’s nothing to do but demolish them.

The ones that don’t want to move should be allowed to stay on as the resident caretaker of the coming urban farm. If they wanted, they could do a sharecropper arrangement where they earn a piece of the farm in exchange for working the farm.

This may turn out to be one of the only things that the dems do right. Also, there’s no reason that an abandoned neighborhood has to remain inside the Detroit City limits.

platypus on April 29, 2010 at 3:57 PM

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.

Moreover, these neighborhoods contain an infrastructure e.g. water, sewer, electric, roads – that were designed for a much larger population. The incremental cost of providing and maintaining those services with over-sized systems must be skyrocketing.

RadClown on April 29, 2010 at 3:58 PM

Let’s see. In Detroit we have a place with lots of cheap rent space to set up new industries and empty housing that could be renovated for the employess that these new industries would need. One might think that would be ideal inducements for industry to move in IF the city government would suitably package and offer it with low tax incentives as this has worked for cities that were industry friendly. Too bad that the corrupt and inept Detroit government will never consider this since like most liberals they think that more government is the only answer.

docdave on April 29, 2010 at 3:58 PM

I’m 45 minutes from Detroit. I have seen first hand the blight of a once great city. Dave Bing has his hands full and few options, the only commerce left in the city are casinos, party stores, barber shops and lawyers. Well, GM too, but do they count anymore?

It’s a mess of epic proportions.

booter on April 29, 2010 at 3:59 PM

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,

Drastic action was necessary back when Coleman Young was mayor.

But Young was credited with helping Detroit steer clear of bankruptcy in 1981, and he was able to work with the business community to revitalize the city’s riverfront with the $500 million Renaissance Center, the nation’s first privately-financed urban development project.

Then years later when they could not get enough revenue from the Renaissance Center General Motors bought it for their world headquarters.

fourdeucer on April 29, 2010 at 4:00 PM

Are they gonna replace Old Detroit with Delta City?

Doughboy on April 29, 2010 at 3:48 PM

Nothing OCP can’t handle.

Midas on April 29, 2010 at 3:56 PM

Awesome…

catmman on April 29, 2010 at 4:01 PM

docdave on April 29, 2010 at 3:58 PM

There is a lot of easy money to be made in demolition. There is no easy money in good government.

Witness the decline and fall of America.

pedestrian on April 29, 2010 at 4:01 PM

Easy — don’t kick the homeowners out, but charge them huge fees to recoup the cost of providing services over a vast, sparsely populated area, and make them sign a contract agreeing that all bets are off when it comes to response times for emergency services.

The model to use is the wild west. If you want safety and services, you best live close to the fort. Otherwise, you’re on your own.

Another option would be whatever you call the opposite of annexation (can’t think of the word right now). Basically, shrink the city and leave the area unincorporated and unserviced.

txhsdad on April 29, 2010 at 4:01 PM

Let me guess…

… The Democrats were in charge.

Seven Percent Solution on April 29, 2010 at 4:02 PM

40 years ago the big deal in urban areas was forced busing of schoolchildren in order to even out the demographics. Now they want to raise the stakes and force whole families and even entire houses to a government approved location. Yes, Detroit has serious problems and I can understand the temptation to use a technique such as this. But it stinks. It’s rotten.

By the way, before they brought out the heavy hand of the law, did they try incentives for voluntary relocation?

jwolf on April 29, 2010 at 4:02 PM

Yeah, these houses need to go, but the urban farm is doomed to failure. Here’s how it will play out. Farm developer will get a ton of public money to start up. Unions will demand high wages pushing out profits. Crop yields will be very low due to products lost to looters and not be able to use the best farming techniques, which are not “green” and will dirty the air (see air quality in places like Fresno and Bakersfield for reference). Next, the city will tax the produce. After the public money runs out, the developer will simply shut it down and Detroit will be left with more debt and thousands of acres of vacant land.

aaron31 on April 29, 2010 at 4:03 PM

Yeah, it’s a conundrum, but the battered areas have got to go if any thing even resembling a new beginning is possible. Problem is and always has been though that the population who lives there will just go somewhere else and very probably repeat the same level of destruction. Some things are not capable of change or changing it seems.

jeanie on April 29, 2010 at 4:04 PM

I really admire Mayor Bing, who takes only $1 in salary
and actually wants to save his city. I’m inclined to support him.

MayBee on April 29, 2010 at 4:05 PM

Mel Gibson should make one more Road Warrior movie in Detroit. That should bring in some cash.

