Unmasking the Motor City: New mapping software by LOVELAND Technologies is helping to fight blight in Detroit
Detroit is in the midst of the single-largest tax foreclosure in American History. More than 60,000 foreclosed properties are clustered in the Motor City. The threat of eviction looms over remaining inhabitants and poses the larger long-term threat of a spike in homelessness. The root of the problem—unpaid property taxes—seems untenable when viewed alongside the resulting greater city-wide disaster.
Social media was abuzz recently over the reports by eavesdrop, the WSJ, and other major papers about the biggest recession scab over Chicago: the failed Spire designed by Santiago Calatrava. That Irish pie in the sky developer apparently found someone to bail the project out of its foreclosure. Everyone was all, “It’s back on!” Dear readers, until they start pumping the water out of the big hole in the ground, Eavesdrop is betting against this one.
Vacant buildings can drag down whole blocks, depressing property values, encouraging crime and accelerating a spiral of poverty that afflicts many Chicago neighborhoods. Even the boards that cover the windows on abandoned homes can convey a sense that nobody’s in charge, or that an area can’t be salvaged to save it from demolition.
That’s the point of intervention for artist Chris Toepfer, who since 1995 has visited thousands of vacant buildings in 17 U.S. cities. Toepfer paints the boards that clad abanonded homes and businesses, working with Chicago nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Service to slow the cycle of decline in neighborhoods hit hard by the housing crisis. Dave Hoekstra profiled their work for the Sun-Times. Also, here’s a 2010 video with Toepfer from Medill Reports.
In June a full-block surface parking lot in downtown Flint, Mich. will house a ghostly, floating home — a monument to the ravages of the foreclosure crisis and a nod to the revitalization public art projects like this one hope to further in the one-time home of General Motors.
London-based Two Islands took first place in the inaugural Flat Lot Competition, which comes with a $25,000 prize, for their design, Mark’s House. The story of an imagined Flint resident named Mark Hamilton, whose family loses their home to foreclosure, Mark’s House takes the form of a Tudor-style house clad in reflective panels and set atop a mirrored pedestal. The structure can hold 1,500 gallons of water to be used for cooling mists for visitors to the structure’s canopy and event stage on hot summer days.
It looks like Mies van der Rohe’s Lafayette Towers in Detroit may avoid the auction block a little longer. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) foreclosed on the high-rise apartment buildings in February, and HUD had planned to put them up for auction this month (albeit with a litany of multi-million-dollar renovations required of the lucky winner).
Detroit exercised its first right of refusal on that course of action, wary of the iconic towers falling into the wrong hands. New York-based Northern Group bought the buildings in 2008 for $16 million in cash, but stopped making payments on its loans by 2010. The towers were transferred to HUD soon after. Now the city’s group for planning and facilities is seeking a private owner to bring the buildings back from disrepair.