Home demolitions turn Detroit into blank canvas

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Debris from a home that was torn down is shown in Detroit’s Brightmoor area Monday, March 24, 2014, in Detroit. For years, Brightmoor area residents pleaded with the city to demolish vacant homes that scavengers have stripped of wiring and plumbing and anything of value. Some structures are already gone, and now officials aim to do much more, possibly tearing down as many as 450 empty houses each week across more than 20 square miles of this bankrupt city _ a vast patchwork of rotting homes comparable to the size of Manhattan. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Debris from a home that was torn down is shown in Detroit’s Brightmoor area Monday, March 24, 2014, in Detroit. For years, Brightmoor area residents pleaded with the city to demolish vacant homes that scavengers have stripped of wiring and plumbing and anything of value. Some structures are already gone, and now officials aim to do much more, possibly tearing down as many as 450 empty houses each week across more than 20 square miles of this bankrupt city _ a vast patchwork of rotting homes comparable to the size of Manhattan. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Debris from a home that was torn down is shown in Detroit’s Brightmoor area Monday, March 24, 2014, in Detroit. For years, Brightmoor area residents pleaded with the city to demolish vacant homes that scavengers have stripped of wiring and plumbing and anything of value. Some structures are already gone, and now officials aim to do much more, possibly tearing down as many as 450 empty houses each week across more than 20 square miles of this bankrupt city _ a vast patchwork of rotting homes comparable to the size of Manhattan. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

An empty lot where a home was demolished is shown in Detroit’s Brightmoor area Monday, March 24, 2014, in Detroit. For years, Brightmoor area residents pleaded with the city to demolish vacant homes that scavengers have stripped of wiring and plumbing and anything of value. Some structures are already gone, and now officials aim to do much more, possibly tearing down as many as 450 empty houses each week across more than 20 square miles of this bankrupt city _ a vast patchwork of rotting homes comparable to the size of Manhattan. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

A excavator removes debris from a demolished house next to a house with a foreclosure notice in Detroit’s Brightmoor area Monday, March 24, 2014, in Detroit. For years, Brightmoor area residents pleaded with the city to demolish vacant homes that scavengers have stripped of wiring and plumbing and anything of value. Some structures are already gone, and now officials aim to do much more, possibly tearing down as many as 450 empty houses each week across more than 20 square miles of this bankrupt city _ a vast patchwork of rotting homes comparable to the size of Manhattan. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

A excavator tears down a house in Detroit’s Brightmoor area Monday, March 24, 2014, in Detroit. For years, Brightmoor area residents pleaded with the city to demolish vacant homes that scavengers have stripped of wiring and plumbing and anything of value. Some structures are already gone, and now officials aim to do much more, possibly tearing down as many as 450 empty houses each week across more than 20 square miles of this bankrupt city _ a vast patchwork of rotting homes comparable to the size of Manhattan. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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DETROIT (AP) — The families of Detroit’s Brightmoor area are delighted that the day is finally approaching when bulldozers will arrive to level more of their neighborhood. After that, their community’s future will be like the cleared landscape — a blank canvas.

For years, Brightmoor residents pleaded with the city to demolish vacant homes that scavengers had stripped of wiring and plumbing and anything of value. Some structures are already gone, and now officials aim to do much more, possibly tearing down as many as 450 empty houses each week across more than 20 square miles of this bankrupt city — a vast patchwork of rotting homes comparable to the size of Manhattan.

The huge demolition project holds the potential to transform large parts of Detroit into an urban-redevelopment laboratory like the nation has never seen. But community leaders here and in cities that have attempted similar transformations say Detroit’s best efforts could still wither from lack of money, lack of commitment or harsh economic realities.

“What’s the plan for lots to keep them from becoming a different type of blight?” asked Tom Goddeeris, executive director of Grandmont Rosedale Development Corp., a nonprofit community improvement group representing a cluster of five Detroit neighborhoods.

The ambitious demolition schedule was formally presented last month as part of the city’s plans to emerge from bankruptcy.

The changes could be far-reaching: Unlike other cities where building space is almost always limited, Detroit will offer urban planners a rare chance to experiment with wide-open land. Neighborhood advocates are talking excitedly about creating urban gardens, farms, forests and other types of “green space.” Brightmoor already has the Lyndon Greenway, which connects two large parks with smaller parks and bike paths.

No other American city has as many abandoned properties as Detroit. But smaller-scale successes with similar green initiatives have been engineered in places such as Philadelphia and Cleveland.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philly Green program has converted roughly 10,000 vacant lots over the last two decades, making it the “gold standard,” said Joe Schilling, who directs the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

Having a non-governmental organization manage and design the effort, is a huge advantage, Schilling said.

“To use a military metaphor, if you go in with your demolition forces and you’re trying to get a stronghold in a particular strategic place, you have to be able to stabilize it before you keep moving on in your campaign,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re going to go back in

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