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Detroit takes huge risk with clean-slate plan

With the mayor's blessing, urban decay is being eliminated by way of the wrecking ball. Other cities have tried the tactic with disappointing results.

By Marilyn Lewis Jun 6, 2013 11:10AM

Detroit © Vladimir Pcholkin/PhotographerWilliam Pulte wants to "destroy large swaths" of Detroit "as quickly as possible" and he's begun doing just that. Destruction is the only way to take back blighted neighborhoods from metal strippers and arsonists who've made a war zone of the city and are destroying its property values, Pulte told Bloomberg.


People listen when a Pulte, 24, speaks. Bill Pulte's grandfather, also named William Pulte, is the founder of Bloomfield Hills-based Pulte Homes, which became the largest U.S. homebuilder after a 2009 merger with Centex Corp.


With the blessing of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Pulte's public-private partnership is razing and rebuilding ten blocks of homes to demonstrate the "total blight elimination" approach, says MLive, a Michigan newspaper site.


If Pulte he has his way this will be just the beginning. He wants to remove 13,000 empty Detroit homes annually, about the size of Juneau, Alaska.

In response to reader comments, reporter Khalil AlHajal quotes Bill Pulte: "My family has no interest in redeveloping this land. We are here to just get rid of the blight."


The trouble with a clean start

Everyone loves a clean start. You picture acres of parks, gardens and sparkling new homes awaiting eager homebuyers. Just scrape away the problems and begin anew.


But it's been tried before, with disappointing results, says Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove, a public health psychiatrist and professor at Columbia University. "Such programs are unwise in my opinion," Fullilove said in a phone interview.


Her recent book, "Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities," describes previous waves of enthusiasm for "urban renewal" in the 1950s and '60s and the far-reaching results.


Fullilove points to 1988 research  by Columbia University scientists Rodrick Wallace and Deborah Wallace, an epidemiologist and an ecologist, respectively. They reported that "planned shrinkage," as later urban renewal efforts sometimes are called, encouraged the spread of AIDS epidemic. The Wallaces identified a small group of infected drug users in the South Bronx who, dispersed by the planned destruction of their neighborhood, moved in the mid-1980s to other parts of the city where they spread of the virus.


"I'd say the US AIDS epidemic was significantly accelerated by planned shrinkage," Rodrick Wallace said in an email.


"Essentially one local epidemic was made into 50 or 60 local epidemics," Fullilove adds.


The wrecking ball

That's not to dismiss the seriousness of blight in Detroit. In 2010, Business Insider published these photos of some of the tens of thousands of derelict homes there.


Abandoned homes were a problem long before the housing bust. But writes that, "according to a 2010 Government Accountability Office study, (banks) walked away from more homes here in Detroit than anywhere else, costing the city millions of dollars a year in unpaid taxes."


Pulte's Detroit Blight Authority "will be working to eliminate blight, "neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street," MLive writes, quoting Mayor Bing. The idea is to gather residents closer together and shrink the area served by the city. Here are before-and-after photos of the group's work.


But neighborhoods in the path of the wrecking ball have residents, even where many homes are vacant. What about the people who live there?


In his biography of the powerful New York urban planner Robert Moses, "The Power Broker," Robert Caro wrote: "To build his highways, Moses threw out of their homes 250,000 persons -- more people than lived in Albany or Chattanooga, or in Spokane, Tacoma, Duluth, Akron, Baton Rouge, Mobile, Nashville or Sacramento. He tore out the hearts of a score of neighborhoods."


Fill the empty spaces

In Buffalo, the Bloomberg article says, 2,814 buildings were knocked down between September 2007 and August 2012. "Crime simply shifted away from areas that were cleaned up to less stable areas nearby, a University of Buffalo-State University of New York study released this year showed."


"You have to look at the empty space and think not about how to make it bigger but how to fill it," Fullilove says.


How? Pittsburgh, she says, has done it right. Pittsburgh's storied renaissance has many origins, as this Pittsburgh Post essay explains. But a large part of the city's appeal is in its many strong, colorful neighborhoods.


