Seeing beauty in Detroit's abandoned houses
Photographer has been documenting the vacant and boarded-up buildings of his hometown for more than a decade.
At first glance, Kevin Bauman's website looks like a set of real-estate listings. But most of the houses he has documented will never be anyone's home.
Baumann, a Detroit native, has created a photo essay called "100 Abandoned Houses," a stark portrait of the recent history of his city. He has been photographing Detroit's vacant and boarded-up homes for nearly a decade.
"I had always found it to be amazing, depressing and perplexing that a once-great city could find itself in such great distress, all the while surrounded by such affluence," he writes on his website.
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Detroit had a population of nearly 2 million people in the 1950s, but that number has been declining for decades. Today the city has about 713,000 residents.
It is home to way more than 100 abandoned houses, perhaps 12,000, Baumann estimates. Commercial buildings, too, sit vacant and unused.
The city takes up 139 square miles, and its depopulation has been so dramatic that Mayor David Bing proposed focusing city services on the neighborhoods with the best chance of survival. In an effort to persuade police officers to move back in from the suburbs, the city has offered them houses for as little as $1,000 down.
The recession hit Detroit long before it hit elsewhere, as manufacturing jobs moved overseas and weren't replaced. The median home price has declined 30% below prices in 2000.
In the wreckage of parts of his city, Bauman has found a singular beauty, documenting the remains of a Detroit he never knew.
'I'd always heard the stories my parents told me about how great Detroit was and the crowds that would go down there to places like the Hudson building. I never knew that Detroit," he told PRI's Marketplace. "I only knew the Detroit that had a high crime rate, high unemployment, abandoned buildings. So it was kind of my own curiosity and trying to understand the city better."
In his wanderings, he found people living in abandoned houses, entire ghost neighborhoods, packs of wild dogs and 20-foot piles of toilets.
He knows that the abandoned homes may not be beautiful to their neighbors, but he still wants people to see them and perhaps find ways to make Detroit a better place to live. He sells prints and donates part of the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity and other charities.
"In respect to the people that live there and want to live there, I hope my project makes people want to learn more about Detroit,” he told EcoSalon.
The auto makers should go in and fix up some of these homes. Let the employees that still have the jobs that were saved give time and the big 3 donate materials to do the work. When you are blessed, you must give back..otherwise, karma happens.
Sad to see these once beautiful homes neglected and abandoned beyond salvaging. Someone invested a lot of time & money to build these houses. Imagine the excitement of the first owner to spend that first night in their brand new home. Think of the stories those walls witnessed over the decades. Laughter & tears. Happiness & sorrow. How many dads wait up until their daughters came home from that first date? How many times did the family gather around the table for dinner? How many children waited for Santa at Christmas in one of those now empty bedrooms? What history did the family witness on TV or hear on the radio? Pearl Harbor attack? Kennedy Assignation? Moon landing? Nixon resignation? 9/11? Once upon a time, someone was proud of these houses. Now, void of people, they are dead shells of what once was. Very sad.
About Teresa Mears
Teresa Mears is a veteran journalist who has been interested in houses since her father took her to tax auctions to carry the cash at age 10. A former editor of The Miami Herald's Home & Design section, she lives in South Florida where, in addition to writing about real estate, she publishes Miami on the Cheap to help her neighbors adjust to the loss of 60% of their property value.