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Detroit's revitalization of historic, vacant buildings forges ahead

Detroit continues to work with developers to adapt vacant buildings, many of them historic, to meet the city's needs. Detroit is seeing several of these "adaptive reuse" projects take shape. The city will have more room for housing, shops, and modernized work spaces.

But Mike Kirk, retired historical preservation architect, said this is a long process.

"We’re not talking about a five-year project, we’re talking about a 25 year project," he said.

He added that Detroit is well-stocked with solid historic buildings. In the 1950s, it was the wealthiest city in the world. The city is also very large. It has more square miles than Manhattan, San Francisco, and Boston put together, which means there's a lot to improve over that time frame.

The Detroit Planning and Development Department is offering many incentives for developers including one that requires any large housing plan to include 20% of affordable housing. The city is majority African-American and almost a third of residents are below the poverty line. Through efforts to make these new spaces accessible to all income-levels, Kirk sees the city becoming more of a "melting pot" as developments continue.

Some reports indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the demand for city office spaces. While most companies will still have offices, their real estate footprint will decrease as more job adopt a hybrid model. This means demand for spaces like that could decrease by a third, according to some real estate projections. Experts think building owners will need to adapt their spaces to meet market demands. That includes housing, which is in high demand and short supply.

As a resource conservationist, Kirk also said he sees every repurposed building as "a contribution to mitigating climate change."

He said the raw materials have already been designed and used. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a green building certification program used around the world. According to them, the most sustainable development is one using an existing building in an urban setting. And that residents of those buildings are closer to amenities and use less energy to get between places they live, work, and play.

Katheryne Friske is the weekend morning host and producer for All Things Considered.
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