Pittsburgh, by avoiding mass destruction and working with residents, has carefully redeveloped in a way that preserves and respects neighborhoods, Fullilove says. "It's (done) vacant lot by vacant lot, slowly and beautifully."


That approach is described here, at Penn State University's website.


 More from MSN Money:

Jun 6, 2013 1:13PM
Detroit needs white flight back into the city or it will never go anywhere ... White flight started the decline ! White flight into this city is the only way to save it ! Look what Detroit looked like in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, ... Any questions ? White flight like i said. I could care a less about it sounding racist ! ITS TRUE........... Bottom line....All the smart brothers i know moved out of Dicktroit a long time ago...
Jun 6, 2013 12:22PM
What would you expect when only democrats live in an area with no republicans to fund them?
Jun 6, 2013 1:04PM
there aren't 2 republicans to be found anywhere near Detroit, and yet they still get the blame. Blame the boogey man too. Liberals created a society of takers and irresponsibility on multi-generational scale with welfare, unions, and of course, corruption. 

With PREDICTABLE results.

Liberalism costs a ton of (other people's) money.

Those people got tired of it and moved.

Jun 6, 2013 1:26PM
How can you blame the republicans for this.  Detroit has been run by Dems since the early 50s.  To start blame start with Coleman Young.  The only good mayor they had since was Archer but they booted him out.  Stop blaming republicans for everything and look in the mirror to see what the real problem is.
Jun 6, 2013 1:54PM
Detroit , you have what you voted for , ENJOY ! !
Jun 6, 2013 1:42PM
Detroit's problem is that ther are not enought people with disposable income, hope, and a dream. Compton CA had the exact same problem back in the 80's and 90's. Compton was 90% black, everyone had given up, there was no hope, alot of houses were empty, and destroyed. then in the 90's, there was a huge influx of Mexicans with the American dream of home ownership. Compton homes were cheap and close to Los Angeles. Mexicans bought home, paid taxes, started up businesses in the city, crime rate fell, businesesse started to reinvest, now Compton realstate is up. Detroit needs to let another group of people move in that are hungry and have a dream. that's all it takes. I know it, I witnessed it.
Jun 6, 2013 1:39PM

The poster city for all that is wrong with this country:  socialism, democrats, welfare, high taxes, drugs, unions, sky high public worker pensions and pay


It's a city that will never be saved, to save it you will need capital investment which no person will invest in a failed city full of losers and liberals.

Jun 6, 2013 2:23PM
As a Detroiter, I have watched the city go under under democratic leadership!   Especially our last mayor, Kilpatrick.  He was a crook too.  The present Governor,  a rebublican, is trying to put the pieces together and the city hates him!  It's a total city made up of people on the dole who have no investment at all in the city.  They can get government money in any city for doing nothing.  As a child, we were not rich at all and lived in the city.  The neighbors took care of their homes and even swept the street in front of their home.  Today's citizens of Detroit won't even shovel their snow.  Instead, they cry that the city is not doing it for them.  It all happened right in front of our eyes.  It's become a city of people crippled by welfare, etc.
Jun 6, 2013 1:55PM
You can kill or remove blight all you want.... it will just move or return every time! To remove the blight, you must first eradicate the scum that cause the blight. Everything else is a complete waste of time and money!
Jun 6, 2013 2:01PM

No wrecking ball or urban revitalization will fix Detroit. Its ills are a cultural apathy that has been growing for decades.

Once the hub of our industrial power. Today it's a soulless city filled with apathy, mediocrity, no hope and no change. Prosperity once flourished here, today poverty is its epitaph. The home of one of the greatest captains of industry, Henry Ford, has been reduced to a populace embracing dependency.

As Ford Motor Company clings to its sovereignty, it stands alone as the only real surviving icon of a once thriving industry. The Big Three has been reduced to a survivor, a foreign entity and a nationalized embarrassment. The auto industry that we once dominated struggles as the populace has been minimized by corruption.

A once proud city of millions is a wasteland with no future in sight.

Liberalism/Progressivism has left its fingerprint squarely on this once great city. Its irrational social and economic justice propaganda has been exposed for the hoax it really is. A virtual circus of Liberal mayors, city council members and sundry administrators has summarily destroyed Detroit.

