Shrinking City


Check out Yves Marchand's and Romain Meffre's poignantly beautiful photographs of abandoned buildings in Detroit! Explains Wikipedia,

Detroit has numerous neighborhoods suffering from urban decay, consisting of vacant properties resulting in low inhabited density, stretching city services and infrastructure. These neighborhoods are concentrated in the northeast and on the city's fringes. The 2009 residential lot vacancy in Detroit was 27.8%, up from 10.3% in 2000, with the population continuing to shrink and foreclosures that exacerbate the problem. An estimated 20 to 30 percent of lots are vacant. A 2009 parcel survey found 33,527 or 10% of the city's housing to be unoccupied, but recommended that only one percent or 3,480 of the city's housing units be demolished. In 2010, the city began using federal funds on its quest to demolish 10,000 empty residential structures.

Via Cort Sims.

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I wonder what they're going to do with all those vacant lots. Could they revert to farmland or woodland?

I full well expected major American cities to look like that in 2010 - but, actually, that was on the assumption there would have been a nuclear war by then. I'm somewhat fascinated - in a morbid way- that they've managed to reach the same result without outside interference.

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 02 Jan 2011 #permalink

Detroit is my hometown. Martin, I cannot see any reversion to farmland or woodland! Certainly some kind of allotment system for gardens would be useful, but it won't happen, trust me. That's socialist! Somebody "owns" the vacant lots â some bank or other. You know what? The vacant lots just sit there and collect weeds and trash. This series of photos breaks my heart, but I'm already very familiar with what's happening in Detroit. So many beautiful buildings. My mom's dad was a painter & plaster artist, and for all I know he worked on some of those art deco interiors that are now rotting. It's a tragedy. People's lives and hopes destroyed as manufacturing disappears from our shores. Michigan's economy is as ravaged as these photos.

This isnt unlike what parts of Liverpool look like nowadays. The ammount of abandoned lots near where we have lived for the last 3 years has been astonishing. At this stage though, at least they are trying to regenerate the area. I have never been to Detroit so not sure how similar the two Cities are.

The point about owners of these lots is well taken. For instance, the now crumbling Michigan Central Station, which has been abandoned since the 1980s, is owned by one Matty Maroun, a billionaire who has tried to extort ridiculous demands and hasn't been willing to sell. Instead, he's let the property rot, and the city seems unable to do anything about it because Maroun has so many politicians in his pocket. Oddly enough, Maroun also owns the Ambassodor Bridge, the only bridge between the U.S. and Canada for many miles, and he has done everything in his power to prevent the building of another bridge in Detroit.

Actually, he owns a lot of decaying, abandoned properties:…

Several Michigan cities that relied heavily on the auto industry for their prosperity are now in decline, including Saginaw, the city where I was born (165 km northwest of Detroit), and Flint, which lies between Saginaw and Detroit. A fellow who lived in Flint posted a video on YouTube titled Flint, Michigan: Urban Decay in the USA. Three sides of Michigan are bordered by Great Lakes, Lake Michigan on the West, Lake Superior on the north, and Lake Huron on the East. All of that fresh water should be an important factor in the future prosperity of Michigan. Hence, relative to other places in the USA where water shortages are becoming critical, Michigan's prospects for future prosperity may be good.

By Bob Carlson (not verified) on 02 Jan 2011 #permalink

Wow. Bob, I believe that is an extremely touchy subject. The idea of selling Great Lakes water is a time bomb. A great many people in the region are not at all keen on the idea. No, Michigan will not run out of drinking water, but water quality is a constant battle, and as shortages take hold elsewhere, Michigan and the other Great Lakes states (and Canada) will face a possible fight to prevent piping it over half the continent, which could be ecologically and economically disastrous.

The idea of selling Great Lakes water is a time bomb.

Not at all part of what I was thinking. Water for people, farms, and Michigan manufacturers, and, yes, vacationers, is what I had in mind. Places that are or will be facing severe water shortages, like Las Vegas, Phoenix, or even Atlanta shouldn't be sold a droplet of Great Lakes water.

By Bob Carlson (not verified) on 02 Jan 2011 #permalink

I'm amazed that they didn't salvage more things when the buildings fell out of use. What library system would close a branch and just leave the books there? Even if the used book market in Detroit is depressed, and all the other branches are full, they probably could have sold or donated them somewhere.

A lot of the pics seem to show buildings abandoned by people who didn't know that the abandonment would be for the longer term. Like "We're closing the library for the fall term until we know what our new budget will be like, the staff can temp at these other branches", and when the budget was made official it turned out that there was no way back.

I mean, when we lock our doors in the morning and go to work, we don't actually know how long it'll be before someone unlocks them.

Martin @11: The thing about the abandoned libraries with well-stocked bookshelves and other such things is that people don't generally do that when they are planning to leave some place. I am told that one of the clues that the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows was intentionally abandoned is that they took the door with them. The people in the Detroit public library system must have realized within a year or two of these branches closing that they would never reopen, yet neither they nor any community volunteers ever went back to retrieve the books. That's behavior you see when some disaster befalls the people occupying the site: losing a home to foreclosure, or fleeing a pogrom, or starving to death as happened to the Greenland Vikings. Detroit's decay has been a gradual process; AFAICT it's been going on for at least 40 years (maybe one of the Michiganders reading this can push that date further back). Pretty much everybody who could move outside Detroit city limits did so in the 1960s and 1970s (several other US cities had similar trends during that era, but most of them retained pockets of wealth while Detroit did not); that trend coupled with the decline of manufacturing in the Great Lakes region doomed Detroit.

Deborah @3: From some of the photos at the link Orac posted, it looks like parts of Detroit are starting to revert to woods. This process will take several decades to complete. Already sidewalks in some neighborhoods are disappearing. Unmaintained streets will eventually do so as well, though that process will take a bit longer.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 Jan 2011 #permalink

@Bob, I'm sorry if I seemed to jump on you for an idea you did not intend; I agree with what you said at #9!

@Eric #12, I probably had a different image of "woodland." Of course, if left alone, they will eventually grow over. It's just that I drive past these areas when I go back to Detroitânot the scene for a shady stroll. The old house lots might have an unfilled basement, and maybe a dump of old appliances. What the vacancies mean in the first place is that the areas are too depressed & crime ridden for reinvestment or redevelopment. If that ever turns around again in Detroit, it would take a lot of restoration and clean-up to make these vacant areas into, say, pockets of urban forest/parklandâwhich would be great. But even then, there is ownership. The vacant lots are not public land, so they might very well be built up again. BTW, Detroit has always had a lot of trees.

About the books being left behindâI don't know how that came about, but I suspect that budgets were simply cut off, and there was nowhere to put them. Although these buildings look spectacular, for decades they had served as public buildings in the poorest imaginable neighborhoods and were already in very bad shape before they were abandoned. Wouldn't the books have suffered badly after a season without climate control and maybe a leaky roof? Maybe they were not worth moving.