Urban Blight


Detroit is home to some globally unique architectural monuments and historical places. Its waterfront boasts a variety of architectural styles from post-modern Neo-Gothic spires, such as the One Detroit Centre (1993), to Art Deco skyscrapers. Just a couple of minutes outside of the downtown area, the scene becomes almost post-apocalyptic. Historical structures such as the Michigan Central Station, the United Artists Theatre, the Packard Plant, and the Lee Plaza Hotel have become dilapidated. Whole stretches of blocks have been abandoned and burnt down or simply demolished. Those who could leave the city have already left, those who are left behind attempt to scrap together their lives with whatever they can find.

This short video in the background looks at one stretch in Detroit. Houses marked with a red dot identify a blighted structure or vacant lot.

Blight Map

More than a fifth of Detroit’s properties are plagued with blight according to a 2014 report by Detroit’s Blight Removal Task Force.

Of 377,602 properties surveyed, 84,641 (22%) were found to be blighted. The task force divided the city’s most troubled properties into three types of blight, recommending “immediate removal” of nearly half of them.

  • 40,077 are recommended for demolition
  • 38,429 need further review
  • 6,135 are vacant lots
  • Black outlines show areas targeted as highest priority for blight intervention

Urban Island

Lost in the wide open spaces of a depopulated city

By Wills Robinson

In 1950, Detroit was America's fifth largest city and one of the most prosperous on the back of its booming motor industry. It prompted the construction of skyscrapers on the banks of the river and the development of vast suburban housing projects in the surrounding areas.

But almost 55 years on, a dwindling motor industry and a dramatic fall in blue collar jobs has caused people to leave the Michigan city, abandoning their homes and businesses.

These aerial photos below were taken by pilot and aerial photographer Alex MacLean were first published in the New York Times, and reveal the tiny urban island that is left - a clutter of high-rises surrounded by empty housing plots now covered in grass.

There are vast areas of open spaces dotted with crumbling industrial buildings and barely-standing Victorian homes until you reach the upmarket suburbs. There, the land fills up with gated communities and huge estates complete with swimming pools, tennis courts and multi-car garages.

In Detroit, the median household income is just $26,955 - with many of the poorest residents taking home much less - compared to a higher $101,094 in the suburb Grosse Pointe Park. And in relation to crime rate, Detroit's Precinct 4 takes an average of 30 minutes to respond to an incident, while Grosse Pointe Park police typically arrive in just 3.4.

On July 18, 2013 the Motor City declared the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history in, while its neighbor's quaint shops, beer gardens and antiques stores are thriving with residents.