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Feb. 5, 2016

New solution to economic eyesores?

Michigan State University researchers will use nearly $250,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce to test whether recycling and repurposing building materials is an effective solution to economic blight.

Rex LaMore, director of MSU’s Center for Community and Economic Development, will partner with the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Planning Commission on a newly emerging research area they’ve termed “domicology,” the study of policies, practices and consequences of human structural abandonment.

The test site: Muskegon, Michigan – a city suffering from more than 3,000 abandoned residential and commercial properties, which has resulted in lower property values, fewer tax revenues and decreased quality of life, LaMore said. Building demolition may seem the best option, but what if instead Muskegon became a “deconstruction zone,” in which materials are repurposed rather than discarded?

“The current practice of demolishing abandoned structures is wasteful, so rather than landfilling this vast amount of material, our project seeks ways to reuse and resale this waste, create economic opportunity, reduce environmental degradation and revitalize distressed Great Lakes communities,” LaMore said.

Why Muskegon vs. other Michigan cities?

Port of Muskegon, the largest deep-water port on the Eastern shore of Lake Michigan, can accommodate water, rail, highway and air transportation of materials from the Great Lakes region to Muskegon for repurpose, LaMore said.

In addition, property deconstruction is a labor-intensive process requiring skilled and trained workers, so it could provide much-needed jobs to Muskegon’s unemployed workforce.

For the study, a multidisciplinary team of students, scholars and community partners will:

  • Identify the volume and availability of structural materials from abandoned properties in the Midwest and determine whether the market exists for resale and reuse.
  • Identify private sector industries that have the potential to maximize the repurposing of materials
  • Identify the transportation, collection, processing and distribution infrastructure needed to support a deconstruction cluster
  • Identify the skilled labor needs to support a deconstruction cluster
  • Assess the leadership and regulatory opportunities and challenges that may enhance the development of the emerging economic sector

“The potential economic impact for the reuse, recycling and reprocessing of building structural material is currently undervalued in many distressed communities, but a deconstruction sector in Muskegon could achieve an economic scale not heretofore seen in the U.S,” LaMore said.

By: Kristen Parker