No Laughing Matter

Departments - Editor's Focus

July 22, 2013
Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith


Sometimes when I tell people I am from Cleveland, people (who I might add have probably never been here) like to tease me. I am usually a good sport about it, although I love my city (including its sports teams). Occasionally when the heckling gets a little out of hand, I will respond in kind, “At least I’m not from not Detroit.”

But when I actually think about the problems my neighboring Rust-Belt city is dealing with, it is no laughing matter.

Detroit is facing serious challenges, and it is no wonder. What do you expect when a city’s population goes from 1.8 million people in 1950 to a population of 713,777, according the 2010 census? Losing one million-plus residents in only 60 years makes it pretty clear why there are so many abandoned buildings and houses rotting away within the city limits.

If there is any city in need of demolition, it is Detroit. Blighted properties, which number in the tens of thousands, not only pose safety threats from a structural standpoint but also from the criminal activities that go on inside them.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who announced he was stepping down at the end of his term in December, had reportedly promised at the beginning of his four-year term to demolish 10,000 buildings while in office. According to a recent article in the Detroit Free Press (DFP), 4,200 have been demolished so far under Bing’s watch, with many more slated for demolition by the end of the year. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. A staggering 26,000 more have been identified as unsafe but no funding currently exists to tear them down, according to the DFP article.

With a shrunken tax base in which to generate revenue, the city is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Liabilities are estimated at around $17 billion, or $25,000 per resident. Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and his chief advisors laid out a plan in June to invest $1.25 billion in services, including $500 million allocated towards eliminating blighted properties. But the clock is ticking.

In his recent blog, “The Slow-Motion Financial Implosion of Detroit” which appeared on, Anthony Alfidi of San Francisco-based Alfidi Capital referenced a plan the city of Detroit introduced three years ago which called for downsizing its infrastructure. “The city has since squandered the time and money it could have committed to that plan and is now facing imminent bankruptcy,” Alfidi writes. “This disaster was a long time in the making.”

Only time will tell whether Orr’s new plan will even have a chance to succeed. “Detroit’s detailed plan for renewal is probably going to come undone out of necessity if receivership forces it to move faster,” Alfidi says in his blog. “Farms and ranches will sprout again within city limits and former unionized workers had better learn how to plant rows of corn.”

I hope the future is not as bleak for Detroit as Alfidi paints it, but it will certainly require help from state and federal sources if there is any hope for recovery. Continuing to demolish old buildings will inevitably help Detroit’s overall wellbeing.C&DR