In addition to being eyesores, vacant and abandoned properties also threaten public safety. These properties can become breeding grounds for criminal activity and arson, placing strain on the city’s resources and police and fire departments – as evidenced by these recent news stories from Detroit:

  • Early Morning Arson Claims Vacant Properties
    Arson investigators are continuing their investigation of eight fires set early last Tuesday morning, all of which were vacant buildings.

  • Police Officer Killed in Shootout at Vacant Duplex
    Earlier this month, one officer was killed and four others wounded while responding to a report of gunshots at a vacant property. According to neighbors, drugs were being sold out of the building.

  • City Leaders Plan Demolitions to Cut Crime
    Buoyed by the police shootings, the Detroit City Council is working with Mayor David Bing to expedite a new city ordinance to hold property owners more accountable for their properties. The Mayor’s office is also using data to examine the correlation between crime and vacancies, which will inform the demolition of 3,000 rundown homes this year that will “cut crime and improve quality of life.”

It takes but several days to turn a vacant building into rubbles, rubbles into leveled ground, and leveled ground into a green lawn that appears it has been there for years. Recently the media has brought the demolition strategy into mainstream debate. So how do citizens benefit from the strategy?

ABC aired its Nightline News: “Realty Check,” a story about strategic demolition in Flint, MI, a couple days ago. You know the story: GM left town, then went the jobs, then went the mortgage payments and owners—leaving about 10,000 homes vacant, dragging down surrounding properties’ value. Flint is having as many as 4 boarded-up vacant homes backhoed per day to address that and other problems. Several days later those vacant homes turned into lawns. Surrounding homeowners are supportive of the strategy for an obvious reason: when dilapidated structures go down, other properties’ value goes up. For declining cities like Flint, the story presents valid reasons of why the strategy is necessary.

Beside the potential to increase surrounding properties’ value, there is another point to be gained from the story. People will unlikely support something if they do not experience the benefits. People care first the impact on their dinner table. So what does this say about shrinking cities strategies that do not directly provide tangible, meaningful benefits to economically distressed families and communities? How long can strategies that focus on ecological sustainability be sustained if people do not experience the benefits and, as a result, do not provide adequate support to keep the programs going? This is not to say that ecological sustainability strategies are not important. Rather, those strategies also need to provide economic benefits to the people in distressed communities.


View ABC’s Nightline News: “Realty Check” at