RadClown on April 29, 2010 at 4:05 PM

Another option would be whatever you call the opposite of annexation (can’t think of the word right now). Basically, shrink the city and leave the area unincorporated and unserviced.

txhsdad on April 29, 2010 at 4:01 PM

I don’t know what precedent there is for this sort of thing, but presumably they would need agreement with the County government since the County would then have responsibility for the area.

jwolf on April 29, 2010 at 4:06 PM

Lets see
Unions, minority favoritism, democrat governments ,
now why did it go so wrong in Detroit ?

macncheez on April 29, 2010 at 4:06 PM

Howzabout we try the “drastic action” of putting the entire city leadership and the union leadership in jail and throwing away the keys.

And then trying electing some adults.

notagool on April 29, 2010 at 4:09 PM

Not much choice, really. The most viable parts of the city are (1) along the river, (2) on Woodward Avenue running from the river to Wayne State University, and (3) on the borders with the suburbs.

DRPrice on April 29, 2010 at 4:09 PM

Howzabout we try the “drastic action” of putting the entire city leadership and the union leadership in jail and throwing away the keys.

City leadership has gotten much better over the past two years with the election of Mayor Dave Bing (who is playing hardball with the unions) and Robert Bobb (the appointed schools administrator). The city prosecutor, Kym Worthy, took down Kwame Kilpatrick. Even city council has been shorn of a few clowns (starting with Monica Conyers).

Detroit’s a mess of long-standing, but the current leadership (as outlined above) is not responsible for the dire straits the city is now in.

DRPrice on April 29, 2010 at 4:13 PM

It only took a year, but it looks like the Democrats finally found a ‘shovel ready’ project to spend the stimulus money on.

“Entitlement programs, the shovel ready projects of the future.”

percysunshine on April 29, 2010 at 4:13 PM

California is next

Conservative Voice on April 29, 2010 at 4:15 PM

Detroit is toast, but what about their sports franchises? Sure they are losers too but how long can they stay? A change of venue might help their fortunes too.

Just A Grunt on April 29, 2010 at 4:15 PM

I’d like to give Dave Bing, the new mayor, a chance to see what he can do. He was a successful small businessman after retiring from pro basketball, and even won the Ronald Reagan Minority Small Business Person of the Year Award back in the 80′s.

Working against him, though, is having a lot of the same old-same old on the City Council, but at least they’ve gotten Monica Conyers out of there.

Last time I was in Detroit, there were plenty of completely vacant neighborhoods and industrial areas where they can start tearing down without having to displace anyone. When they get to the neighborhoods where they do need to relocate people, I think they can make a good case for the public good and improved living conditions for those being moved.

Dee2008 on April 29, 2010 at 4:16 PM

jwolf on April 29, 2010 at 4:06 PM

County “services” don’t equate to city services. You get sheriff and EMS. Fire is usually volunteer. Water is well and septic.

But I don’t think it would come to that. Once it was vacant and demo’d, the neighboring townships would divide up the territory, each annexing adjacent portions to develop on their own terms. Sweet irony.

txhsdad on April 29, 2010 at 4:17 PM

Detroit is toast, but what about their sports franchises? Sure they are losers too but how long can they stay? A change of venue might help their fortunes too.

Just A Grunt on April 29, 2010 at 4:15 PM

The greater metro area is in much better shape than downtown Detroit. Just try getting through on I-75 when there’s a Pistons game and you’ll see they have no problem filling the stadium.

Dee2008 on April 29, 2010 at 4:18 PM

Too bad Africatown didn’t pan out. That would have saved the city for sure.

AlexK on April 29, 2010 at 4:18 PM

Sure they are losers too

Just A Grunt on April 29, 2010 at 4:15 PM

Exsqueeze me? Red Wings??

txhsdad on April 29, 2010 at 4:18 PM

Detroit is toast, but what about their sports franchises? Sure they are losers too but how long can they stay? A change of venue might help their fortunes too.

Just A Grunt on April 29, 2010 at 4:15 PM

I question where some of them can really go.

The Red Wings may be one of the most historic NHL franchises, but the league is so bloated right now that the only place they could really move to would be to that part of Ontario which had been lobbying hard to bring in the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes.

teke184 on April 29, 2010 at 4:21 PM

Let me guess…

… The Democrats were in charge.

Seven Percent Solution on April 29, 2010 at 4:02 PM

No More Calls!! We have a winner!

