Never has a building material seemed so beautiful to me as the white plastic wrap around an old house in southwest Detroit.
Some may think my reporting job of covering all-things plastic in the construction industry for the last three years has gotten to me. But truth be told, I've been regularly traveling some of the forlorn and seemingly war torn neighborhood streets of Detroit with my photographer husband since November. To see a sign of a home renovation is such a welcome sight.
My work side wonders what kind of plastic is covering this little beacon of hope and what does that writing on it say. My husband zooms in a bit and tells me “Everbilt.” I see online that Home Depot sells it — a high density polyethylene woven fabric, according to the specifications. The four reviews are, let's say mixed with lengthy feedback.
My Detroit cheerleader side wonders who will live in this two-story dwelling with a big bay window that's basking in the glory of a working street light. Not too long ago, the bankrupt city couldn't afford to keep the lights on. Forty percent of the 88,000 street lights were broken in 2013. This remodeling project shines in stark contrast to the darkest days of Detroit.
I like the side yard, too, that will give the occupants of this narrow house some elbow room. It was likely created from the bull-dozing of narrow houses next door — maybe after an arson fire or after falling into decay because of neglect or foreclosure or abandonment post mortgage crisis. That's sadly the story behind most of the residential green space.
Some 6,800 blighted houses in Detroit were razed just from May 2014 through October 2015 with federal money put into Michigan's Hardest Hit Fund. The fate of another 30,000 empty decaying structures residences is still unfolding. City officials estimate about half could be salvaged and the other 15,000 are beyond repair.
This little dwelling not only escaped demolition but is getting a facelift, too, and at the first sign of spring. It's a scene that will play out now all over the United States but nowhere else is it likely to exude such promise.
There's a new-looking white vinyl fence enclosing the property next door as well that hints at the ripple effect home makeovers can have on neighborhood renewal.
My husband is working on a photo series called “Detroit: Where We Used to Live.” The empty lots are a strong part of the visual narrative of the city where our great-grandparents settled, worked for the auto industry, raised our grandparents and parents, and where we were born. Detroit had 1.86 million people at its peak in 1950 — many living in houses that seemed to be built on top of each other — but it was down to 680,250 residents in 2014 for a myriad of social and economic reasons.
After all the home demolitions to date, vast sections of some neighborhoods in the 139-square mile city look rural now. Yet, there can be more of a post-apocalyptic feel than a pastoral one when you notice things like utility poles that no longer have wires because there are no longer any houses.
That's why coming across a couple properties getting some attention in Detroit after the long winter – at least we hope Sunday was our last snowy forecast — is such an exciting prospect. Sometimes, in some places, house wrap and a vinyl fence rejuvenate the soul, too.