Saving Detroit By Destroying It

Can Mayor Dave Bing turn Detroit around? (This isn't the first time I've asked this question.)

Maybe. He has a long way to go before anyone can say Detroit has been saved.

He is doing one thing long overdue for his blighted and ever shrinking city: tearing down abandoned homes that have become nothing more than shelter for the homeless or hideouts for drug dealers, rapists, and other criminals preying upon the rest of Detroit's citizens. Some of those dilapidated homes are too dangerous to be occupied even by the criminals or the homeless.

I think I can safely say many of us have seen video or photos of what's left of Detroit's once vibrant neighborhoods, with many of them looking like something out of a zombie-apocalypse movie thriller. Most of the homes and buildings in those areas aren't worth rehabilitating or renovating, leaving block after block after block of decaying homes and businesses empty and soulless.

One of the more interesting parts in the article linked above are the thoughts of those actually performing the demolitions. You wouldn't think that tearing down abandoned homes would be an emotional trial for the wreckers, but for many of them it is.

Wreckers hide it, but when you spend weeks with them, riding in their trucks, sitting in their machines, trailing them all over their job sites right out to the dump where they'll deposit the remains of a house, it becomes clear that they're a reflective and empathetic group. They're raconteurs and historians. They want you to know what they've seen in this city. They want to take you there. They believe it'll help.

Mark Sherman insists on driving me down a street called Robinwood, a few blocks from Adamo's home base. "This one," he says, "breaks me up every time I'm on it." The stretch is so blighted it seems haunted. Somehow it's totally devoid of color. All the Craftsman-style homes, with their tapered support columns and stonework porches, are empty. "You can see," says Mark, tugging on the brim of his black John Deere cap, "these were really beautiful. Unique." And he's right. They're exactly the kinds of homes young families in Portland and Los Angeles line up to live in. "This is the perfect example," he continues, "of what can happen in two years. Two years ago, this street was mostly full. This is what happens when nobody cares."

They try not to think of the people who used to live in those homes. Those who worked hard, raised families, took pride in their homes, now long gone, leaving echoes of what used to be behind them.

I'm not sure I could do their job and not feel what they do. But they know it's a necessary job, so-called creative destruction, where the only way to rebuild Detroit is to remove those homes and other buildings that are now a blight infesting their city.

Will it work?

Only time will tell.