GoldenEagle4444 on April 29, 2010 at 4:22 PM

But I don’t think it would come to that. Once it was vacant and demo’d, the neighboring townships would divide up the territory, each annexing adjacent portions to develop on their own terms. Sweet irony.

txhsdad on April 29, 2010 at 4:17 PM

That would be an amazing and ironic turn of events. It will be interesting to see what happens.

jwolf on April 29, 2010 at 4:22 PM

Reminds me of the chapter in Atlas Shrugged that took place in Wisconsin

Sekhmet on April 29, 2010 at 4:26 PM

They are kind of doing the same thing here in Toledo, tearing down vacant buildings. There is a huge kerfluffle because the local United Way wants to tear down its old HQ, wich is decrepit and does not measure up to ADA requirements. They build a new one that’s cheaper than renovating the old one (so more money goes to support their mission.) Except that the owners of the Toledo Blade got all hysterical about an ugly old building being torn down. Took the United Way an extra year to go through all the hoops & challenges. Oh, and the Blade is a very liberal, pro-union newspaper — except when it came to dealing with its own unions.

Should the city force “densification” onto people who bought their houses because they didn’t like densification in the first place?

Or forcing people to buy health insurance on a national level?

rbj on April 29, 2010 at 4:28 PM

It doesn’t matter what they decide. It will still be run by Democrats long-term and is therefore doomed to failure.

stvnscott on April 29, 2010 at 4:29 PM

Let’s see. In Detroit we have a place with lots of cheap rent space to set up new industries and empty housing that could be renovated for the employess that these new industries would need. One might think that would be ideal inducements for industry to move in IF the city government would suitably package and offer it with low tax incentives as this has worked for cities that were industry friendly.
docdave on April 29, 2010 at 3:58 PM

Michigan is a closed shop state.

Vashta.Nerada on April 29, 2010 at 4:31 PM

Simple.

Anybody using the term “Ethnic Cleansing” is on the wrong side.

warbaby on April 29, 2010 at 4:35 PM

Hey, it worked out well for the native Indians, didn’t it? We need another Trail of Tears fo the history books!

mossberg500 on April 29, 2010 at 4:39 PM

How is it that this town can afford to keep and support a pro football team? If you want to dignify the Lions by calling them a pro team. Go Broncs.

Kissmygrits on April 29, 2010 at 4:42 PM

Poor Michigan – reduced to accepting foreign aid from Canada:
Canada has offered to give Michigan up to $550 million US to help the cash-strapped state pay for a new bridge crossing the Detroit River.

CityFish on April 29, 2010 at 4:48 PM

Motor City is an example of failed Democratic Party policies that have wrought destruction on Detriot.

These statistics say it all. 50% drop out rate. 70% illegitimacy rate.

The democrats have created a perpetual black reservation in Detriot and now they want the rest of the country to follow suit or prop up the reservation. Or is it a plantation?

Whatever the plan if the Dems still run the city it will fail.

Kuffar on April 29, 2010 at 4:49 PM

I think they can make a good case for the public good and improved living conditions for those being moved.

Dee2008 on April 29, 2010 at 4:16 PM

So. Forcing somebody to move to make urban Farms is still just more Eminent Domain abuse.

Slowburn on April 29, 2010 at 4:51 PM

I moved into the Detroit area 15 years ago. I have never seen a group of people so deeply in denial about their city. The delusion back then was strong and universal, with local newscasts running ads proclaiming, “Stand Up and Tell ‘Em You’re From Detroit”!

Interesting psychology here. Yes, we’re stout midwesterners–workaday folks. But what led to Michiganders putting this problem off, and off, and off? Why did they get in the faces of those who dared to speak truth rather than acknowledging the inevitable?

Even to this day–with the bulldozers on the horizon, the schools is chaos, and the politicians sparring–many can only focus on how “unfair” the Dateline documentary was to this fine, fair city.

Astounding, but true.

Grace_is_sufficient on April 29, 2010 at 4:55 PM

this is out health care in 20 years….a moonscape of coverage and access…

imperator on April 29, 2010 at 4:58 PM

Respectfully, Ed, I very strongly disagree with forcing people to move. If the city decided to tear down abandoned homes and clear the lots, fine. No crackhouses, no crackheads. The homes left occupied will be in a rural setting. Rural ares don’t take much in the way of $ to police or firefight. The children of these homeowners could work the urban farm and grow their own maybe and learn about business, marketing and capitalism via a community truck patch. There are a multitude of possiblities that would improve things without forcing property owners to give in to the will of yet more big government urban renewal snakeoil. It is shameful that government contributed to the decline of these neighborhoods and its solution is to effectively punish the homeowners further.