A consortium of Liberal ideology and union thuggery has reduced a major American city to insignificance. The auto-capital of the world now competes to be the murder capital, a dubious honor.

As this city prospered from its roots in the Underground Railroad to an industrial force unseen before, the slow insidious infiltration of Liberalism has reduced it to chaos. Mustangs, Corvettes and Barracudas once dominated the landscape, today rusted shells and empty dreams litter the streets and neighborhoods.

An illiterate populace now predominates and its only hope is more dependency. Poverty strips any ambition and possible improvement as the Liberal solution is always, more government that further enslaves them. From Coleman Young to Kwame Kilpatrick, the typical Liberal "Bread and Circuses" promise continues. Any realistic attempt at helping the despondent masses is attacked as racist, and instead, more taxpayer money is demanded with no results.

It will take decades to reform this once great city, if at all. The population must be assured that the only way out of poverty is not through more welfare but through education. The prevailing mentality of Liberalism/Progressivism must be replaced with pride, ambition and exceptionalism. Liberalism loves crisis as it hands out more, but never enough. It claims it wants to help but it only makes it worse. It promises hope but refuses real change. The status quo is demonized yet it is continued to maintain its manipulative grasp of the unwashed masses.

It’s sad to see a once prosperous city with hard working good Americans to be so manipulated by an ideology built on more of the same. Until the people throw down the Liberal/Progressive chains that bind them and denounce its lies and corruption nothing will change. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Insanity, meet Liberalism


Jun 6, 2013 1:10PM

@V-L Looks to me as though unions used this town up and moved on.


Jun 6, 2013 1:58PM
Nothing can save Detroit as long as it is controled by Obama type people. 
Jun 6, 2013 2:17PM
decades of Democrat politics and union preference, welfare and this is what you end up with.  Ruination.
Jun 6, 2013 2:04PM
Liberals don't want Detroit razed......... they need somewhere to keep the "voter slaves" they created with run away safety net programs.
How many of you folks have been to Detroit. There isnt much left to save, and to you folks that say they druggies and homeless need to be rounded up and saved. They are the one that caused the problem so if they decide to move on then great. Clean the place up, thats whats needed.
Jun 6, 2013 2:10PM
Doesn't matter what you do, the factories closed down years ago Detroit doesn't have the industrialized economy to employ its population. So the citie dies, just like San Bernardino, Ca when the large factories shut down thats it your tax base is gone and then the drugs and gangs come in.
Jun 6, 2013 1:59PM
Ignorant black people and thieves cannot be succesful at anything. 
Jun 6, 2013 1:47PM

I say the USA should trade Detroit (the city proper) to Canada in exchange for Newfoundland.  Just move GM, the Lions, Tigers and Lafayette Coney Island Hot Dogs to the suburbs.  Let Canada waste billions of dollars to try to clean up the mess that 40 years of corrupt negrocracy has made. 


All kidding aside, the #1 reason why Detroit has become a hell hole is because of the corrupt local political machine.  It all started with Coleman "Aloha Muddaf***as!" Young in the 60s and continued with John Conyers, Mama and Baby Kilpatrick, etc. etc.  The municipal negrocracy was handed billions of dollars in federal funding and instead of using it to improve their city they misappropriated it into slush funds and pork barrel projects that had no benefit to the residents.  And they kept power by guilt tripping black voters into re-electing them to keep the Feds and white America out.


When is you niggas gone learn not to keep votin fo all dem crooked-a$$ fools!!!!! 

Jun 6, 2013 1:17PM
It is an unfortunate situation in Detroit, but it will be decades (if ever) before enough population comes back to utilize this housing.  The brick, victorian era stuff is really an architectural loss, I guessing Pulte will never build homes like that.
Jun 6, 2013 2:55PM
Watch Hardcore Pawn for a minute and see what Detroit is really up against.  A culture of uneducated, self righteous, lazy, foul-mouthed, disrespectful, Obama-slugs, who feel entitled to whatever they think they deserve because they're problems are everyones else's fault.  Accountability doesn't exist in the O administration and that's what the party breeds.
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