Wrecking crews are preparing to tear down a landmark 5,000-square-foot house in the posh neighborhood of Palmer Woods in the coming weeks, a sign that Detroit is finally getting serious about razing thousands of vacant and abandoned structures across the city.
In leveling 1860 Balmoral Drive, the boyhood home of one-time presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Detroit is losing a small piece of its history. But the project is part of a demolition effort that is just now gaining momentum and could help define the city's future.
The house was owned by Mr. Romney's parents, George and Lenore Romney, from 1941 until 1953, when the family moved to the northern suburbs. The elder Mr. Romney would go on to become head of American Motors Corp., then governor of Michigan and U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Mayor Dave Bing has pledged to knock down 10,000 structures in his first term as part of a nascent plan to "right-size" Detroit, or reconfigure the city to reflect its shrinking population.
When it's all over, said Karla Henderson, director of the Detroit Building Department, "There's going to be a lot of empty space."
Mr. Bing hasn't yet fully articulated his ultimate vision for what comes after demolition, but he has said entire areas will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. For now, his plan calls for the tracts to be converted to other uses, such as parks or farms.
Even when the demolitions are complete, Detroit will still have a huge problem on its hands. The city has roughly 90,000 abandoned or vacant homes and residential lots, according to Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit that tracks demographic data for the city.
The younger Mr. Romney, who is considered a leading GOP presidential candidate for 2012, said "it's sad" that his childhood home is being razed, "but sadder still to consider what has happened to the city of Detroit, which has been left hollow by fleeing jobs and liberal social policies."