Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Feral Houses of Detroit

When you think of the word "feral", is it a rabid dog or cat that first comes to mind? Or, perhaps a feral Gypsy child running through the slums of Calcutta, surviving on only heroin and garbage snacks.

But a feral house? This is an entirely different category of bizarre. In the city of Detroit, long a poster child of American urban decay, things have gotten so bad in many of its wards that thousands of houses - entire neighborhoods, even - can now be described as "feral".

Due to decades of industrial decline, economic disinvestment, political corruption, and failing city services, Detroit's population has declined from over 2 million in 1950 to just 900,000 today.

According to a recent article in City Journal, the mayor of Detroit, Dave Bing, plans to "shrink" the city even further to 700,000 to allow it to thrive. As it stands today, nearly 70,000 houses stand abandoned - many to such an extent that they are completely engulfed by vegetation in the summer months. Nonetheless, the city msut still provide services to the few remaining residents of these feral districts at great cost.

Under Bing's plan, nearly one quarter of the city's land area would be returned to forest and woodland, fully depopulated of its residents, who would be relocated to other areas. With the exception of certain areas like the Lower Ninth Ward in post-Katrina New Orleans, this is almost unprecedented for any American city.

These feral areas of Detroit may be the closest thing America has to a truly 3rd World standard of living, outside of Indian reservations. Places where only arrests are made on only 37% of murders (compared to 65% nationally), and police coverage is so irregular that many residents no longer call 911 to report crimes because the police simply don't bother to show up.

Detroit's Dave Bing, a former NBA star, has often been compared to Newark's Mayor, Cory Booker, a reformist who has taken charge against the staggering odds in a "crime capital" of America. If his redevelopment plan of Detroit works, hopefully these "feral neighborhoods" will become a thing of the past, a marker of the worst of deindustrialization in the Rust Belt. In the meantime, these houses are as increidble as they are sad.

Click here for a full map of the Detroit feral houses.

Via: Sweet Juniper


  1. This is my favorite post! I adore things like this. It is disheartening to think that these were neighborhoods, and of the pervasive poverty that has lead to this... still, there is such beauty in modern ruins.

    The earth is reclaiming what had been parceled out and destroyed.

    Here is a link to other artwork of feral buildings: http://www.modern-ruins.com/

  2. Thanks, Heather! It is, on the one hand, heartbreaking to see that one of America's (really the world's) formerly great cities now has all the telltale signs of being a ghost town. On the other hand, it does help point the way forward to a more sustainable way of living - in Germany and other countries where population decline is an issue, there are many many places that are almost totally abandoned. If they succeed in reorganizing Detroit into a more manageable and sustainable form, then that would really be a good model for elegant decline, doing more with less.