Detroit gloom

I don’t get to the end of many feature articles on the 1.5″x1.5″ screen of my BlackBerry, but the Wall Street Journal has a wonderful piece about the Detroit housing boom and bust (subscription required) which kept me going through several thousand words while my elder boy sat on a theme park ride on Sunday.

The reporter traces the history of one upmarket house through the past century, tracking down every owner and capturing the sweep of the city’s history. Now, of course, Detroit is a dump, but it was once among the country’s biggest cities, with the automobile barons adding culture – before race riots, white flight and finally the poverty brought on by the collapse of the carmakers pretty much destroyed the place.

Anyway, scary statistics: the average selling price of a Detroit house has plunged from $73,000 to $7,100 in the past three years. The house the Journal traces was built for $5,000 in 1917, and sold for $14,500 in 1965. It went for $189,000 in 2005, close to the height of the housing bubble. Now it is worth just $10,000. Location is everything, and Detroit ain’t got it.

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Christopher Cook is an FT editorial writer. Before joining the FT in 2008 as a Peter Martin Fellow, he worked for three years for the Conservative party.

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