12 May 2010

Detroit Clears the Decks

In most central cities, the goal is "infill development." Detroit's goals, however, are a little different. You might call it "empty out development." The goal is to remove dangerous havens for drug dealers, and has strong community support. Federal stimulus money is being used to help fund the project.

[Detroit] officials announced plans to demolish about 450 of the most dangerous structures within the next two months. . . . Detroit's mayor wants to tear down 10,000 vacant houses over the next four years and, with them, evict the illegal drug and weapons operations that often move in after residents move out.

[Many of the houses are] dilapidated structures along a street dotted with vacant, weedy lots. . . . There are about 33,000 vacant houses spread across Detroit, while another 50,000 homes are in foreclosure, Mayor Dave Bing has said. . . . About 660 have been torn down since January, compared to 860 that were demolished in all of 2009. The 450 houses targeted by Wayne County are among 3,000 on Bing's demolition list this year.

Detroit religious leaders were asked to compile a list of abandoned houses near their churches. . . . Vacant houses have been a nuisance to communities and police for years in Detroit[.] . . . The number of abandoned and foreclosed homes has risen as Detroit's population plummeted. The 139-square-mile city was built for two million people, but could dip below 800,000 when 2010 Census numbers are collected.

Denver's urban planners have be struggling with ways to consolidate its reduced population. In a city like Denver, infill development is economically and environmentally attractive because it uses existing infrastructure to serve more people. In a city like Detroit, the cost of maintaining infrastructure built for a much greater population has created a burden, and narrowing the city's developed footprint is one way that the city would like to provide urban services to its residents at a lower cost.

Detroit's task isn't one that they usually teach urban planners, where the focus in the literature is overwhelmingly on how to manage growth, rather than on how to gracefully downsiize.

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