Detroit Now & Then: A Changing Cityscape

Coleman Young Airport Expansion

Not all neighborhood decay is natural, though. A proposed project to lengthen a runway at Coleman Young International Airport on Detroit's east side required buying out over 100 homes located next to the airport. Originally proposed in 1988, the project didn't begin until 1994, and the buyout process was slow and spotty – some houses were purchased and torn down immediately, while others were purchased but not torn down for months or even years.

Residents who had not been bought out yet gradually found themselves surrounded by vacant homes that had. Scrappers stripped the houses of their valuables, leaving behind windowless shells that attracted squatters and firebugs. City services also declined, as roads were “temporarily” closed and then left that way. Streets crumbled into disrepair, grass grew over sidewalks, and trash – boats, tires, lawn clippings - began piling up in vacant lots. As the neighborhood fell apart, the buyout offers the city offered residents fell as well, leading some to believe that the city was deliberately slowing the process to drive down property values.

25 years after it was first proposed, the runway expansion plan has been more or less abandoned, and the neighborhood sits mostly empty.

Original photo: 1981, DTE Aerial Photo Collection
Newer photo: 2010, Google Maps