Saving Detroit?

Remember my little Detroit hypothetical? What if me and all my blogger friends up and moved to Detroit to buy $1,000 mansions? Could that help to turn the city around?

I concluded that it would take a lot of people to get things turned around, but it seems that the very low housing prices are bringing in some folks who are looking to recreate the city:

A local couple, Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert, started the ball rolling. An artist and an architect, they recently became the proud owners of a one-bedroom house in East Detroit for just $1,900. Buying it wasn’t the craziest idea. The neighborhood is almost, sort of, half-decent. Yes, the occasional crack addict still commutes in from the suburbs but a large, stable Bangladeshi community has also been moving in.

So what did $1,900 buy? The run-down bungalow had already been stripped of its appliances and wiring by the city’s voracious scrappers. But for Mitch that only added to its appeal, because he now had the opportunity to renovate it with solar heating, solar electricity and low-cost, high-efficiency appliances.

Buying that first house had a snowball effect. Almost immediately, Mitch and Gina bought two adjacent lots for even less and, with the help of friends and local youngsters, dug in a garden. Then they bought the house next door for $500, reselling it to a pair of local artists for a $50 profit. When they heard about the $100 place down the street, they called their friends Jon and Sarah.

The problem is that families moving in by the tens or hundreds will have a difficult time offsetting the families moving out by the thousands or tens of thousands. But the artist colony route is a good way to start. They seem not to mind desolation and have a DIY spirit. A few good artsy villages in Detroit could, combined with continued cheap housing, bring an element of stability to the city. But the challenge there is enormous. The weight of the infrastructure and government and economy built for a city of millions is immense. Much like the Big Three, Detroit probably needs to go into a government-assisted bankruptcy and reorganisation — to start over with new government structures, a clean balance sheet, and maybe even new geographical divisions.


  1. Anonymous Coward says:

    Where do these people work?

    Real Estate prices, up until lately, follow the strength of a job market.

    The “demand” for real estate is usually because people want to live close to work. If there is no work, there’s little demand to live in any particular area.

  2. Corey says:

    Anonymous Coward – I don’t think it matters very much where they work. Housing is typically the biggest item on individual and family budgets – with that removed, I bet part-time work would suffice for most. I think that’s kind of the point of the article – without many expenses, people’s free time can be devoted to making weird sculptures with old Mustangs, etc.

  3. Doug says:

    The nice thing about experimenting with economic development in Detroit is whatever you try can’t possibly fail worse than General Motors.

  4. Patrick says:

    If we had enough people, could we seceed from Detroit and start our own governmental enclave? And if so, then can you imagine what would happen if a group of Ayn Rand apostles tried the same thing? A little anarcho-capitalist commune in the middle of one of the largest cities in the country… Are declining cities really as much of a sandbox as I hope they are?

  5. Anon. says:

    Ryan have you ever BEEN to Detroit and walked around? Everytime it comes up you make it sound like it’s Mars or something. Sure things are tough, but there are a lot of normal people living normal lives in normal neighborhoods there. Your hyper-exotic, Twilight Zone-style characterizations of that city are off-putting and condescending.