Detroit fights blight, but who profits?

From the March-April 2014 issue of News & Letters:

Detroit fights blight, but who profits?

Detroit—Blight removal is big news here. The Blight Task Force, a non-profit, has mapped all 302,000 parcels of property in the city in just four months. Homebuilder Bill Pulte’s privately funded Blight Authority has already cleared several “low-density” residential tracts of land.

Residents are concerned: who can use the mapped data; who will fund remediation (both demolition and preservation); will debris be landfilled or illegally dumped; will city residents be hired and trained to deconstruct and recycle building materials?

When asked by longtime Detroit activist Maggie DiSantis for his post-demolition economic model, billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert stated to the Detroit Free Press: “Removing all blight is going to create economic value. You are going to have significant interest from profit-making capitalist folks.” DiSantis countered that if blight removal alone will spur economic development, we would already have seen it.

Community activists hold a different philosophy. We don’t want our neighborhoods razed for “profit-making capitalist folks.” Residents are concerned with improved quality of life in our communities. We have to keep ourselves—and organizations who claim to help neighborhoods—on the right track. We want post-demolition plans written into every demolition contract. Will people live here—even in gated communities—if surrounding areas remain decayed?

Many Detroit neighborhood organizations have been combating blighted property for years. In Northwest Detroit a committee plans to send letters to owners of property with environmental code violations this spring. Copies will go to neighbors and the city environmental enforcement agency. The addresses will be posted on Facebook. This action will inspire more neighbors to expect, and demand, “Zero Tolerance” of blight and dumping everywhere in the city. We have power and strength in numbers!

—Susan Van Gelder

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