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Rebuilding Detroit 1 Salvaged Doorknob At A Time

A vacant home is shown in Detroit, Wednesday, July 27, 2011. (AP/Paul Sancya)

A vacant home is shown in Detroit, Wednesday, July 27, 2011. (AP/Paul Sancya)

In Detroit, between 40,000 and 50,000 homes are vacant. Less than 10 percent of those homes will ever be occupied again, and that means the majority of those homes will end up being demolished and sent to landfills. In fact, 60 to 80 percent of Detroit’s waste is from demolition.

The Detroit Works Project, a collaboration between Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s administration and local foundations, says it has a better way. Instead of just demolishing old homes and throwing away the material, the group recommends salvaging the homes and selling that material for use in new construction. It’s a process called deconstruction.

The report says deconstruction can create jobs and clean up the city’s thousands of vacant homes, which are not only an eyesore, but can be the backdrop for violence and drug use.

Salvaging And Reusing Old Home Parts

Bob Chapman, executive director of the Warm Training Center in Detroit, started a deconstruction pilot program last year.

His group found that when houses are torn down and sent to suburban landfills, those suburbs reap money in the forms of tipping fees. But when homes are deconstructed, the materials being sold make money for city businesses.

Safety Concerns

“There’s quite a few, thousands of homes, that are blighted to the extent that not even deconstruction is going to be economically viable,” says Chapman. “When you’ve got houses that have been burnt out and abandoned for so long, what some people have called demolished by neglect, then really you have to take them down for the safety of the children walking through those neighborhoods, and people living in this neighborhoods.”

Deconstruction Before Demolition

Chapman says he hopes buildings can be carefully deconstructed before demolition is necessary, but homes do reach a point where not even the wood is usable again.

“You actually can salvage up to 90 percent of the material in a typical house, it just reaches a point of where you have to draw the line economically,” explains Chapman.

But to really make the deconstruction work, you need a market for the reclaimed materials. The city is now reaching out to achitecture firms and the artist community to get them involved.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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