March 13, 2010

REMIND US AGAIN WHY WE'RE REBUILDING NEW ORLEANS?:

Detroit wants to save itself by shrinking (The Associated Press, 09 Mar 2010)

Now, a city of nearly 2 million in the 1950s has declined to less than half that number. On some blocks, only one or two occupied houses remain, surrounded by trash-strewn lots and vacant, burned-out homes. Scavengers have stripped anything of value from empty buildings. According to one recent estimate, Detroit has 33,500 empty houses and 91,000 vacant residential lots.

Several other declining industrial cities, such as Youngstown, Ohio, have also accepted downsizing. Since 2005, Youngstown has been tearing down a few hundred houses a year. But Detroit's plans dwarf that effort. The approximately 40 square miles (103 sq. kilometers) of vacant property in Detroit is larger than the entire city of Youngstown.

Faced with a $300 million budget deficit and a dwindling tax base, Bing argues that the city can't continue to pay for police patrols, fire protection and other services for all areas.

The current plan would demolish about 10,000 houses and empty buildings in three years and pump new investment into stronger neighborhoods. In the neighborhoods that would be cleared, the city would offer to relocate residents or buy them out. The city could use tax foreclosure to claim abandoned property and invoke eminent domain for those who refuse to leave, much as cities now do for highway projects.

The mayor has begun lobbying Washington for support, and in January Detroit was awarded $40.8 million for renewal work. The federally funded Detroit Housing Commission supports Bing's plan.

"It takes a true partnership, because we don't want to invest in a neighborhood that the city is not going to invest in," said Eugene E. Jones, executive director of the commission.

It is not known who might get the cleared land, but with prospects for recruiting industry slim, planners are considering agricultural uses. The city might offer larger tracts for sale or lease, or turn over smaller pieces to community organizations to use.

Maggie DeSantis, a board member of Community Development Advocates of Detroit, said she worries that shutting down neighborhoods without having new uses ready is a "recipe for disaster" that will invite crime and illegal dumping. The group recently proposed such things as the creation of suburban-style neighborhoods and nature parks.


Friend Kurt Brouwer has some thoughts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 13, 2010 7:00 AM
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