JimP on April 29, 2010 at 5:05 PM

This is about black culture, sloth and non-productivity. This is about unions and Democrats at anti-American labor practices.

The white man who was free created this city. Grievance mongering commie Democrats, their useful white idiots, and especially the black culture gives us the Detroit of today.

epluribusunum on April 29, 2010 at 5:05 PM

Dumb question: Why haven’t they experimented with making these areas “no-tax” zones? Pass a law to make all the truly dead areas exempt from all state and local taxes, including sales taxes on businesses in those zones, for a set period – say 10 or 20 years. (And I do mean a set period, iron-clad, no extensions.)

People and/or corporations would come flocking in to those places, first on the edges and rapidly spreading to the entire area. Gentrification city. There’d just be too much potential money to be made.

Oh, wait, the city’s run by Democrats. Silly me.

The Lone Platypus on April 29, 2010 at 5:08 PM

It’s fine to demolish unused buildings, but why knock down the one’s people are living in? I don’t get it. Do they have something against just leaving them at rural population densities?

Count to 10 on April 29, 2010 at 5:14 PM

So the politicians have decided to DESTROY the city in order to SAVE it?

GarandFan on April 29, 2010 at 5:14 PM

For some reason I’m reminded of Nero. He, of course, didn’t have bulldozers.

Oldnuke on April 29, 2010 at 5:17 PM

The Lone Platypus on April 29, 2010 at 5:08 PM

Because the businesses would be as temporary as the tax breaks. Everyone knows the Dems can’t help themselves when they spy something they can tax/regulate to death. Even if the program proved to be a roaring success, they would be like a bunch of junk yard dogs trying to get to a sea kitten just beyond the gate. Once the tax breaks end and the gate is opened, all bets are off. If you were a sea kitten, would you hang around for the gate to be opened–especially if you knew the date and time of the opening?

stvnscott on April 29, 2010 at 5:41 PM

Like I said in an earlier post; it doesn’t matter what the plan is. If Dems are left in charge, they will screw it up. No doubt about it.

stvnscott on April 29, 2010 at 5:43 PM

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.

There’s a rust-belt city in Ohio called Youngstown that did something similar. Streets would have maybe 1-2 occupied homes out of 40. It became a public nuisance, and the city eventually got the 1-2 holdouts to leave and demolished all the structures. It’s sad, but it makes sense, and the motivations behind the demolition are less suspect than when the city is trying to condemn land to transfer it as part of some sweetheart deal.

Outlander on April 29, 2010 at 5:45 PM

This is the ultimate illustration of democrat policy. Detroit.

Good job numnutz!

Inanemergencydial on April 29, 2010 at 6:09 PM

The problem with Detroit is that it’s people are stuck in the past. They can’t get past “Motown”.

gator70 on April 29, 2010 at 6:38 PM

Forget “densification” or whatever, Obama’s social engineers will soon have the whole country emulating Detroit-called “DETROITIFICATION”. To save demolition costs which could run into the hundreds of billions-lucky us-we have Iran.

MaiDee on April 29, 2010 at 6:47 PM

It’s fine to demolish unused buildings, but why knock down the one’s people are living in? I don’t get it. Do they have something against just leaving them at rural population densities?

Count to 10 on April 29, 2010 at 5:14 PM

To cut right to the chase, it costs an inordinate amount for the city to supply services and offer fire/police protection for areas that have a mere handful of occupants.

I do sympathize with the owners, and usually despise the concept of Eminent Domain, but Detroit is in a situation most of us really can’t even comprehend. The deserted areas of my homecity, Omaha, are nothing compared to theirs.

Dark-Star on April 29, 2010 at 6:50 PM

As much as I’d usually be the first guy to speak out against something like this, as a Detroit resident, It has to happen. Detroit has more in common with a third world country than an American city as this point. Good on Mayor Bing.

Rollie on April 29, 2010 at 7:01 PM

I had to go to a meeting near Detroit last year. Since my brother and sister-in-law lived there years ago, I remembered how it used to be. I took a drive through their former middle class neighborhood and it’s now a slum. If these are the kinds of houses they’re talking about, I see no problem with it. My understanding is that a city has the right to require certain safety and building standards, even in private homes. None of these homes could be classified as safe or meeting any kinds of codes. It probably isn’t safe for people to be living in them.

