In Detroit, You Can’t Give ‘Em Away

         We blogged about the decline and fall of Detroit on October 1st ( ), and now there is a follow-up. Forex News ( ) reports that Wayne County, where Detroit is located, has put up for auction some 9000 Detroit homes that have been abandoned by their owners, and seized by the county for taxes. But though prices may have been at rock-bottom it was no fire sale:

“After five hours of calling out a drumbeat of ‘no bid’ for properties listed in an auction book as thick as a city phone directory, the energy of the county auctioneer began to flag.” * * * “On the auction block in Detroit: almost 9,000 homes and lots in various states of abandonment and decay from the owner-occupied to the burned-out shell claimed by squatters. * * * Taken together, the properties seized by tax collectors for arrears and put up for sale last week represented an area that the Detroit Free Press estimated was the size of Boston, Massachusetts.”

          And that, folks, is the condition of the city that pioneered urban redevelopment, and that pushed it to its all-time lows when it infamously condemned the unblighted, middle class Poletown neighborhood in order to raze it and turn over its site for a song to General Motors for a new Cadillac plant, which didn’t work out either.

          On a closely related subject, check out Dan Barry, Amid Ruin, Seeing Hope In a Garden, N.Y. Times, October 19, 2009, at p. A12, describing a similar disaster in Flint, Michigan, whose population has declined from 200,000 in 1960, to 110,000 today, and where the upbeat story the N.Y. Times could muster is that some of the remaining Flint residents are growing vegetables on lots where homes once stood.

Follow up. Also see Lisa Gribbs, Is This a $6,900 Bargain, Money, Nov. 2009, at p. 98, for a discussion of Detroit’s four-figure foreclosed or abandoned “bargains.”

Second follow up. The Wall Street Journal reports that there is a bright spot of sorts in Detroit. While everything there is tanking, local casinos aren’t doing too badly. Revenue is off only 2% from a year ago (as compared to 14% in Atlantic City and Las Vegas). A.D. Pruitt and Sharon Terlep, Detroit Casinos Fare Surprisingly Well In Tough Times, Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2009, at p. B1.

Third follow up. Check out Bob Herberts’ column in the New York Times, of November 21, 2009, at p. A17, lamenting the decline of Detroit, and predictably calling for a “revitalized industrial policy.” Not a word about the last few decades’ land use policies and their role in the emptying out of American cities. That column is the subject of a major NY Times Opinion blog. Go to 

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