John Mellencamp sardonically made us fall in love with “Little Pink Houses
as a sing along national anthem for the perceived perfection of the 1950’s American Dream of home ownership.  Today, we turn our naked ears and wanting eyes to Detroit to see “Big Feral Houses” pocking neighborhoods and caterwauling the impending death of the urban core.

Here is the description for a tremendously evocative photo essay on the rise of feral houses in Detroit:

I’ve seen “feral” used to describe dogs, cats, even goats. But I have wondered if it couldn’t also be used to describe certain houses in Detroit. Abandoned houses are really no big deal here. Some estimate that there are as many as 10,000 abandoned structures at any given time, and that seems conservative. But for a few beautiful months during the summer, some of these houses become “feral” in every sense: they disappear behind ivy or the untended shrubs and trees planted generations ago to decorate their yards. The wood that framed the rooms gets crushed by trees rooted still in the earth. The burnt lime, sand, gravel, and plaster slowly erode into dust, encouraged by ivy spreading tentacles in its endless search for more sunlight.

That Feral Houses photo essay reminds me of the national anthem for the inner city: Jackson Brown’s “The Pretender” —

I’m going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I’m going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I’ll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I’ll get up and do it again
Say it again

Will we ever learn?

Do we listen with our eyes and see with our ears?

We obviously don’t believe either.


  1. To whom do these abandoned homes belong – are there titles associated with them? Do they belong to the state – and could anyone just swoop in and move in if they would want to do so?

  2. I think they’re buildings no one can afford. Tenants can’t pay the rent or mortgage. The banks can’t resell them and won’t invest money in bad infrastructure. So… they sit in an abandoned city waiting to be taken back by the earth.

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