While bringing nature back into the city is generally heralded as a sign of improvement, this is hardly the best path to that end. Next American City‘s Willy Staley recently took a walk through Detroit‘s East Side with vacant property guru Sam Butler to surmise the problems of abandonment facing the city. Detroit, seeking to demolish some 3,000 structures, has long been at the center of a movement to “shrink” cities suffering from population loss and blight.
While demolishing a house seems fairly straightforward, Staley reveals that the process is encumbered by asbestos abatement and (to his surprise and mine) basement removal:
In fact, when deconstruction contractors get lazy or are rushed, Sam told me, they just push dirt into the basement instead of digging the concrete out, which can create a feature of urban ecology that is (hopefully) unique to Detroit: the urban swamp.
Sam directed me to the corner of Kitchener and Essex streets, on Detroit’s East Side, where there is now a mini-swamp or bog, roughly the contour of a basement to a house that no longer exists. Cattails and other weeds grow about head-high, out of mud so sticky that I had to ditch my Vans for the remainder of the trip.
Such a phenomenon carries obvious pitfalls for the surrounding community, essentially replacing one form of blight with another, but also offers fascinating insights into the nature of the city as, well, a natural place.