When I think of Detroit, I immediately think of the world’s best used bookstore, fried bologna sliders and the transformative power of public art. Most people think of urban decay — vacant lots, abandoned houses, crumbling infrastructure and blight as far as the eye can see.
City officials are now trying to make good use of its unfortunate 21st century trademark — long-forsaken homes numbering roughly 70,000 strong — through the act of deconstruction. While Detroit is indeed still marching forward with a blight-erasing, federally funded wholesale demolition campaign in which several thousand abandoned residential properties will be razed per year, a new initiative piloted by the city’s Building Authority is adding architectural salvage to the mix.
While deconstruction — hand-dismantling homes for reusable and resalable building materials before the wrecking ball arrives on the scene — is more expensive than straight-out demolition, it creates jobs, eliminates mountains of landfill-bound waste and provides local designers, builders, remodelers, artisans and makers with a bounty of valuable raw materials. In other words, Detroit’s abandoned homes are veritable treasure troves, filled with enough well-aged and high-quality goodies — flooring, fixtures, beams, glass, brick, moldings and the list goes on and on — to keep reuse-minded Etsy artisans in operation well into the next century.
“We see the value of deconstruction. The city supports the concept and sees it in the overall blight strategy,” Detroit Building Authority director David Manardo told Detroit News back in March.
Bloomberg News recently tackled Motor City’s nascent deconstruction movement in a piece that highlights the city’s existing nonprofit architectural salvage firms that are already hard at work reclaiming materials from demolition-tagged homes along with the enterprising folks making new things out of Detroit's abandoned homes.
Bloomberg also crunches numbers to share some staggering statistics: given that the average home and basement produces 400 tons of debris when razed, all of Detroit’s derelict properties combined would yield around 28 million tons of demolition waste. That’s enough to fill 280 of America’s largest aircraft carriers.
While deconstruction efforts don’t completely cut landfill-bound waste out of equation — some items just can’t be salvaged due to a variety of reasons — it does make a sizable dent.
Spearheaded by the administration of newly instated Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the pilot deconstruction program will take place in southwest Detroit's historic Corktown neighborhood with several local deconstruction firms vying for the job. The winning bid will be announced early this summer.
In total, 10 abandoned Corktown houses will be carefully deconstructed prior to their demolition. Located adjacent to Detroit's downtown core, the hip and bar-heavy neighborhood (and the city's oldest surviving one), is the perfect match for the pilot program as it's filled with mostly older homes no doubt built with highly covetable materials. Although Corktown isn't exactly overwhelmed with blight when compared to some other neighborhoods, it is home to Detroit's most oft-photographed abandoned building, Michigan Central Station.
And with this much-welcomed flurry of city-sponsored deconstruction descending on Detroit, comes the need for somewhere — and somewhere big — to store and resell truckloads of salvaged building materials — a regional reclamation hub, if you will.
Bloomberg reports that the city is offering to lease an unutilized 37,500-square-foot warehouse to a private operator that would run the job-creating facility as an architectural salvage wonderland, a one-stop shop for reclaimed everything. This is assuming that all goes well with the Corktown pilot program.
All building materials rescued from residential deconstruction projects would wind up in this centralized location where they would await reincarnation as cutting boards, dining room tables, benches and other household or commercial furnishings along with more unexpected items detailed by Bloomberg such as terrariums, ukuleles and wooden sunglasses.
The warehouse, operated as a private-public partnership, would be run “consignment-style,” notes Detroit News.
Craig Varterian, executive director of Reclaim Detroit, one nonprofit salvage outfit in the running to operate the forthcoming reclamation hub, drives the waste-diversion point home to Bloomberg, explaining that just 10 to 20 deconstruction projects per month would help to keep 5 million pounds of demolition debris out of landfills over the next three years.
“Detroit debris as a marketing tool is in vogue. Detroit is now a brand,” Varterian explains. He adds that “this is not just a Detroit problem. It’s a national problem, these kinds of decaying, urban communities that are trying to redefine themselves.”
Deconstructing a home prior to its demolition typically adds about 15 percent to the $12,500 price tag of razing a single home, according to the Brian Farkas, projects director for the Detroit Building Authority.
While Detroit isn’t exactly flush at the moment having just emerged from municipal bankruptcy late last year, an additional 15 percent seems a small price to pay for the considerable economical and environmental boons associated with deconstructing homes.
In addition to the deconstruction pilot program, Mayor Duggan also recently launched another blight-eliminating, neighborhood-bolstering initiative in the form of the 0% Interest Home Repair Loan Program.
Related on MNN:
- Doors salvaged from demolished Detroit houses reborn as artsy bus stop benches
- Overgrown lot-munching goats given the boot in Detroit
- The recycled man: Steve Feldman of Green Demolitions