The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

19 February 2006

Urban ruins

About a year and a half ago, I wrote this about a working-class neighborhood on the west side of the city:

Professional worriers, faced with a few blocks like this, would undoubtedly start screaming "Blight!" and calling for intervention. And indeed, there's room for improvement, starting with what appears to be, at first glance, a higher-than-average crime rate. But I am becoming persuaded that the kiss of death for any neighborhood comes at the exact moment when the studies and the surveys and the recommendations start coming out and the focus shifts from "How can we make this area better?" to "How can we get these people out of here?"

Dean Esmay lives near Detroit, where there are a lot more than a few blocks like this, and this is what things look like after they've had a chance to fester:

Today there are so many such buildings rotting away in Detroit that the city can't even keep up with the need to remove them, even though they're ugly, worthless, and often a hazard to children. This, by the way, is the flip side to the arguments against the controversial Kelo decision. The city needs to seize these properties and demolish them, and find something useful to do with them, including selling them to private businesses if they can.

But of course the point is moot in Detroit, since almost no business wants to set up shop there. So literally thousands of abandoned shells litter the landscape.

This doesn't strike me as a killer argument in favor of Kelo, exactly, but for many sections of Detroit, it's presumably too late to do much of anything else but bring out the dozers and start over.

And there's this:

When an area's population goes down, its economy goes down even faster. I can think of no better example of how wrong the Malthusian fallacy is than watching this terrible decay in action. As people leave an area, property values go down, and eventually, things that were once valued in the millions of dollars become so worthless they're simply discarded like trash. Office buildings, even mansions, even skyscrapers. Not necessarily because they're beyond salvage or repair, but because no one wants to be there, and with no people there is no value.

Human beings are not liabilities, they're assets. Nothing illustrates this better than watching what happens when an area rapidly depopulates.

What this might mean for New Orleans, I don't even want to imagine.

Posted at 9:55 AM to Dyssynergy

This is a false comparison. Kelo isn't about blight - it's about taking a perfectly acceptable, low-revenue home or other facility and turning into a high tax-revenue area.

Detroit is the perfect laboratory for liberal social and economic policy. Look where it's gotten them.

Posted by: Dan at 3:20 PM on 19 February 2006

Dan's right. Besides -- as the second excerpt intimates-- by the time things get that bad, the city could pay fair market value for the properties and still get a better bargain than if they had used eminent domain ten years earlier.

Those lawyers don't work cheap, y'know.

Posted by: McGehee at 7:53 AM on 20 February 2006

Oops, not second excerpt. Third.

Posted by: McGehee at 7:53 AM on 20 February 2006