Many of the once-thriving working-class neighborhoods of Flint, Michigan, have been largely abandoned. Credit: Rebecca Cook/Reuters
Over time, community members reported fewer mental health problems, said they’d been victims of crime less often, and felt less afraid. That’s probably because crime did go down along the University Avenue Corridor: According to the coalition’s latest report, assaults decreased 54 percent, robberies 83 percent and burglaries 76 percent between 2013 and 2018.
The Packard Plant’s south water tower stands above the crumbling complex in November 2010, only a few months before it, too, was brought down by scrappers. (Photo: Brian Kaufman, Detroit Free Press)
“Many of these buildings abut residential neighborhoods in some of the city’s most disadvantaged areas,” the report says. “Without a strategic approach to repurposing these properties, they will remain fallow for years to come, posing threats to public health and safety, and undermining Detroit’s recovery.”
Patricia Kobylski has been trying to get the City of Detroit to remove a pile of debris left from an illegal demolition in her east-side neighborhood. On Tuesday, she holds an envelope filled with notes on her calls to city officials. (Photo: Jennifer Dixon, Detroit Free Press)
The property is owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority, but spokesman Craig Fahle said city officials don’t know who tore it down in January 2015. Fahle said no one pulled a demolition permit, and the Free Press could not find any demolition or asbestos abatement notices on file with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the property on Westphalia between Gratiot and McNichols.
United Workers, an advocacy group, founded the Baltimore Housing Roundtable in 2013, by bringing 25 different organizations together to confront affordable-housing issues in the city. The group advocates the city to set up a land bank to expedite the conversion of vacant houses and properties to affordable housing and grant priority to ex-offenders for employment and training to work on such projects. It recommended “deconstruction” a process that will allow for more job opportunities and recycling of building materials.
Qian Wan , a mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate at SEAS, and co-author Bradley Pough, a J.D. candidate, provide data-driven recommendations city officials can use to battle urban housing blight.
Their paper, “Digital Analytics and the Fight Against Blight: A Guide for Local Leaders,” examines the problem of urban housing blight, identifies best practice uses of data analytics, and provides data-driven recommendations for municipal officials.
This November 2015 photo shows a blighted house being demolished on Sanford Street in Muskegon Heights.
“(It is) looking at a large catchment area of the entire Great Lakes and utilizing the Port of Muskegon to bring in that material from other cities throughout the Great Lakes, repurpose it here in Muskegon, and then ship it back out through the Port of Muskegon,” said Kuhn. The study builds on the work Michigan State University researchers began more than a year ago when they looked at blighted homes and structures in Muskegon Heights. MSU worked in partnership with Muskegon County at the time.
Funding that the city has lent through its reuse program includes $750,000 to TM Montante Development for Planing Mill project. Derek Gee/News file photo
The new fund, part of the Buffalo Building Reuse Project, is designed to speed up redevelopment in the city’s downtown core, with a specific focus on residential and mixed-use projects that will put empty and derelict properties back to active use.
The city has already had some public-sector dollars available to lend through the reuse program, such as the $750,000 that it provided to TM Montante Development last year for its Planing Mill conversion on Elm Street. The addition of the banks’ money will allow the city to support nearly three times as many projects per year in downtown Buffalo than was previously available.
To many, Detroit is defined by decaying, derelict homes. The city aims to raze a majority of the over 70,000 forsaken properties. (Photo: Danielle Walquist Lynch/flickr)
Bloomberg also crunches numbers to share some staggering statistics: given that the average home and basement produces 400 tons of debris when razed, all of Detroit’s derelict properties combined would yield around 28 million tons of demolition waste. That’s enough to fill 280 of America’s largest aircraft carriers.
Spearheaded by the administration of newly instated Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the pilot deconstruction program will take place in southwest Detroit’s historic Corktown neighborhood with several local deconstruction firms vying for the job. The winning bid will be announced early this summer.
“Dave [Bennink, RE-USE Consulting] will be facilitating a strategic planning session,” said Jonathan Wilson, economic development coordinator for Muskegon County. “He will talk about how an operation like Second Harvest could run, the potential for a domestic and overseas market, and how the private sector could be involved and how it could benefit from it. It’s basically a brainstorming session.”
Precedent has shown that deconstruction materials from blighted homes can easily be repurposed into other products and sold to generate revenue. Community leaders think the amount of blighted homes in Muskegon County as well as its port could make it a “central hub for import and export of deconstruction materials in the future.”
Detroit has been demolishing vacant and dilapidated structures for decades. But the effort could never keep pace with the need, with derelict factories, burned-out houses and trash-heaped lots becoming the subject of “ruin porn” viewed around the world.
But the effort to rid itself of blight ramped up earlier this year thanks to several related efforts.
Philadelphia Community Corps is providing first-phase deconstruction of nine vacant homes in Germantown-Logan, just outside the main entrance of La Salle University. (Emily Brooks/for NewsWorks)
“Chris immediately saw the potential,” Trainor said. “Philadelphia Community Corps needs an experienced for-profit partner to break through the barriers to entry into the structure removal industry, and Philadelphia Salvage Company needs a reliable supply of reclaimed building materials.”
