America's Top 15 Emptiest Cities

As real estate prices skyrocketed during the boom, consumers took out massive loans to buy homes, assuming values would continue to rise. Instead they took a nosedive, especially in places like Las Vegas, Florida and Phoenix, where the housing boom had created excess inventory and so-called "bad loans" were rampant. Many homeowners suddenly found themselves with properties worth far less than the mortgages they'd taken out. In the worst cases, banks foreclosed, leaving people without homes--and with more debt than they'd had to begin with.

The situation in places like Las Vegas is bad enough, but Detroit's problems run much deeper. Though its vacancy rates are marginally better than Sin City's, Motown has been on the empty side for decades. An industrial boomtown during the first half of the 20th century, Detroit's population swelled from 285,000 in 1900 to 990,000 in 1920, reaching a peak of 1.8 million in 1950.

But starting in the 1960s, Detroit began a precipitous decline. Detroit's population is now 900,000 -- half what it was in the middle of the century -- and many of its neighborhoods languish in varying states of decay. Most scholars blame rapid suburbanization, outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, and federal programs they say exacerbated the situation by creating a culture of joblessness and dependency.

Yet after more than half a century, countless scholars, politicians, community organizers developers and nonprofit workers have been unable to come up with a solution to fix Detroit.

Will Las Vegas eventually suffer the same fate?

"I don't think Vegas is overbuilt," says Hallier. "Despite what everybody says, Vegas still has 2 million people."

Time will tell if this sort of optimism is warranted. Cynics who've witnessed Detroit's decline might liken Hallier's opinions to another Dickens oeuvre: Great Expectations.

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