Best of 2014: A stark, unsentimental look at Detroit's rapid slide

Best of 2014: A stark, unsentimental look at Detroit's rapid slide
Jennifer Karmon
·Homes Editor
The Google Street View car.
The Google Street View car.

Yahoo editors selected this piece as one of the best of the year. It was first published in early June 2014.

The bare truth of Detroit's deterioration is captured by perhaps the most unsentimental chronicler you can imagine: the Google Street View car.

That's the discovery of GooBing Detroit, a blog on Tumblr that began early last year as a comparison of street views from circa-2009 Google Maps and circa-2012 Bing Maps (hence the name GooBing). GooBing went dormant in July, but the launch of Google's Street View "time machine" a few weeks ago breathed new life into it.

The man behind GooBing Detroit, Alex Alsup, says one Detroit group's phrase "hurricane without water" is an "apt metaphor" for the city's deterioration.

What you may not have realized -- and what GooBing Detroit drives home so starkly, with very little commentary -- is just how rapidly the landscape has been crumbling.

Hickory Street, September 2008. Click any photo to go to a slideshow.
Hickory Street, September 2008. Click any photo to go to a slideshow.
Hickory Street, 2013.
Hickory Street, 2013.

Yahoo Homes asked Alsup what he hopes to accomplish with GooBing. He told us he sees it as a "very small piece of documentary evidence of the effects of the financial crisis on Detroit," and he wants people to ask themselves: "How did this happen and how do we stop it from continuing to happen?"

It's not just Detroit, either, he says: "This is a question cities across the nation should be thinking about. Detroit today is your town tomorrow, as our former mayor Coleman Young said."

GooBing is a personal project of Alsup's, but he also works at Loveland Technologies, which just finished surveying all 380,000 properties in Detroit. You can see the results at MotorCityMapping.org. A few takeaways: Nearly a quarter of the properties are vacant lots. Of the remaining 264,000 properties that contain structures, nearly 15,000 are in poor condition -- about a third of them so poor that they warrant demolition. Seven thousand buildings have fire damage, and 28,000 need boarding.

Click here or on a photo for a gallery showing how Detroit has changed just over the past few years.

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