Gone Baby, Gone

As we prepare the Irwin House for opening, one distressing issue has been the burned out house a few doors down.  Although, there had been complaints of suspicious activity and local authorities called to the property over the years, the blight had at least been relatively hidden by brush in the warmer months, then snow in the winter.  No real comfort in that, however – even though we didn’t have a clear view of the house, who knows what lurked in the shadows. Wildlife was the least of our concerns.

This winter brought minimal snow and certainly there no leaves on the trees, offering us a ghastly, unobstructed view of the site. Crumbling, hollowed, and garbage-strewn, the property behind the trees was far worse than we’d imagined. How could we welcome world visitors to our block with a virtual haunted house sitting just yards away? How could we tout the power and benefits of art with no control over the safety and aesthetic of our own vicinity? What power did we have to beautify, or otherwise rectify the site, especially with neighbors abusing it for their personal refuse. Years of complaints seemed to fall on deaf ears.

But, the City was listening.

While we waded through bureaucracy to try to figure out how to get the structure demolished – with the support of Mildred Hunt Robbins of the West Grand Boulevard Collaborative (WBGC) and DeAndre Calvert, Community Liaison for Councilmember, Mary Sheffield – the City of Detroit responded.

On Tuesday, March 21, 2017, a demolition crew showed up around 8:30 am. By 3:30 that afternoon, the abandoned house and all the debris it entailed, was history. Crews returned over the following couple of weeks until a blemish-free landscape was delivered by the close of the first week of April.

The City of Detroit’s Demolition Program has not been without its criticisms and setbacks. More than 11,000 blighted structures have been leveled since it started in 2014, but the program fell under investigation in 2016 amid concerns about escalating costs. Removal activity was suspended for two months, and resumed only after the City adopted several new protocols in light of federal concerns.  Many citizens are impatient to learn when, or if, demolition will be coming to their block. Whatever your feelings are about the program, it is improving the quality of life for Detroiters and expanding possibilities for the city. We don’t know what will become of the new vacant lot on our block – we won’t be buying it, we’ve got our hands full – but, we look forward to creative new neighbors, wishful innovations, or even fresh public space, soon to add to the historic landscape of West Grand Boulevard!

Learn more about Detroit’s Demolition Program HERE and find out where they’re going next and where they’ve been!