Deanna on April 29, 2010 at 7:14 PM

We got relocated to Detroit last year. Hubby stays at a hotel M-F, the rest of the fam lives in Canada.
I went to a Christmas function put on by the company and hubby pointed out the dereliction and decay as we drove past on the freeway.
Yes, this tear-down must happen, but the residents have to remember who put them in this situation in the first place. I don’t think you can only blame the motors.

caygeon on April 29, 2010 at 7:25 PM

Imagine that. 1/3 of neighborhoods, abandoned.

Where did all of the people go? That question never seems to be addressed.

madmonkphotog on April 29, 2010 at 8:22 PM

Detroit is toast, but what about their sports franchises? Sure they are losers too but how long can they stay? A change of venue might help their fortunes too.

Just A Grunt on April 29, 2010 at 4:15 PM

Other than the Lions, actually Detroit’s sports franchises haven’t done badly. The Pistons are in decline now, true, but after a run that included an NBA championship and deep playoff runs. The Tigers won the American League pennant in ’06 and last year, though they collapsed, it still took a one game playoff with Minnesota to end their season. The Red Wings are simply one of the best professional sports franchises in the world, winning 4 Stanley Cups in the past 13 years and deep playoff runs in other years.

As for Detroit, most of the people who talk about Detroit have no idea of either the extent of the decay or on the other hand the fact that the region as a whole still has economic viability.

Detroit is somewhat unique in its decay. The city and the region have always had very high percentages of single family dwellings. There are not a lot of apartment buildings in the city. Everybody wants their own backyard. When condominiums started becoming popular around the country, the Detroit area lagged, and there are still not a huge amount of condos in the suburbs. Not everyone can or wants to buy their own home, but because of the nature of the housing stock around here much of the city’s rental housing is also single family or duplex homes, with both large and small landlords owning the rental properties.

Detroit was booming during WWII, the postwar growth era and the fabulous Fifties (well, except for the ’57-’58 recession). The economic prosperity sewed the seeds of Detroit’s decay as white families began to move to larger homes on the city’s perimeter and near suburbs and middle class blacks replaced them. This started a ripple effect with the city’s housing stock, with landlords owning the cheapest rentals starting to have vacancies. This all started in the 1950s. Though Detroit in 1960 still had a population of close to 2 million people, by 1960 most of the inner suburbs were already built and largely developed. So by 1960 there were already 400,000 people who had moved out of Detroit, mostly to the suburbs. Most “white flight” took place well before the 1967 riot. Detroit was well on its way to being a majority black city before the riot.

I lived in northwest Detroit, about a 1/2 mile from the city limits. In the space of about 5 years, the neighborhood went from a mix of Jews and Irish Catholics, to virtually all African American in about 5 years. My parents built a house in a near suburb in 1965 and we moved in 1966 and we were the last white family on the block.

The 1967 riot didn’t drive white folks out because they were mostly gone, except over on the northeast side. What the riot ended up driving out of the city were the small and medium sized businesses whose owners didn’t want to put up razor wire around the employee parking lot. So in addition to the residential development in the Detroit suburbs in the 60s and 70s, strip malls and industrial parks were built, attracting businesses from the city. Since Detroit has not had good public transportation since before the suburbs were built, this made it hard for the working poor of the city, who might not own cars, to get to work.

Add the oil crises of ’73 and ’79, which started the domestic automakers on a number of dangerous paths, along with Japanese imports, and the number of factory jobs started declining too. Also, a lot of the small and medium sized businesses in the area, some who remained in the city, took a hit as their big customers, the car companies, started a two decades long retrenching. It wasn’t all retrenching, though, some of it was needed modernization, so old plants like the Cadillac complex on Clark St. were torn down.

By then Coleman was in power. GM was willing to build a new plant in Detroit, and hizzoner Mayor Young cooked up a plan to tear down a viable but not fancy neighborhood on the border of Detroit and the enclave of Hamtramck so that GM cold build the Poletown plant, and keep some tax dollars and jobs in the city. How wise it was to destroy a viable neighborhood is open to debate.

So the city has a ton of empty and abandoned residential and commercial properties. The problem is aggravated by the fact that the remaining viable parts of the city, as someone above mentioned, are downtown, the Woodward corridor, the New Center and Wayne State ares, and a ring of residential neighborhoods on the perimeter. The viable parts are separated by large areas of decay.

Also, some of the viable areas are decaying themselves, with burned out homes on streets that are 80% occupied.

