Shrinking Cities

Strategic Demolition

A key element of the shrinking cities problem is an excess of housing stock in communities without much demand for housing. One of the solutions being currently promoted is strategic demolition, in which abandoned or substandard properties are demolished. This reduces the impact of substandard properties on the image and property values of struggling communities, eliminates nodes of environmental nuisances or crime and frees lands for new uses.

Different cities have used different methods to facilitate demolitions and deal with the new vacant properties. In Cleveland, the city works with various non-profits to identify structures that are financially in default, resolve issues of tax and repair responsibility, and quickly move abandoned properties from the cities tax rolls to the inventory of local CDCs (see Pianka, 2009). In Detroit, the city hopes to make it easier for current residents to buy or lease vacant lots to expand they yards (see Improve Your Lot!, 2008).

In shrinking cities, strategic demolitions are being conducted on a massive scale – hundreds of homes are demolished at once, often with state or federal assistance. The scope of demolitions in shrinking cities has the potential to fundamentally change the fabric of communities, and permanently remove properties that are meaningful to community character.

Other activities relating to strategic demolition include the following:


Rather than destroying building materials and sending them to a landfill, communities may choose to deconstruct homes piece by piece. These materials may be recycled or reused as building materials in new structures. Although more costly than demolition, deconstruction aids in historic preservation and helps create green collar jobs in the local community.


A technique that is currently being explored to extract useable resources such as lumber and stone from historic buildings that may not be feasible to preserve.