Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Shrinking Detroit

Detroit Mayor David Bing wants to come to terms with the city's shrinking size, clear abandoned areas, and scale back city services to serve the needs of the actual population. Measures that are long overdue.

In a sense, though, they may be too late. That is, it may be possible to stop Detroit from bleeding as badly, and there may be a benefit from turning blocks of vacant buildings into "urban farms and park spaces" (or whatever the City ultimately decides), but even the reduced city will face property tax levels that discourage redevelopment and the city cannot afford across-the-board cuts. If you reduce property taxes in the cleared areas to encourage redevelopment, you'll effectively create a tax structure in which the city's long-term, largely poor residents pay at a much higher rate than affluent newcomers. I don't see that as politically viable. You could try encouraging development of industrial parks, but with a city income tax, an abundance of commercial and light industrial space in the region, and Michigan's seemingly never-ending economic recession, where would the demand come from? Even parks must be maintained - if you can't find urban farmers (agricultural zoning for parts of Detroit?) would cleared areas actually be parks or would they revert to nature?

Even without the clearing of buildings, parts of Detroit are reverting to nature. There are decrepit buildings that have trees, sprouted in the basement, now growing through what used to be the roof. If you want a sense of what Detroit once was, and what it has become, see The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit, The Ruins of Detroit, The Ruins of Detroit (yes, a different one), and The Ruins Of Detroit Industry: Five Former Factories. There are some abandoned structures that, due to size and scale, environmental contamination, or both, will stand until either the state or federal government bankrolls demolition and clean-up, not something that's likely to happen any time soon.

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