They immediately got to work seeking opportunities, and through the collaboration PCC was awarded their first contract — to provide first-phase deconstruction of nine vacant homes in the Germantown-Logan section of Philadelphia, just outside the main entrance of La Salle University.
For two decades Doel’s remaining residents have been embroiled in a battle with a state-funded corporation that is seeking to raze it. The townspeople also have the EU’s strict environmental laws on their side thanks to the large population of swallows that has taken up residence in the dilapidated town. But they also have something else working in their favor: street art.
Detroit’s Great Lakes Coffee used salvaged materials to pay homage to a bygone era.
Last week, Duggan announced a new pilot salvage program for the city’s North Corktown neighborhood. It’s starting small. The city will solicit bids from local salvaging outfits to find reusable materials in 10 houses set to be demolished. The city’s Building Authority is in charge of the effort.
The initiative, which they hope will launch next month, is part of the Mayor’s broader blight strategy, now with an eye on preservation as opposed to straight-up demolition.
Architectural Salvage Warehouse field supervisor Renard Culp pulls up oak flooring from a home in Grosse Pointe. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
“That’s why deconstruction needs to be part of a building removal package,” said Rutherford, who heads the nonprofit focused on keeping building materials out of landfills. “If deconstruction isn’t included, then we’re just throwing literally millions and millions of dollars worth of material into a landfill.”
Rutherford pointed to his own economic impact study that assumes the city would dedicate $2.8 million to the effort, with an average of 24 homes being removed each month for one year. He projected at least half of the 288 homes would produce usable building materials, resulting in $6.5 million in economic activity supporting 160 jobs.
The study, Rutherford said, measures the initial workers needed to deconstruct homes and the resulting wholesale, manufacturing and retail sales from the salvaged materials and lumber.
“There’s a brand new lumber industry in the city that everyone is going to benefit from,” he said.
Groups have been doing deconstruction work and training in and around Detroit for the last decade, but this project would integrate the practice with demolition for the city.
Neighborhoods where the new strategies have been applied have seen home prices rise 31% over four years, compared with a 1% rise in comparable areas, according to a study by Ira Goldstein of the Reinvestment Fund. The initiatives increased home values by $74 million throughout Philadelphia, Goldstein said, and brought in $2.2 million more in transfer tax receipts.
Philadelphia had been spending millions of dollars a year to tear down vacant properties, and it didn’t seem to be making much headway, said Rebecca Swanson, who directs the city’s vacant building strategy. So in 2011, city officials decided to try a strategy they hoped would prevent properties from becoming run down in the first place.
The city utilized software used by the IRS to track down owners of the vacant buildings. Then the city took the owners to a newly created Blight Court. The door and window ordinance also allows the city to attach liens to property owners’ other personal property, including, in some cases, mansions in the suburbs.
“That was the whole point, to catch them early, cite them for doors and windows, and hopefully that incentivizes the owner to come out of the woodwork and do something,” Swanson said.
I have traveled extensively throughout North and South America; and having seen countless cities in varying states of dilapidation, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect in Detroit. I was wrong.
Exiting the interstate was like entering another country. The sheer magnitude of decay and devastation in Detroit is overwhelming. The number of derelict buildings literally falling apart, the piles of rubble and litter all over the streets and sidewalks, the fact that there was so little police presence in some areas, or so little human presence at all, was eerily unsettling.
Boarded up homes in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago in 2011. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)
Part of the challenge will be tracing the ownership of such properties and taking the necessary steps to be able to demolish them.
The program could dovetail with efforts of the Cook County Land Bank Authority, which is just getting started. “We want to try and preserve property as much as we can but a lot of the property that we’re offered, by the time it gets to us, is in such a dilapidated state,” said Brian White, the land bank’s executive director. “The cost of demolition and deconstruction is one of the things preventing putting property into its next best use.”
The award consists of $1,003,000 in rental housing tax credits coupled with $500,000 in additional funding that will be leveraged to complete the $12,155,229 project.
The development, which will be known as Historic Whitlock Place, will reuse the former facility to create modern apartments while eliminating a blight that has persisted in the heart of the community for three decades. Additional work is planned to improve the infrastructure in the neighborhood and create a direct link to the downtown area.
Keith Veal of Sustainable Solutions Inc., and a 1992 Wabash College graduate, is spearheading the project, which is expected to add up to 60 housing units for seniors.
“Some of these cities waited for somebody to come and solve their problems for them. That day is no longer with us,” Uwe Brandes, executive director of the Masters Program in Urban and regional Planning at Georgetown University, said.
Since 2010, eight cities and towns have filed for bankruptcy. The economic crisis has led residents to join forces to find creative ways to rescue and rebuild their communities.
“My friend and I had this idea, well, why don’t we just grow food in the city. Seems like a really easy plan right?” Cheryl Carmona, in Baltimore, Md., said.
