5 Disastrous Urban Renewal Failures

October 19, 2017

While urban renewal was primarily a mid-20th century phenomenon that decimated the cores of America's cities, here's a few disastrous failures that have occurred over the last 30 years.



3. Poletown - Detroit, MI

Poletown was a working class, racially integrated neighborhood in Detroit that was settled during the 1870s by Polish and Kashubian immigrants. During the 1980s, Mayor Coleman Young proposed to demolish the neighborhood by eminent domain in order to construct a new auto assembly plant. As many as 6,000 new jobs were envisioned. Despite various protests, national news attention and lawsuits, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the assembly plant project, stating that economic development was a legitimate use of eminent domain.

As a result, in 1981, 465 acres, consisting of 4,200 residents, 1,400 houses, several churches and 140 businesses were razed.  On February 4, 1985, the first vehicle rolled off GM's $500 million Detroit/Hamtramck assembly line. 31 years later, GM's Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant employs approximately 1,600 workers, far below the 6,000 originally estimated.

As far as Poletown goes, all that is left of the razed neighborhood is a small Jewish cemetery, Beth Olem, which is engulfed by the assembly plant's operations. As time has passed, Poletown Neighborhood Council v. Detroit has become known as a landmark case for "public use" eminent domain matters. Also, if any vindication for preservation is needed, in 2004 the Michigan Supreme Court finally acknowledged its ruling, which led to Poletown's destruction, was a huge mistake.


Courtesy of The Library of Congress



Courtesy of The Library of Congress



Courtesy of The Library of Congress



Courtesy of The Library of Congress



Courtesy of Detroit Historical Society



Courtesy of Detroit Historical Society

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