Dead cities

Via an IM from son James I found out that some cities are excising dead tissue before it becomes gangrenous:

Dozens of US cities may have entire neighbourhoods bulldozed as part of drastic “shrink to survive” proposals being considered by the Obama administration to tackle economic decline.

The government looking at expanding a pioneering scheme in Flint, one of the poorest US cities, which involves razing entire districts and returning the land to nature.

Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40 per cent, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area.

Flint’s recovery efforts have been helped by a new state law passed a few years ago which allowed local governments to buy up empty properties very cheaply.

They could then knock them down or sell them on to owners who will occupy them. The city wants to specialise in health and education services, both areas which cannot easily be relocated abroad.

The local authority has restored the city’s attractive but formerly deserted centre but has pulled down 1,100 abandoned homes in outlying areas.

Mr Kildee estimated another 3,000 needed to be demolished, although the city boundaries will remain the same.

Thousands of homes. Wow. That would be quite a ghost town.

Although it seems a little odd in our time it wasn’t all the uncommon, at least in the western United States, for towns to spring up around mines, flourish for many years then be abandoned. For it to happen around some other industry in another age shouldn’t be all the surprising I guess.

7 thoughts on “Dead cities

  1. “a new state law passed a few years ago which allowed local governments to buy up empty properties very cheaply.”

    I suppose it doesn’t matter what the owners of said properties want. They can buy the property because it isn’t occupied, whether you want to sell it or not is another story. Not to mention they will likely buy it for a % of the assessed tax value, which they set.

  2. Chuck beat me to it. Though from what I’ve read, the going price for a house up there is something a lot of people could put on Visa, if they so desired — but that’s still not, IMHO, a compelling reason to use taxpayer money to do what they’re doing. At least they’re acknowledging that somebody still owns the property, despite being abandoned by its occupants. Unlike the AP Columnist who wrote, “If a fire destroys a home that doesn’t really belong to anyone and is worth next to nothing, does it matter?” I wonder what this reporter thinks are the definitions of “own”, and “really”. I’m sure there are examples, other than seabed, of land which is still unowned by any entity. But that doesn’t apply to a developed lot, recently abandoned. (I should stipulate that for the purpose of that question, “claimed by a government” would be included in the definition of ownership, though it isn’t the same thing.)

    It isn’t difficult to imagine the owners being relieved at being able to take an insurance settlement, and perhaps be quit of a property which is nothing but a drag on their books. (Though I wonder who owns it at that point, because surely the insurance company doesn’t want to either.) But reluctant ownership is still ownership.

    However, this does get me to wondering about property rights theory, and abandonment. In general, I dislike the notion of adverse possession, in re. real property. But the ghost town example is certainly one where we can reasonably argue that the original owners have no further right of possession. Obviously, it’s possible to voluntarily forfeit ownership of things. I can drop a $10 bill on the sidewalk. Not sure where I’m going with this — just thinking aloud.

    But it seems a bit paradoxical to refer to shrinking the city limits by having the city own the property. Once they’ve bulldozed/razed/whatever, will they deed it to the BLM?

  3. I share both of your concerns but didn’t feel like following up on the particulars of the state law “which allowed local governments to buy up empty properties very cheaply.”

    But you realize that we don’t really own property in the U.S. anymore, right? We lose it if we don’t pay the rent (property taxes) to the government. There was some sort of change that occurred in the middle of last century having to do with deeds/titles that changed things.

  4. Yeah, nothing like allodial title anymore, except in a very few places. I dug into that a while back, and found some pretty interesting things about siezures and land grants following the Revolutionary war. Don’t recall the particulars any more. Maybe there are some homesteaded properties left with something close to allodial title? I dunno.

  5. We owned a house in AL over 30 years ago where the property itself was exempt from any taxes due to being part of an old homestead and was carried down when the property was divided. We did have to pay taxes on the house (improvements), but not the land. I was always curious how that would work if we didn’t pay the taxes on the house – but back then the house taxes were only about $200 per year.

  6. Sending people back to the land?

    “The Great Leap Forward”?!?

    Humph! Seems like I have seen stuff like this before….

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