The teardown campaign began May 11 with the ceremonial destruction of a chimney on a two-story bungalow in northwest Detroit, the first step in a program backed by local churches that will level 450 blighted properties in 45 days.
The project will take chunks of Detroit's history with it. Among them: a 5,000-square-foot house at 1860 Balmoral Drive in the fashionable Palmer Woods neighborhood of the city. The abandoned house was once the boyhood home of former Massachusetts Governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Since January, about 660 abandoned houses have been torn down in Detroit, not far below the 860 that were demolished in all of 2009. The stepped-up pace of demolition was made possible by $20 million in federal stimulus money.
Even with the increased pace of demolition, many derelict structures will remain standing. Detroit currently has 33,000 vacant houses still standing, and another 55,000 are in foreclosure; Detroit is one of the U.S. cities hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis.
Bing and civic activists say the drive is a matter of safety. Drug addicts and other squatters often move into vacant homes, creating problems for neighbors.
The city, which had a population of more than 2 million at its peak, now has about 800,000 residents, and Census 2010 figures could show the city slipping below that mark.
But rather than portray this as a response to decline, community leaders say this shows there's still life and vitality left in Detroit.
The city plans to recoup as much of the demolition costs as possible by aggressively pursuing the owners of abandoned properties.
Written by Sandy Smith