Landmarks Association of St. Louis

Mayor of Detroit proposes to bulldoze his city, to save his city.

| by Andrew B. Weil, Researcher

Other Rustbelt cities such as Flint, Michigan have already begun to implement policies like those proposed in Detroit with hundreds of buildings falling annually.  This phenomenon is posited by some to be a viable solution to the shrinking of formerly large industrial cities in terms of population and tax base.  While it is understandable that cash-strapped cities might need to consolidate services and population to survive, I simply can't imagine that spending millions of dollars to convert existing infrastructure into landfill is a productive solution.  At its core, this idea presupposes a bleak and unpopulated future for the city, at the very moment when cultural, environmental, and economic forces are bringing people back into ever denser settlement patterns.  Like it or not, the future is not one of unsustainable endless sprawl pushing ever onward to the horizon.  The future is density and if rust belt cities have one thing going for them, they are dense.  What would have happened if St. Louis had cleared not just a few, albeit large areas in the 1960s and 1970s, but a full quarter of the city as some in Detroit are proposing to do? For example, what if Cherokee Street had been reduced to rubble when people shifted their shopping patterns to suburban malls? St. Louis would have been robbed of a fantastic and affordable commercial district and business incubator where today immigrant groceries, clothing and music stores mingle with print-shops, art galleries, coffee shops and restaurants.  While Cherokee was vastly underutilized for decades, and to an extent remains so, it remained intact. I look at historic infrastructure, often underutilized, often abandoned, as a long-term investment for a city.  St. Louis is living proof that neighborhoods can survive long, dark winters and still be ready to put forth flowers when the spring finally arrives.  Rather than bulldoze a quarter of Detroit, Mayor Bing would be better off exploring ways of mothballinging excess capacity and engineering the concentration of services. Mass demolition sends the message that not only is Detroit incapable of dealing with its current problems, but that it has no hope for a brighter future. 

Link to story on the proposed demolitions.