Reuters

Where property abandonment is growing and declining.

Empty, ugly, problematic homes are a persistent pest for cities. Marring the landscape and seemingly spreading like an infestation, these blighted properties feed into a cycle of decline that can be hard to escape from.

And for some cities, the problem is indeed getting worse. According to a new report out from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, the Michigan cities of Flint and Detroit have the highest rates of blight in the country. The report, based on information from the U.S. Postal Service covering only a handful of cities, is not comprehensive, but focuses on those cities most hard-hit by blight – a list that also includes Youngstown, Baltimore, Cleveland, and New Orleans.

As this chart shows, the blighted properties in most of these cities are either steady or rising, trends that underscore the long-lasting impact of economic decline and population loss. The recession has only contributed to these conditions.

The one outlier here is, of course, New Orleans, where the percentage of blighted properties dropped from 34 percent in March 2008 to 21 percent in March 2012. Though its current rate is close to the rate seen in the rest of the cities in the report, the conditions in New Orleans are much different. The de-population and devastation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was the cause of the city's blight. And unlike the declining economies of those other Rust Belt cities, the impact of Katrina is starting to wear off.

"There's no doubt," the report notes, "that the most important factor that is driving blight reduction is population growth."

Just because the causes of blight may be different in these places, the fact that they are all dealing with such large amounts of blighted properties means they have lessons to share with each other. A the report notes, New Orleans offers some guiding light:

Our estimates suggest that since September 2010 when the Landrieu administration announced a comprehensive strategy to reduce blight by 10,000 properties in three years, the number of blighted homes and empty lots in New Orleans has decreased by somewhere between 4,500 and 11,500 (as of March 2012). In other words, at a minimum, the City seems to be nearly on target for reaching its goal—and may even be doing quite a bit better than meeting its target.

Still, the rate of blight decline is slowing in New Orleans. If the numbers don't continue to fall, the city may have to start paying closer attention to efforts being made in other cities.

Top image: Lee Celano / Reuters

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. The Cincinnati skyline and river
    Life

    Maps Reveal Where the Creative Class Is Growing

    “The rise of the rest” may soon become a reality as once-lagging cities see growth of creative class employment.

  2. Design

    A First-Rate Waterfront Park Is Transforming a Historic Greek City

    Thessaloniki’s New Waterfront is the centerpiece in an effort to transform the local economy, and other cities are taking notice.

  3. Transportation

    How Utrecht Became a Paradise for Cyclists

    A new short film reveals how the Dutch city reengineered itself around the bicycle, with life- and money-saving results.

  4. A migrant laborer rides a bicycle past a residential community in Shanghai.
    Equity

    When Affordable Housing in Shanghai Is a Bed in the Kitchen

    In this sector of the city’s informal housing rental market, as many as 24 people can be crammed into a three-bedroom apartment.

  5. A one-story building with a strip-club sign above the entrance.
    Design

    The Architecture of Adult Entertainment

    Photographing strip-club exteriors from Miami to L.A. for his series “Gentlemen’s Club,” François Prost found pink stucco, flashy signs—and lots of parking.

×