What is Detroit? On a daily basis we are presented with contradictory viewpoints. Is it up-and-coming, with some neighborhoods gaining new residents and businesses at a steady clip, or is it one grappling with crippling crime and the effects of declining population? The reality is that across the city’s 138 square miles it is both.
At a recent stakeholder meeting for the Downtown Detroit Partnership Stacy Fox gave an update on residential in the city core. Her firm, The Roxbury Group estimates that there is a 5000 unit gap between demand and supply for housing Downtown. There are just not enough places for people to live in the city center.
Yet, at this same meeting City of Detroit Program Manager Kriss Andrews discussed the challenges the city faces with blighted and vacant buildings in a number of neighborhoods. Currently there are 40,000 vacant structures that the city and the state do not have the money to tear down. Each structure costs $8000 to take down and there is only $20 million dollars available enough to tear down only 2500 buildings.
There is a demand gap. Detroit is a city of mostly single family homes but the market demand of those looking to move to the city is for multifamily dwellings. There are only so many resources to fight both blight and crime.
So how are we going to retool our housing stock and our safety strategy? It just so happens two conferences going on at the same time and mere blocks apart are wrestling with these very issues and the dichotomy that is this city.
FOCIS at Wayne State University is having a forum called “City Under Siege: A University Forum on the Crime Crisis in Detroit” on September 20-21. Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee, Barbara McQuade who is the US Attorney General for the Eastern District of Michigan, Chief of Staff for Mayor Bing Kirk Lewis and others will speak. There will be a town hall on day two to discuss how everyone can work together.
Obviously, the crime problem is a very real part of Detroit life. But is it the whole story? No. There are people who are finding opportunity to create jobs and investment in all kinds of ways including treasure in trashed and abandoned buildings.
Just a few blocks away at TechTown on the same days September 20-21 will be a completely different kind of summit that focuses on the adaptive reuse of structures and how to best construct the future of the city, in some ways, literally out of Detroit’s past.
“Detroit Re:Nailed” looks at the markets for these kinds of materials and products — what is commonly called the “deconstruction” industry. Having seen many different “deconstructed” or “reclaimed” products it is intriguing to see how they can be used to build Detroit’s future.
What’s my hope? That these two groups run into each other at Motor City Brew Works or some other watering hole afterward and start talking to one another. It’s my bet that as much value as these two events will have on their own, getting more people from different backgrounds and experiences to reach out and spend time together, would accelerate the progress of this city.
Lack of communication is a recurring issue in this town. Could vacant homes that are too far gone structurally be deconstructed into high-value products where money could also flow into the community by providing local jobs? And obviously, vacant homes attract crime and harm property values. There are 37,000 plus structures that we can’t afford to pay the $320 million it will cost to tear down.
Is this an opportunity where instead of it costing the city money, it could be, even a minor net positive (on top of the positive of removing blight)? The solution in practice won’t be as simple or elegant as I’ve outlined but the more the different Detroits and approaches to Detroit can listen, talk and collaborate, the more progress we’ll make as a city and region.