Bulldozed by 1950s/1960s urban-renewal nostalgia, the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force’s demolition report proposes spending $850 million to demolish more than 40,000 dilapidated buildings and, later on, another billion dollars to demolish abandoned factories. The planners, having failed with the Great Society’s utopian Detroit Model Cities program a half-century ago, seek a Sheldon Silver–style scraped landscape, a grim urban-renewal variation on Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village.
The plan is all about spending money without making choices. Its map (click to enlarge above), outlines in black the areas targeted as highest priority for blight intervention — but these are nowhere near the areas that are hanging on or coming back. Despite the city’s many troubles, the vibrant Woodward Avenue corridor (subject of a New York Times 36 Hours travel piece) has a concentration of great early-20th-century architecture and amenities, including the Detroit Institute of Arts (better known as a pawn in the city’s bankruptcy than for its first-rate collections), nationally respected Wayne State University, and sports stadiums. Dan Gilbert has moved his Quicken Loans company downtown and is investing heavily in the corridor.
The Woodward Avenue corridor and downtown are shown in gray on the map, as are the attractive neighborhoods running south of East Jefferson Avenue to the Detroit River, and some neighborhoods along Eight Mile Road of Eminem fame, which is the city’s northern border adjoining prosperous Oakland County. Removing blight on either side of the Woodward Avenue corridor, in the neighborhoods surrounding Wayne State, and east of the Chrysler Freeway (I-75) off Eight Mile Road would cut land-assemblage costs adjacent to places where people want to be right now, encouraging private investment. This would also permit housing construction for people trapped in the prairies off East Jefferson, allowing them to relocate closer to shopping and jobs.
The Detroit Blight Removal Task Force is having none of it. The Task Force itself is a form of urban blight, and needs to be demolished.