$160 Million in Bond Funding for Demolitions on the Ballot in Detroit
[Updated November 3, 2020] Eric Kehoe, provides commentary on Proposal N, which will appear before voters in the city of Detroit on Tuesday as a piece of the city's response to the vacant properties in the city by approving a "taxpayer-funded bond measure that would primarily pay to demolish vacant properties in the city."
Kehoe writes on the subject as an urban planner, former president of Preservation Detroit, and a founding member of Detroiters for Parking Reform, suggesting that a regional approach to blight and vacancies might be effective at solving Detroit's problems. First of all, Proposal N won't solve blight, according to Kehoe, because demolitions don't necessarily work as a catalyst for new development:
The idea that “if you clear it, they will build” hasn’t been backed up elsewhere, either. Research by Jason Hackworth shows that demolition-only policies have left 269 Rust Belt neighborhoods — including some in Detroit — segregated and value-depressed, often leading to further decline.
To explain why demolition doesn't necessarily seed reinvestment in Detroit specifically, Kehoe points to the effects of sprawl:
As land in Detroit neighborhoods continues to sit vacant, it’s overly optimistic to think that a focus on demolition will tip the scale for redevelopment. The underlying issue is a sprawling regional footprint that continues unabated. And that sprawl is linked to discrimination in our region.
Even if Detroit voters approve Proposal N, the city's vacant properties and blight problem will remain, according to Kehoe, and an unprecedented regional approach is necessary to solve these challenges.
"To curb sprawl, municipalities could work together to create greenbelts or urban growth boundaries to limit the development of new land. Passing a regional transit plan would help shift the population’s reliance on cars, encouraging compact redevelopment along public transit corridors," writes Kehoe