'Destroying Detroit': City to Demolish 10,000 Homes

Mayor Dave Bing has set a goal of demolishing 10,000 homes by December 2013.

ByABC News
June 13, 2011, 3:04 PM

June 14, 2011 -- "Detroit has sort of been in the middle of an unfortunate perfect storm," said Howie Kahn, who wrote the GQ article "Destroying Detroit (in Order to Save It)." "Everything that basically could have gone wrong in Detroit over the last 50-60 years has."

The city was hit by an economic downturn, job loss, white flight and black flight, explained Kahn. Detroit is now a city with more than 70,000 abandoned homes and a population that has dropped from nearly 2 million people in 1950 to 900,000 today.

The task of taking back the community from the evils of emptiness has been assigned to 13 local wrecking crews. It takes a crew about 30 minutes to take down a home, and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has set a goal of demolishing 10,000 "dangerous residential structures" by December 2013.

"These machines, these excavators they're so powerful and so strong and they make quick work out of anything and they just rip through these structures," Kahn told ABC News.

Oftentimes neighbors come out to witness the demolition.

"The people that are there are really happy to see them [the houses] go. They sit in chairs and watch. It becomes a show for them," said Kahn. "They clap, they cry. It's emotional. These houses have been burdens to them for a long time."

The vacant homes have seen drug deals and rapes, fires and shootings. Kahn writes that "once a house becomes worthless and unwanted ... it's everybody's problem. Everybody's crime scene."

The hope is that as more homes are demolished, the problems they bring will be destroyed too.

Kahn worked with photographer Tim Hetherington on the story. Hetherington was killed covering the war in Libya April 20.

"They're beautiful photographs, and he really approached each house like it was a human subject, like it had character, like it had specific attributes that he wanted to focus on," said Kahn.

Kahn calls the remaking of Detroit "the great urban experiment" and hopes it will yield positive results.

"I'll remain optimistic until I have a reason not to be," he said.

Watch "The Conversation" with Howie Kahn to find out what it was like to work with Tim Hetherington and hear whether the demolition workers are saddened by their job.