Lessons Learned: Detroit demolishes thousands of structures

Go Lean Commentary

Lights, camera, action …

That expression is used to initiate a filming session on a movie set. It is symbolic of manifestation; “coming to a head” after a long series of planning steps.

“You have planned the work; now its time to work the plan”.


This book Go Lean…Caribbean – published in November 2013 – analyzed the once-great-but-now-distressed City of Detroit (Michigan, USA); it embedded the lessons learned from Detroit in a page entitled:

10 Lessons Learned from Detroit (Page 140)

Afterwards, the book’s publishers went to Detroit (for almost 1 & 1/2 years) to “observe and report” on the turn-around and rebirth of the city. The motivation was that the Caribbean region could learn a lot from the strategies, tactics and implementations to mitigate this community’s “Failed-State/Failed-City” status. The recommendation of the book and countless blogs – 34 not including this submission – was always the same that Detroit can benefit by engaging in a demolition of so many of its blighted buildings. This is described as exercising the mastery of destruction arts and sciences – salvage, removal, recycle, redevelopment, rebirth, reboot and “right-sizing”.

Those pleas have been heard: Detroit has now commenced the recommended action of demolishing structures. See a full news article relating this here:

Title: Detroit demolishes thousands of structures; many more to go
By: Corey Williams




DETROIT (AP) — Remnants of the roof and walls creaked, groaned and then crumpled to the ground Wednesday from what once was an industrial building that covered an entire city block, likely the last structure demolished this year under Detroit’s massive blight elimination program.

Blows from an excavator methodically destroyed a portion of what had been a 60,000-square-foot building on Cloverdale Avenue in a west side neighborhood of homes, auto repair shops and other light industrial buildings.

When leveled, the structure that a local resident said had once housed an industrial laundry or dry cleaners, will mark about 3,130 structures cleared in 2016 and about 10,700 — mostly houses — razed since 2014. The vast majority are owned by the city’s Land Bank Authority.

But the city has a long way to go. A blight task force in 2014 said 40,000 needed to be torn down and 38,000 others were falling apart in one of the nation’s poorest major cities that emerged in December 2014 from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Many blocks have more abandoned houses and empty lots than lived-in homes, a result of the exodus of whites and much of the black middle class from the city. About 1.8 million people lived in Detroit in the 1950s. Fewer than 700,000 currently call Detroit home, according to the U.S. Census.

Mayor Mike Duggan has said the mass demolitions are necessary for Detroit to attract families to city neighborhoods and stop decades of population loss.

“I’m so excited about this,” said an almost gleeful Sandra Pickens as the excavator clawed at brick and wood.

Pickens is president of the Littlefield Community Association. The neighborhood group met over the summer with Duggan about the empty building and other concerns.

“This was an eyesore for us,” she told The Associated Press Wednesday. “I’ve seen people come and dump things here; come in at night and steal the beams. We shouldn’t have anything looking like this.”

Mike Douglas works in a muffler shop on Cloverdale. He remembers the neighborhood and small businesses in the area as “thriving” 20 or so years ago. He believes the building across the street has been empty a dozen or so years.

The area had “deteriorated to the point that we were having a tough time actually keeping our business here,” said Douglas, 55.

By removing dangerous buildings and empty houses, safety and quality of life in Detroit is improved, according to Fire Investigations Division Capt. Winston Farrow.

“It eliminates the opportunities for criminals to set fires in vacant houses,” Farrow said. “The problem was more just the sheer numbers of dwellings that we had.”

The average sale prices of over 100 houses sold in the city also has increased over the past three years, according to the Land Bank.

The problems haven’t been resolved completely, “but it’s much better,” said Linda Smith, a blight task force co-chair and executive director of a nonprofit that builds homes in Detroit and provides resources to city residents.

“Maintaining and securing all of the homes that need some work done to them is the next step,” Smith said.

Not everyone is as optimistic.

“You can tear down a house on one block and go back several months later and where houses were occupied (they) are now abandoned and need to be demolished,” said Sheila Dapremont, owner of Detroit demolition company 3D Wrecking.

“It just seems like it never ends,” she said.

On average, it costs Detroit $12,616 to knock down a house. More than $128 million in federal funds over the past three years have helped pay for the work. Another $130 million was approved this year.

About $40 million in the city’s general fund has been set aside for demolitions.

Federal funding was temporarily halted earlier this year and resumed after an audit determined demolition costs above a federal cap of $25,000 per house were redistributed to 350 other properties to have those houses appear to meet the cap. Amounts over the cap should have been billed to the city. The city says controls have since been tightened.


Detroit Demolition Tracker: http://www.detroitmi.gov/demolition

Despite these events being in Detroit and not the Caribbean, the foregoing can still impact the Greater Good for the Caribbean. It provides us an exact role model of what to do … and not do. Lessons learned …

The Go Lean book serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU) to elevate Caribbean society. Detroit is not in scope for this effort, but as detailed in a previous blog-commentary, an examination of the details of Detroit can be productive for the Caribbean effort. The Go Lean roadmap therefore has these 3 prime directives:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion GDP and create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance to support these engines.

Early in the Go Lean book, the point of lessons from Detroit was pronounced in the opening Declaration of Interdependence (Page 14), with this opening statement:

xxxiii. Whereas lessons can be learned and applied from the study of the recent history of other societies, the Federation must formalize statutes and organizational dimensions to avoid the pitfalls of communities like … Detroit…

As a “failed-city”, Detroit has suffered abandonment; first “white flight”, then eventually everyone else; (the population peak was 1,849,568 in 1950, but only 713,777 in 2010). The need for demolition is tied to the fact that many of the buildings from that population peak were still standing in the city, though now blighted.

