Detroit Has to Demolish Before it Can Rebuild

The key to this city's economic recovery could be a huge demolition project.

ByABC News
March 24, 2010, 3:38 PM

DETROIT, March 24, 2010— -- This is a tale of two cities.

On the edges of Detroit, there are neat bungalows, tidy lawns and thriving shops.

In the middle, miles of vacant lots and broken-down homes -- so empty that pheasants are moving in. Basic services are too costly to keep up. Detroit is dying.

So, Tuesday night, the new mayor, former NBA star Dave Bing, delivered some tough love for this struggling city.

"I am unveiling a plan to demolish 3,000 dangerous residential structures this year," he said.

In its heyday, nearly 2 million people lived here in Detroit; now, it's fewer than half that. The city is so huge that San Francisco and Boston could fit within its borders with room left for Manhattan.

But a third of Detroit is too scarcely populated to function. Now, more than 10,000 buildlings could be demolished.

"We are a city in a huge financial crisis," said Bing. "We've got to make some hard decisions for ourselves."

First, the abandoned homes will go. Eventually, longtime residents may be forced out.

Bertha Sieg has lived here for 42 years and shares her block only with an abandoned school. But she says she won't leave.

Inez Hobson has lived here 60 years and gardens in the vacant lot next to her home.

"This is like the country in the city and I love it," she said.

But, unlike Sieg, she's open to a move.

"I don't want to give up my home for pennies," she said. But if the city made her a good offer, she'd likely take it.

The most desolate areas are those closest to downtown. The question is, what to do with all this open space?

Detroit businessman John Hantz sees vast orchards and farms, up to ten of them, right in the middle of Detroit; he's pledged $30 million to get it started.

Demographer Kurt Metzger envisions small urban villages connected by parks and bike paths.

"We could become the greenest city in the country because of the land that we have if we start to manage it correctly," he said.

The details are a work in progress. But the direction is clear: this once-great city must shrink before it can thrive again.