Thursday, February 27, 2014

Demolition derby

Need a job? Willing to do demolition or deconstruction work? The city of Detroit could use you. The city's bankruptcy plan will likely contain an item to spend a half-billion dollars to demolish all of the 80,000 blighted homes and do so in the next five years. That means 400-450 a week (after the first year) or 90 houses a day. So, yes, workers will be needed. So will somebody to handle logistics. There's also a big need for landfills -- that many houses will produce lots of stuff needing disposal.

I mentioned demolition or deconstruction. The first is to knock the building down in the least costly way possible. The second is to do it in a way that saves all the materials for reuse. Needs more worker time but less landfill. Some used building materials might become rather cheap.

John Gallagher is a writer for the Detroit Free Press and has written a couple books on how Detroit (and other industrial cities) might be revived. I've read one and a summary of the second. This past Sunday the Freep published an interview he did with Thomas Sugrue, a leader in Urban Studies and author of the book The Origins of the Urban Crisis. Back in the 1980s the Reagan presidency popularized the term "trickle-down economics" in which tax breaks for the wealthy trickled-down to make everyone richer (most are still waiting for their trickle). Sugrue says there is an idea of "trickle-down urbanism" which works about as well as the economic version of the phrase.

Richard Florida made a lot of noise a few years back with his idea that attracting a diverse "creative class" improves a city. Happily for us gays were an important part of that creative class.

But Sugrue says the effect is limited. Yes, the downtown area (and, in Detroit's case, Midtown too) gets revitalized and draws people with significant education. That draws in coffee shops, restaurants, art galleries, and general vitality. But only to those neighborhoods. But that does little for those farther down the economic ladder and for the neighborhoods where they live. To help them a much larger and intentional investment must be made in the kinds of jobs for which they are trained.

One thing that might truly help with revitalization is attracting immigrants -- exactly what Gov. Snyder has been saying.

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