The city, which once had 2 million residents, now has 800,000. That’s a lot of empty housing stock. Landlords walk away too. Then vandals strip the houses of all the copper and anything else they can sell. Then the arson fires, which are likely to damage nearby occupied dwellings. The city, handcuffed by public employee unions, can’t keep up with the need to tear down the burned out and abandoned homes, so yet even more decay happens.

Still, as bad as it is around here, the region still has a lot going for it, with a skilled workforce, inexpensive real estate, an international maritime port, etc.

If I was a multinational company, I’d give Detroit a thought before building a plant in China or India. For all that people slag off Detroit, it’s still a major industrial center, the region is not a third world city despite the dramatic photos and video from south of 8 Mile Road.

Actually, a number of Indian companies have made acquisitions in the Detroit area. Detroit is still the global center of the auto industry. Every car company and supplier that does business in North America has some kind of facility, office or operations in southeastern Michigan. That includes Toyota’s billion dollar R&D center in Ann Arbor, Hyundai’s engine plant (technically a JV with Chrysler and Daimler), and smaller facilities like Tesla’s engineering shop in Pontiac.

Detroit is both not as bad as outsiders think and worse. The city has tons of problems, but I get a bit tired of people writing it off, particularly when they’ve never been inside the city limits.

rokemronnie on April 29, 2010 at 8:27 PM

This plan actually makes a lot of sense. If they are paying enough money for people to move to better situations I don’t have a problem. I have never gotten sentimental about a house so I realize I am not going to empathize with many involve which makes me less then the best judge.

Cindy Munford on April 29, 2010 at 8:31 PM

Couldn’t they just demolish the abandoned empty houses and leave the occupied ones? While an empty abandoned house is a magnet for crime and gangs, are empty lots with nothing but bare ground the same level of attraction for trouble?

Let the neighbors who stayed turn the empty lots into gardens and sandlots and so forth.

Sackett on April 29, 2010 at 8:43 PM

Actually, maybe there’s an opportunity to make some money.

Detroit’s decay has gotten a lot of attention lately, with a team from Time looking at the city, a feature on NBC Dateline, and now this CNN report.

Detroit Decay Porn apparently is popular.

I say take advantage of people’s rubbernecking at our region’s trainwreck (carwreck?). Offer tours.

Come visit the ruins of Detroit. Customers can have the choice of staying at a good hotel in the suburbs, but the folks who want the real flavor of the city will opt for a hotel on Woodward Ave. that charges by the hour. Bus tours will take visitors to various and sundry dramatically decaying parts of the Motor City.

Of course the tour will include a visit to the old train station. Apparently all media stories on Detroit’s problems must include, by union contract or government fiat or something, a shot of the old train station and all of its broken windows. The Packard plant, closed since the 1950s, is also a must see.

Forget Pompei, see the ruins of Detroit! Just sign this disclaimer.

rokemronnie on April 29, 2010 at 8:44 PM

Are they gonna replace Old Detroit with Delta City?

I’d buy that for a dollar.

Mike Honcho on April 29, 2010 at 8:55 PM

Where’s RoboCop when you need him?

Seriously though, Instead of an “urban farm” which will bring out the inevitable plantation comparisons, why don’t they make it the world’s biggest wind farm? That way, the folks that want to remain can and Detroit can become a leader in green technology. Maybe even energy self sufficient.

walkingboss on April 29, 2010 at 9:18 PM

Two weeks ago I flew up to Detroit and went back to the old neighborhood. I stood on the porch of the first home my parents bought. I looked in the twice burned out home where I was born. I saw the spot where my highchair was, where I learned to whistle, where my crib was, all those wonderful memories I made as a child, I stood there looking in the burned out shell remembering.

Stood there wondering about the once thriving blue collar neighborhood. Sadly, our old home was just one of many on the block. Block after block the same sad scene.

It appeared that someone might be living in it even as it stood in horrible burned out shell as there was a clear and well worn path back two the two bedrooms which had been mine and my brothers.

In all of the ruin, people are still trying to make a life. My Mom and I talked to the guy next door who had just purchased the home and the guy across the street who was also new to the street in the last year. In all the ruin, poor people are trying to hold on. Trying for the American dream even in the midst of ruin.

For those trying to hold on, for those who are taking care of their homes, I say let them live in their homes in the new urban prairie. Let them rise like a Phoenix out of the ashes. Oh to be sure, we should clear out the burned out houses and ashes to the left and the right, but where there is a fighting soul trying to make it–let them try. Open up the land to the left and to the right and let the countryside come to them.

