NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 12, 2010

Detroit, the very symbol of American industrial might for most of the 20th century, is drawing up a radical renewal plan that calls for turning large swaths of this now-blighted, rusted-out city back into the fields and farmland that existed before the automobile, says the Associated Press (AP). 

Operating on a scale never before attempted in this country, the city would demolish houses in some of the most desolate sections of Detroit and move residents into stronger neighborhoods.  Roughly a quarter of the 139-square-mile city could go from urban to semi-rural, says the AP. 

Mayor Dave Bing, who took office last year, is expected to unveil some details in his state-of-the-city address this month: 

  • Politically explosive decisions must be made about which neighborhoods should be bulldozed and which improved.
  • Hundreds of millions of federal dollars will be needed to buy land, raze buildings and relocate residents, since this financially desperate city does not have the means to do it on its own.
  • It isn't known how many people in the mostly black, blue collar city might be uprooted, but it could be thousands; some won't go willingly.  

For much of the 20th century, Detroit was an industrial powerhouse, the city that put the nation on wheels, says the AP: 

  • Now, a city of nearly two 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.  

Faced with a $300 million budget deficit and a dwindling tax base, Mayor Bing says 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 freeway projects. 

Source: David Runk, "'Detroit looks at downsizing to save city,"' Associated Press/Washington Times, March 9, 2010. 

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