Detroit, MI — Today’s news that Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert wants to eliminate blight by tearing down all of the abandoned properties in Detroit — “not most of them, all of them,” Gilbert is quoted as saying — is of serious concern to the board of Preservation Detroit.
There is no question that blight in Detroit neighborhoods is an issue that needs our urgent attention. Dangerous, unsound structures threaten the safety and vitality of Detroit’s communities. We believe that blight mitigation is crucial for the future of the city.
But a one-size-fits-all approach to blight mitigation — where the only solution is a bulldozer — is the wrong decision for Detroit, and it flies in the face of the creative and industrious spirit this city is known for — and which Gilbert himself has advanced.
We believe strongly in rehabilitation whenever possible: It’s more cost-effective, creates more jobs, is environmentally friendlier, and preserves the unique character of a neighborhood. And when Detroit’s irreplaceable historic assets are gone — from the most majestic downtown office towers and movie palaces to the humblest 100-year-old family home — they’re gone. We’ve seen Gilbert champion some of the most ambitious rehabilitation projects in downtown Detroit in a decade. Why not apply that energy and vision to a better blight removal plan for Detroit’s neighborhoods?
And what will take the place of these abandoned buildings? Without a comprehensive plan, Detroit’s neighborhoods may be dotted with empty lots instead of empty houses. Dan Gilbert believes that once you tear them down, development will come. Why, then, have we been unable to fill our 40 square miles of vacant space — more than the City of Paris — with new construction? It doesn’t make sense to add more vacant parcels to the rolls without a strategy.
Finally, we believe this should be a community effort, not a vision handed down from on high. Dozens of community organizations throughout the city have been working on strategies for vacant lot re-use, neighborhood revitalization, and creative rehab, from the Greening of Detroit and Motor City Blight Busters to Southwest Housing Solutions and neighborhood CDCs like the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation. We hope to see Gilbert bring community partners to the table and leverage the expertise and trust they have built over decades to improve quality of life in Detroit’s neighborhoods in a real and measurable way.
We agree with Dan Gilbert that it is time to confront this issue fearlessly and without delay. But we have the opportunity to do it right. And the consequences of doing it poorly could be irreparable.
Preservation Detroit Board of Directors
Amy Elliott Bragg, President
Jennifer Ruud, Vice-President
James Young, Secretary
Steven Levine, Treasurer
Media contact: Amy Elliott Bragg