Do not dim the hope of those forging ahead in such a difficult place, bulldoze the obstacles out of their way and cheer them on. Do not bulldoze those building dreams out of ruins. Clear away the destruction, let the sun shine on them and the grass grow in the reclaimed field next to them.

USBB on April 29, 2010 at 9:50 PM

I lived in northwest Detroit, about a 1/2 mile from the city limits. In the space of about 5 years, the neighborhood went from a mix of Jews and Irish Catholics, to virtually all African American in about 5 years. My parents built a house in a near suburb in 1965 and we moved in 1966 and we were the last white family on the block.

rokemronnie on April 29, 2010 at 8:27 PM

I grew up in NW Detroit as well, graduating from IHM in 1970, Henry Ford High School in ’74, and Wayne State in 1980, living in the same house at Rutherford and Pembroke from birth past high school. I always describe it the same way you do above, you were either Jewish or Catholic in my neighborhood. Growing up there in the ’60s was the best childhood imaginable. People that see the city now can’t imagine what a great place it was back then. It’s a shame what’s happened.

PatMac on April 29, 2010 at 10:06 PM

It’s a shame what’s happened.

Likewise, an older family member grew up in Detroit in the 50′s. When we visit Greektown, she reminisces about all the old landmarks, how she and her mother would walk all over the city. Perfectly safe.

Fast forward half a century. I read an article a few months back from a business owner who temporarily moved to Detroit. A high percentage of his employees called in sick multiple times a week, every week. He was forced to move out.

I guess many Detroiters think they’re owed a job, but don’t have to WORK one. Kinda like the Obama money. It just comes free.

We have big problems here. Really big problems. Bigger than empty buildings.

Grace_is_sufficient on April 30, 2010 at 5:37 AM

The problem with this plan is that it is just an extention of the same lunacy that got them where they are. I’ll bet a months pay that if you want to get a job in Detroit driving a bulldozer to knock down these houses, you’ll need to talk to a union boss, be asked about your race and minority status, and probably have to talk to at least six city officials to get the proper permits, just to bid on the job.

MikeA on April 30, 2010 at 9:08 AM

Densification ==> Starvation ==> Forced Organ Donation ==> Soylent Green

fossten on April 30, 2010 at 9:45 AM

Tear down the abandoned houses and the police and fire can protect the rest who are left. How do police and fire cover people in rural areas??

Puh-leeze. This is another political boondoggle. They are finally going to build their utopia (at our expense, I’m sure).

As others have said, let people come in and claim the land and work it and the city can give it to them for free. A modern land rush!

PattyJ on April 30, 2010 at 10:35 AM

Detroit is a great example of what Democrat leadership can do to a city.

theCork on April 29, 2010 at 3:47 PM

And Chicago is heading down the same track……Daly: Are you listening?

BigMike252 on April 30, 2010 at 12:43 PM

Those, such as the woman interviewed, should be allowed to stay in their homes, assuming they are properly maintained and do not threaten (serve to facilitate drugs/crime) the neighborhood. That being said, the cash strapped municipal government must seek ways to assure that all the urban zones it serves are contributing to financing the costs of the public services they receive. In fact, sanitation, street maintenance, public safety, and fire fighting (to name a few), if stretched too far, strain the capacity of the system to provide adequate services to the stronger communities. Would it be fair to remove those houses which have been abandoned or used for illegal activities, advise the remaining residents that municipal services cannot be guaranteed at former levels, and provide appropriate assistance for relocation? Such a procedure might initiate a more natural process for consolidating the city around a stable and “defensible” core. It’s a shame to see what is happening to this once great city. But it seems to me that at least Mayor Bing seems to be honestly searching for a solution.

boqueronman on April 30, 2010 at 1:05 PM

I grew up in NW Detroit as well, graduating from IHM in 1970, Henry Ford High School in ‘74, and Wayne State in 1980, living in the same house at Rutherford and Pembroke from birth past high school. I always describe it the same way you do above, you were either Jewish or Catholic in my neighborhood. Growing up there in the ’60s was the best childhood imaginable. People that see the city now can’t imagine what a great place it was back then. It’s a shame what’s happened.

PatMac on April 29, 2010 at 10:06 PM

With your nic I wonder if you’re related to the late Sen. Pat McNamara. He was a neighbor of ours on Ward. My mom was friends with his wife, whom she called Mary Mack. I was about 5 when he was running for reelection and he used to take my older sister and I campaigning because as redheads we could pass as Irish.

rokemronnie on April 30, 2010 at 1:15 PM

I was born and raised in Detroit as were my parents. My family has lived in Detroit from the Early 20th century until the ’80s. While there is significant focus on the racial aspect of Detroit, it is not the only reason that there was a decline in Detroit.

