ABANDONED BUILDING ISSUE
Detroit has a huge abandoned building issue (almost 100K vacant homes/lots). Some can be renovated for new purposes like art/community centers & new businesses. However, with the drop in Detroit’s population from almost 2 million in 1950 to a little over 700K now, driven by permanent shifts like the decline of the traditional auto industry, not everything can be used/maintained (not enough people to move into houses, no one will invest say $100K to renovate something that will only be worth $50K afterwards, shrinking tax base for supporting infrastructure, etc.). And if they’re just left standing as depressing eyesores, broken window theory & experience shows the blight can create more problems like crime, as dramatically manifested during Devil’s Night (hundreds of arson fires started in Detroit shortly before Halloween) each year.
VACANT BUILDINGS/LAND => MODEL SUSTAINABLE CITY
However, this abandoned building problem is also a huge opportunity. By rightsizing & clearing away excess unusable/unmaintainable buildings, as Detroit is currently doing, a blank canvas is opened for reinvention. In fact, Detroit could leapfrog to become a sustainable city that’s a model for the US and the world.
For instance, look at what Greensburg, Kansas did after a >200 miles/hour tornado in 2007 completely destroyed 95% of it and left the remaining 5% severely damaged. It rebuilt around sustainable living, and now generates wind, solar, & geothermal energy for itself and nearby communities (pre-Tornado, oil/gas was a primary economic base), has the most LEED Platinum buildings per capita & per sq. ft. in the world (green roofs, water re-use, LED lighting, reclaimed materials, etc.), and been recognized with various sustainability awards such as the 2011 United Nations Global Green City Award (http://www.greensburggreentown.org/tour-book).
Detroit is already moving in the direction of a sustainable city, with its continued development of public light rail transit, bike paths, & walkability. Now, imagine if Detroit’s 40 square miles of vacant land were utilized for initiatives like urban farming, which are already cropping up on a grassroots (many linked Detroit Urban Farming inspirations on right) & large-scale level. With its abundance of available space, rare for a large city, Detroit could become the 1st city to produce all of its food locally in beautiful farms that provide fresh food security/access, air quality, natural pleasure, etc.
RECLAIMING BUILDING MATERIALS
What becomes of the buildings that are cleared away? Well, in keeping with sustainability, and to recover the most value, building material should be reused when possible, recycled/composted otherwise, and only disposed as a last resort.
For instance, imagine having a uniquely crafted coffee table, made from reclaimed old building material, with the character of the Motor City? These unique pieces are created by skilled & creative craftspeople, many with experience in auto manufacturing & building construction, and youth apprentices. Could "RECLAIMED IN DETROIT" become a sought out badge for furniture? Would people from Michigan and beyond buy and cherish these pieces for their homes? Could this contribute to sustainable revitalization in Detroit, economic & otherwise?
What else could building materials be reclaimed into? Could the beautiful history & materials from a building relegated for demolition, be reused & preserved in the renovation of another building for revitalization? Could materials from cleared buildings in turn be used to create raised planting beds to kickstart urban agriculture?
What else in Detroit is ripe for reclamation? Community heritage, Skilled Craftsmanship....?
Image Attributions: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87255087@N00/2590729196/ , http://www.flickr.com/photos/proforged/5208154018/ , http://www.flickr.com/photos/tgaw/4065415006/ , http://www.flickr.com/photos/ourunitedvillages/3041268537/ , http://www.flickr.com/photos/ourunitedvillages/3042112014/