In Detroit and Baltimore, Protecting Residents and the Environment While Boosting Jobs

Posted January 3, 2019
Detroit skyline

In 2015, Detroit was home to approx­i­mate­ly 30,000 vacant build­ings — a blight­ed scene that pub­lic offi­cials and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers turned to Bal­ti­more to address.

Their mod­el? The 88-acre East Bal­ti­more Revi­tal­iza­tion Ini­tia­tive. Launched in the ear­ly 2000s, the ini­tia­tive has emerged as a lead­ing exam­ple in how to pro­tect both res­i­dents and the envi­ron­ment dur­ing large-scale demo­li­tion projects.

Detroit’s result­ing plan, out­lined in a new brief from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, focus­es on three key areas.

  • A process called wet-wet demo­li­tion, which reduces the spread of dust and pol­lu­tants by keep­ing build­ing mate­ri­als wet dur­ing demo­li­tion. In Detroit, guide­lines define ade­quate wet­ting and pro­hib­it demo­li­tion when wind speeds exceed 20 miles per hour.
  • A com­pre­hen­sive, mul­ti­lin­gual out­reach pro­gram to edu­cate res­i­dents about the demo­li­tion process. The pro­gram also shared steps that res­i­dents can take — such as bring­ing toys and fur­ni­ture indoors and clos­ing win­dows dur­ing a sched­uled demo­li­tion — to help pro­tect them­selves from pollutants.
  • Enforce­ment activ­i­ties, includ­ing field inspec­tors who mon­i­tor the work of con­trac­tors and a ded­i­cat­ed hot­line that allows res­i­dents to report vio­la­tions of the demo­li­tion guidelines.

The gold stan­dard for respon­si­ble demo­li­tion is decon­struc­tion — the piece-by-piece dis­man­tling of a build­ing and removal of mate­ri­als that can be sal­vaged or recy­cled. In Bal­ti­more, decon­struc­tion has been a suc­cess not only for envi­ron­men­tal health but also for work­force development.

We’ve approached the process of demo­li­tion in a holis­tic way — not only work­ing to strength­en stan­dards for health and safe­ty, but also cre­at­ing jobs,” says Michael Braver­man, com­mis­sion­er for the Bal­ti­more City Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Com­mu­ni­ty Development.

A decon­struc­tion project typ­i­cal­ly cre­ates six to eight times as many jobs as a tra­di­tion­al demo­li­tion project, accord­ing to Jeff Car­roll, direc­tor of Details. A Foun­da­tion-sup­port­ed social enter­prise of the non­prof­it Human­im, Details pro­vides com­pet­i­tive­ly priced decon­struc­tion ser­vices to the city of Bal­ti­more as well as fam­i­ly-sup­port­ing jobs for res­i­dents who face bar­ri­ers to employment.

This job-gen­er­at­ing capac­i­ty is impor­tant for cities with his­tor­i­cal­ly high unem­ploy­ment rates — like Bal­ti­more and Detroit — and a wel­come ben­e­fit for any city with demo­li­tion needs. Putting respon­si­ble demo­li­tion poli­cies and prac­tices into place is an essen­tial step for the well-being of peo­ple and the places we live,” says Scot Spencer, asso­ciate direc­tor of advo­ca­cy and influ­ence at the Casey Foun­da­tion. We know that there will be dif­fer­ent appli­ca­tions based on the unique con­text, but we encour­age com­mu­ni­ties to share their mod­els for the ben­e­fit of everyone.”


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