From that idea grew Boone Street Farm, an urban garden in a rundown East Baltimore neighborhood.
Photographers have flocked to the city to capture the decline; two French photographers even produced a book, “The Ruins of Detroit.” But since the city declared bankruptcy in July, hotels say they’ve seen an uptick in visitors inquiring about the ruins. So have restaurants in the up-and-coming district of Corktown, near the abandoned train station.
Dumped trash and roofing shingles litter the grounds of Harry B. Hutchins Middle School in Detroit on Friday, October 18, 2013. / Brian Kaufman/Detroit Free Press
Detroit Public Schools is looking to beat scrappers at their own game.
The district is seeking companies to brick-in or demolish as many as 62 schools in exchange for the salvage materials inside them, according to a request for information DPS released Thursday.
DPS has 87 buildings for lease or sale, many of which are blighted or suffering from varying degrees of vandalism. But with a budget of only $150,000 to secure vacant buildings, the district can’t stay ahead of scrappers who break in and steal everything from lockers to windows.
And with bond money spent and a deficit of about $82 million, demolishing blighted schools is no longer in the budget.
A property on Green Street, photographed Friday, Oct. 4, in Marianna, is one of 26 on the city’s dilapidated structures list. Owners still have time to renovate or tear down targeted buildings before the city steps in to demolish them.
MARIANNA — More than two dozen neighborhood eyesores have been targeted for demolition by officials in Marianna. And for owners looking to save their property from the bulldozer, that window of opportunity is growing smaller.
The first question is how a city can move these vacancies into the hands of owners who are willing and able to repair, build and improve the sites. The second question is what to do when no such owners exist. On both counts, American cities are putting forth a variety of answers, from dollar homes to sprawling urban farms. At the end of the line, they hope, is a revitalized urban landscape. It may not look much like what came before.
At the center of the vacant property renaissance is the land bank, a city authority that can take control over thousands of abandoned homes and turn them into something the community needs, housing or otherwise. Michigan has dozens of land banks. In Cleveland, the Cuyahoga Land Bank demolished its 2,000th property last month. Chicago and Philadelphia are on the verge of having land banks of their own.
“In the past 24 months alone, five states have enacted comprehensive land bank legislation,” says Frank S. Alexander, a professor at Emory Law School in Atlanta who helped write those laws. The land bank concept has an appeal that transcends geographic and economic borders. ”New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska. What do those states have in common? Absolutely nothing.”
By most accounts, the city of Youngstown can take pride in its smashing success in clearing dilapidated, vacant, blighted and dangerous housing. More than 3,000 such homes have come tumbling down over the past three years.
On the surface, that sounds like herculean progress. But given the monumental scope of housing eyesores in Youngstown — some 5,000 homes remain vacant and in varying stages of decay — and given the continuing chorus of criticism over the speed, priorities and quality of demolition, clearly the city has its hands full to ensure the momentum of that top priority does not falter and that its contractors complete their work fully and safely.
Most recently, the city has heard legitimate grumbling from some residents that a few demolition contractors have left projects unfinished and therefore potentially more dangerous and more ugly than the original blight.
Take abandoned office towers without occupants, on the one hand, while people all around sleeping on the streets, on the other. One deserted structure in downtown Caracas provides a fascinating case study in this recipe for spontaneous urban reuse, its 45 floors now inhabited by over 3000 people.
About six months ago, Mark Siwak decided to save Detroit.
He didn’t have millions of dollars to pump into the crumbling metropolis; what he had was a unique idea. “I thought, What do we have around here? A lot of abandoned buildings, blight, neighborhoods that are completely devastated,” says the 40-year-old financial manager, who works in Detroit and lives in Royal Oak, Michigan. “I have a little interest in the zombie genre…. I thought, What can you do creatively with this land that doesn’t require a massive capital investment? What can you do that embraces what we have here?”
The answer: Z World Detroit, a project to transform the city’s blight through the curative power of flesh-eating zombies.
Siwak and his friends want to build a theme park in an abandoned neighborhood and throw open the doors to international zombie-survivalist fans. Siwak thinks people will pay good money to get chased around in the dead of night by a pack of undead droolers. In perhaps the weirdest revitalization scheme yet, he says the park’s popularity would help attract new businesses like hotels to the struggling city.
“People just want to live for a day in a zombie apocalypse,” Siwak explains. “This is the best and worst camping trip of your life.”
I recently talked with this visionary capitalist to suss out the bloody details of Z World. At only $2,788 raised toward his $145,000 realization goal, the zombie destination is struggling for a shot at the big time. But Siwak sounded optimistic that people will soon be racing to Detroit to get faux-killed. Here’s what he had to say, slightly edited for clarity:
You must really like zombies.
You know, I watch The Walking Dead, I’ve read the World War Z book…. I like the whole concept of there’s a “horde.” What really got me into zombies was World War Z. It has larger, broader social ramifications: What would really happen if there was a zombie apocalypse?