1. Racism – Its been there and still is. There have been numerous race problems dating from the 19th century. By the 50′s , the number of Blacks had dramatically increased because there were jobs here and not where they were living. This created enormous pressure to accommodate newcomers when there were significant race barriers to housing. This pressure caused a many problems that contributed to the city’s decline.

2. Manufacturing – Detroit started growing in the teens of the 20th century. Many of the major manufacturing plants were built over the next 30 years in the city. Because car ownership was relatively small, you had to walk to work, use the streetcar or the Interurban rail for longer trips. This meant the many neighborhoods in the city closed around a factory making it necessary to build up not out. Once WWII ended, these plants were on borrowed time. New plants had to be built outside the city. As plants closed over time, little in the way of businesses located in them and their tax contributions vanished, putting stress on city budgets.

3. Housing – Much of the housing created in the early 20th century were on 30 foot lots. My Grandmother’s house was like that, Created for lower middle class workers, they were built well enough but not insulated. That was almost 100 years ago. That stock needs to be replaced but the lot sizes and locations are restrictive. After WWII, the demand for housing was great but Detroit had about used up all its land. My parents built in 1950 on some of the remaining land left. There was not enough land for the housing that was needed so Detroiters, now having more cars moved to the near suburbs where , at the same time, new manufacturing plants were being built. The cord to the city was being cut.

4. Time – As the Detroit generation came of retirement age, they had either moved out of the city or their children already had. There was still pent up demand for housing from blacks who wanted to move to a safe area of the city. The situation was that once some of the racial barriers were broken, blacks moved in. The exodus of retirees continued until it became a trickle. As more people left, the cities crime rate increased and it became a safer haven for criminals than for citizens.

5. Urban Renewal – This current plan is a variant of the early 60′s in which Detroit was considered the national laboratory. Jerry Cavanaugh bulldozed large swatches of the city which weren’t built on for decades if at all. In ’78 or ’79, the City Planner of Detroit proposed this same plan in the Free Press magazine section. It was ignored.Now we are faced with a much worse dilemma. Business and stores gone, a tax base that relies on property and income taxes and an infrastructure out of proportion to the current size of the city.

Finally, to those who make snarky comments about Detroit. Stuff it. Wait till your central city implodes. For those who want to just blame democrats and unions. All kinds of people and political parties were to blame. Your one sided comments bring nothing but bitterness to the debate. And to those who view solutions to serious problems to the city as a simple movie story. Get a life and face reality.

nedludd on April 30, 2010 at 2:06 PM

With your nic I wonder if you’re related to the late Sen. Pat McNamara. He was a neighbor of ours on Ward. My mom was friends with his wife, whom she called Mary Mack. I was about 5 when he was running for reelection and he used to take my older sister and I campaigning because as redheads we could pass as Irish.

rokemronnie on April 30, 2010 at 1:15 PM

Good catch, I have the exact same name but no actual relationship. When he died in the mid-60s, it was big headlines in the Detroit papers and all the kids in school brought in the paper – funny to see “Pat McNamara Dead” in the headlines when you’re a kid. And contrary to rumors, the federal building downtown was named after him, Patrick V., and not me, Patrick J.

PatMac on April 30, 2010 at 2:21 PM

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it
- Peter Arnett

Won’t be the first time this has happened.

pain train on April 30, 2010 at 2:51 PM

Actually, maybe there’s an opportunity to make some money.

Detroit Decay Porn apparently is popular. I say take advantage of people’s rubbernecking at our region’s trainwreck (carwreck?). Offer tours.

Come visit the ruins of Detroit. … Bus tours will take visitors to various and sundry dramatically decaying parts of the Motor City.

rokemronnie on April 29, 2010 at 8:44 PM

Kidding aside, this sounds like an excellent idea and a real money-maker — at least small-scale, for those private businesses offering the services.

At least as long as the money goes into private pockets. The worry is, what happens when city gov’t finds out and tries to horn in on the action, given their instinct for extinguishing every good idea that ever crossed their path:

Everyone knows the Dems can’t help themselves when they spy something they can tax/regulate to death. Even if the program proved to be a roaring success, they would be like a bunch of junk yard dogs trying to get to a sea kitten just beyond the gate. Once … the gate is opened, all bets are off…

stvnscott on April 29, 2010 at 5:41 PM

RD on May 1, 2010 at 12:01 PM