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The Dangers of Demolition for Its Own Sake

Jason Hackworth argues that demolition has come to be seen as a good, in and of itself, in rust belt cities like Detroit; giving rise to policies that are wrong-headed and dangerous.
October 15, 2016, 5am PDT | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
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Davide Calabresi

In recent years, the demolition of vacant homes and buildings has gone from being seen as a controversial act to being seen as inherently good. In a piece for American Politics and Policy Blog of the London School of Economics, Jason Hackworth argues that this is a dangerous assumption.

Hackworth opens his piece at a celebration of the demolishing of the 10,000th home in Detroit and uses this as a symbol of what he sees as exactly the wrong kind of thinking. Arguing that cities have become so enthusiastic about blight removal, that they've lost sight of the more important part of rebuilding cities and neighborhoods, the building itself.

"Detroit is not the only city to have embraced demolition-only urban policy. Cities across the region are using a variety of federal and state funds to demolish as much “blight” as they can," Hackworth claims. Through his research measuring the trajectory of neighborhoods with "extreme housing loss" Hackworth has found that, "The neighborhoods where demolitions have been most active are more economically and socially isolated than they were in 1970."

Hackworth condemns our celebration of demolition as "a collapse of policy imagination." Cautioning us against simplistic, quick fix thinking. Whether or not you find the research compelling, it's important to reexamine ideas billed as silver bullets for rebuilding communities and a reminder of the complexity inherent in rebuilding communities. 

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Published on Friday, October 7, 2016 in London School of Economics and Political Science - American Politics and Policy Blog
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