How People Talk About Blight and Vacancies

The kinds of words and arguments people use to describe blight, foreclosure, and eviction reveals a lot of society's biases.

2 minute read

October 18, 2017, 6:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Kaeleigh Herstad provides a semantic analysis of rhetoric on the subjects of blight, foreclosure, and eviction in Detroit to reveal "local attitudes towards and concepts of ownership, poverty, race, and social justice."

Herstad spent two years documenting local media coverage of Detroit’s blight and foreclosure crises, and has identified a few pervasive themes. Herstad only needs one case study to illustrate these themes—the comments from a recent Detroit News article "about a negligent property owner, Jeffrey Cusimano, who does not pay property taxes or keep his properties up to code, yet faces no consequences for his actions."

Herstad identifies the following comments left on the article as indicative of larger themes, which she details thoroughly in the source article:

  • “When someone plays the system like a fiddle, I tend to blame the system.”
  • “Don’t you think that 19 evictions is more a reflection of the quality of tenants and their attitudes towards paying honest debts than it is of the system?”
  • “And yet they have a dish on the roof.”
  • “Why would anyone move in there in the first place? Did they expect it to magically transform? Hardly. It’s just an excuse to not pay.” and “Renters don’t take care of anything! Move in, destroy, move out.”
  • The city should be giving this guy an award for even trying in Detroit. If he didn’t own these houses they would just be more shells to dump bodies in…” and “Who cares? Detroit is a Sewer!” and “Detroilet” 

Friday, October 6, 2017 in Rustbelt Anthro

View of small-town street with brick buildings and cars parked in diagonal parking with string lights going across street in Cleveland County, Oklahoma.

Norman, Oklahoma Eliminates Parking Mandates

The city made a subtle, one-word change that frees up developers to build parking based on actual need and eliminates costly unnecessary parking.

September 14, 2023 - Next City

Few passengers waiting in subway station with multiple platforms and "North Station" signs in Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Transit Riders Report Safety Concerns

Almost three-quarters of current and former riders report feeling unsafe while using MBTA services.

September 18, 2023 - Hoodline

View of Boston from Bunker Hill with statue in foreground

Boston to Begin Zoning Code Update, Mayor Announces

It’s been nearly 60 years, but the city of Boston is finally ready to do a comprehensive rewrite of its zoning code.

September 14, 2023 - The Boston Globe

Sidewalk in Seattle with yellow fall leaves on the ground and cars parked next to the curb.

Proposal Could Mandate Sidewalks as Part of Seattle Complete Streets

Almost a third of the city’s neighborhood streets lack sidewalks.

5 hours ago - The Urbanist

View of San Francisco neighborhood from top of hill with misty bay in background.

San Francisco Supervisors Punt Housing Ordinance

After hours of public comment, the zoning reform package aimed at increasing housing production and limiting red tape was delayed for further discussion.

7 hours ago - SF Standard

Woman wearing helmet riding POGOH bike share bike in bike lane in Pittsburgh, PA.

Pittsburgh Launches Adaptive Bike Share Fleet

The new bikes include a recumbent bicycle and a front-loading cargo bike.

September 24 - Pittsburgh Magazine