DETROIT – Forty square miles. That’s how much of Detroit lies vacant, nearly a third of the city. You could fit Miami or San Francisco inside all that emptiness. At least, that’s what we’ve heard for years. The thing is, it might not be true.
This is a story about a number – an estimate, really – and how it became a fact illustrating Detroit’s decline. I’ve read about 40 square miles in the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and The Washington Times. I’ve heard it on Fox and I’ve said it on the radio. That’s why Margaret Dewar called me out.
“Wait, this can’t be true.”
Dewar is a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan. She thinks there’s tons of vacant land in Detroit. Just not 40 square miles, dramatic as it sounds.
“It’s too good a number to let go of,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful number, it’s so shocking.” Continue reading