According to the foregoing article, the city has more to do to right-size to an optimized city. The city’s disposition is still dire (brain drain, unemployment, urban blight and acute hopelessness); but there is hope for a better future. This is very familiar for Caribbean communities. This is why the study of Detroit is such an ideal model for the Caribbean.

Previous Go Lean blogs highlighted some specific lessons from Detroit and other nearby Michigan cities, as sampled in this detailed list here:

Detroit makes Community College free
An Ode to Detroit – Good Luck on Trade!
Beware of Vulture Capitalists
Detroit giving schools their ‘Worst Shot’
Flint, Michigan – A Cautionary Tale
Secrecy, corruption and conflicts in State governance
Before and After Photos of Detroit’s Transformation
Education & Economics: Welcoming Obama to Detroit
Ann Arbor: Model for ‘Start-up’ Cities
Big Salt: Short-term Benefit; Long-term Damage
NEXUS: Facilitating Detroit-Windsor Commerce
M-1 Rail: Alternative Motion in the Motor City
JP Morgan Chase $100 million Detroit investment

The foregoing news article (and VIDEO in the Appendix below) relates more to the art and science of destruction-recycling than it does to Detroit. This has also been a consistent theme for the Go Lean movement. Consider these previous blog-commentaries that advocated developing business models around destruction/recycling/turn-around:

A Lesson in ‘Garbage’
Where the Jobs Are – Entrepreneurism in Junk
Where the Jobs Are – One Scenario: Ship-breaking
‘Only at the precipice, do they change’

The CU/Go Lean effort is focused on forging change in the region; this does not start with the demolition process, rather it starts with attitudes and motivations to reject the status quo. This positive attitude is defined in the Go Lean book as the community ethos for “turn-around”. Here is a sample of the text relating to turn-around practice (Page 33):

… dispositions of abandoned buildings in the member-states still relate to CU missions, as in the protection of image (“psychological trauma” is inflicted daily on neighbors of abandoned structures) and the quest for beauty. While beauty, aesthetics and preservation may be paramount for communities, these should only be a concern after basic needs are satisfied – housing is a basic need. The economics of housing can be impacted with the over-supply of abandoned buildings, as it brings the value down for other properties, and sends out the false vision, like Detroit’s abandoned structures, that just a “little rehab” and their new manifestations will be readily available. Learning from Detroit, it is more beneficial to raze abandoned buildings and build anew turn-around, rather than considering restoration or preservation.

Accordingly, demolition of blighted buildings can reinvigorate a community. The building materials can be re-purposed. Bricks can simply be re-used; scrap metal can be recycled; the wood can grind down to chip/saw-dust; concrete can grind down to sand-fill; and on and on.

  • Imagine the jobs.
  • Image the restoration, the renewal, the refresh … in the community.
  • Even the newly-razed land-lots can be put into service as community gardens; or just left as vacant land-lots, therefore posing no risk or dangers to the community – see VIDEO below.

The book details other ethos to adopt, plus the executions of the following strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to impact the reboot and turn-around of Caribbean communities:

Community Ethos – Deferred Gratification Page 21
Community Ethos – People Respond to Incentives Page 21
Community Ethos – Job Multiplier Page 22
Community Ethos – Light Up the Dark Places Page 23
Community Ethos – “Crap” Happens Page 23
Community Ethos – Lean Operations Page 24
Community Ethos – Return on Investments (ROI) Page 24
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Future Page 26
Community Ethos – Ways to Help Entrepreneurship Page 28
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact a Turn-Around Page 33
Community Ethos – Impact the Greater Good Page 37
Strategy – Customers – Foreign Direct Investors Page 48
Tactical – Fostering a Technocracy Page 64
Tactical – Modeling Post WW II Germany – Reboot with Marshall Plan Page 68
Tactical – Modeling Post WW II Japan – Reboot with no Marshall Plan Page 69
Separation of Powers – Public Works & Infrastructure Page 82
Separation of Powers – Housing and Urban Authority Page 83
Implementation – Ways to Pay for Change Page 101
Implementation – Ways to Re-boot Freeport – Sample Failed City Page 112
Planning – Ways to Improve Failed-State Indices Page 132
Planning – Lessons Learned from 2008 Page 136
Planning – Lessons from Detroit Page 140
Advocacy – Ways to Grow the Economy Page 151
Advocacy – Ways to Create Jobs Page 152
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Local Government Page 169
Advocacy – Ways to Better Manage the Social Contract Page 170
Advocacy – Ways to Reboot Cuba Page 226
Advocacy – Ways to Reboot Haiti Page 238
Advocacy – Ways to Reboot Jamaica Page 239

The foregoing news article aligns with the publishers of the Go Lean book for the purpose of empowering and rebooting economic engines. The roadmap calls for the heavy-lifting of working with individuals, families, communities and nation-states to turn-around and reboot the region’s future prospect. There is the need for this re-boot so as to make the Caribbean better.

The Caribbean is arguably the best address on the planet, but there is a lot missing; like Detroit we have blight and urban decay (with dangerous buildings). So the example from Detroit is a good model to reboot the societal engines in our region. There are benefits to demolition, but there is also the need for caution. Crony-Capitalism can easily seep in to exploit public funds for private gain. So there are security and governing concerns as well. See the photos here of the Detroit Demolition Tracker, attempting to provide transparency for better governance.



The Go Lean roadmap provides a complete plan to reboot Caribbean economic-security-governing engines. The region is hereby urged to lean-in to this roadmap, to make the homeland a better place to live, work and play. 🙂

Download the book Go Lean … Caribbean – now!


Appendix VIDEO – Watch Detroit Demolish 2 Houses in 2 Minuteshttps://youtu.be/ML5l8GrJEe0

Published on Jul 6, 2016 – Watch the time lapse video of two demolitions in Detroit. For more information, visit detroitmi.gov/demolition.

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