Sunday, June 2, 2013

Addition By Subtraction: The Demolition of a Single Home in Flint, Michigan


As I illustrate in Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City, the sheer number of abandoned properties in Flint can be overwhelming. But even a single empty house can help destroy an entire block. It can act as magnet for scrappers, arsonists, and drug dealers. It can be the thing that convinces other residents working to save their neighborhood that it might be time to give up hope and move on.

The owner of this house in Civic Park walked away years ago, leaving almost all of his possessions inside. It doesn't look so bad from the outside, but looks can be deceiving.







In the counter intuitive way that success is often measured in a shrinking city, this story has a “happy” ending. Or, more accurately, an ending that is less bad than some of the other possible outcomes. The house was demolished in May. The lot was deeded to the neighbors in the yellow house, who will care for it like they’ve cared for their own home for decades.

It’s addition by subtraction in Flint, Michigan.

16 comments:

  1. If you could get five good neighbors to adopt five lots after five abandoned house come down, you'd really improve almost every block in Civic Park.

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    1. I agree! But it's around $10,000 to tear a house down. Demo'ing every house like this one in the city seems like a great way to spend stimulus money and help the economy.

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  2. Great photo essay and powerful storytelling, Gordon.

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    1. Thanks, Eric. I should note that all the photos except the first one were taken by Civic Park residents. I know the residents on this block well, and this demolition is a huge help to them.

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  3. I live 2 houses South of the yellow house in the picture, and yes, it really does help improve the block. We have other abandoned, land bank & otherwise, houses on the block that still look fairly decent. Those, one of the neighbors mows every week or 2. Keeping them mowed at least keeps up the appearance that someone cares & is a big plus to the neighborhood. It really doesn't take a lot, just a few people that care.

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    1. Hello Dave, can you tell me, is that the 2200 block of Milborn street, possibly next door to 2244?

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  4. Jan Worth-NelsonJune 2, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    Was that a piano visible in the second photo? There's something painful and upsetting about that...a vehicle for some of the best that humans are capable of, making music, abandoned along with with all that trash. Man...

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    1. Traci and I were just talking about how even scrappers won't touch a piano. They seem to hold almost no value now. It's not uncommon to see items on craigslist offering free pianos if the taker will arrange for it to be removed from a house or apartment in the city, which is not an easy task.

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    2. > Was that a piano visible in the second photo? There's something painful and upsetting about that...a vehicle for some of the best that humans are capable of, making music, abandoned along with with all that trash. <

      It seems like that someone could have stolen that piano, given the state of the house, if they'd been willing to work that hard and if there was a market for it. I guess the thieves want easier work that that, though.

      I'd think that the percentage of kids of working parents getting piano lessons, by locale over time, would be a good statistic for tracking civil devolution.

      Obviously households with no job at all aren't going to be paying for piano lessons. Back when it was normal for people to have jobs, though, piano lessons were one of those things that you might do for your kids so that they'd have a good life.

      Some of the people who have moved to various suburbs over the years have been trying to live among people who still think it's worth the other sacrifices to give their kids piano lessons and the like.

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  5. Very moving. At one point this morning as I drove through Flint, I had to pull over on Chevrolet Avenue and have a good cry. I can't believe my city I love so much has come to this.

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  6. Trying to put myself into the minds of those abutters, who probably despaired many a day and night about that house...they must be very very grateful that someone finally made government work, by developing the take-title-clear-the-land-and-give-it-to-a-neighbor approach.

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  7. What a shame.... but glad it wasn't mine....

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  8. The house was pretty well gone through by the time it was torn down, but I guess nobody wanted the piano. All the trash in the pictures was left by the occupant. Harriett, it's not all bad; we're an island in a sea of blight & we keep our block up. And, yeah, we're very near Chevrolet, so I know how you feel.

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  9. Great job Gordon! In the long run this will be great for Flint if they can do more of this. As it is unlikely that a lot more people are going to be moving into Flint in the near term, getting rid of these homes and increasing lot sizes for other homes is a net positive for all.

    I am sure it is a hard decision, but once made it is a good one.

    Scott Pierce
    Powers Class of 85

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  10. That beautiful, yellow house looks like the one where Mark and Lindy Voight grew up. Mark, I believe, still lives in Flint.

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  11. I'll grant you that there are significant economies when there are many homes built together in a housing development.
    http://www.allevaconstruction.com/services/additions-renovations.html

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