Phone: (734) 972-5451
   Email Address: medewar@umich.edu
   Taubman College Urban Planning Faculty
Margaret Dewar, Professor Emerita, Urban & Regional Planning Program

Research Overview

My research focuses on American cities that have lost a large share of their peak population and employment and now face major issues with property disinvestment.  These cities include most of the past manufacturing centers of the Midwest and many of those in the Northeast.  Cities in the South that have lost their past industrial base have also experienced considerable decline.  I am fascinated by what such cities become, and I aim to contribute to strengthening urban planning’s capacity to improve the conditions for people who live and work in them.  The focus of urban planning has traditionally been to revitalize, rebuild, and redevelop disinvested areas, but such renewal is no longer possible in many areas of these cities.  This means that urban planners need to reframe the way they work in such places. 

Further, I want to know how research on such cities can change the questions we ask and the answers we discover in many areas of urban studies.  Detroit is the premier example of a city that has experienced extreme decline.  Now may be the time for a Detroit School of Urban Studies to indicate new areas of investigation and theoretical development based on understanding gained from cities that have experienced substantial deindustrialization and depopulation.  Therefore, I work with Ph.D. students and Angela Dillard (Residential College and Department of Afroamerican and African Studies) to convene the Detroit School series, a monthly research seminar or lecture on the question of how and what we learn from Detroit to advance understanding of cities.

I have practiced urban planning with advanced master’s students in classes where we developed plans that advanced the agendas of residents and community-based organizations in strengthening neighborhoods.  Our work in partnership with many people in Detroit and Flint has informed my understanding of how planners can do better in managing change in disinvested places.  

Recent Publications

  • Lan Deng, Eric Seymour, Margaret Dewar, June Manning Thomas, "Saving Strong Neighborhoods from the Destruction of Mortgage Foreclosures: The Impact of Community-Based Efforts in Detroit, Michigan," Housing Policy Debate, 28(2), 2018: 153-179.
  • Margaret Dewar, “Precarious Housing in Detroit: A City after the Mortgage Foreclosure Crisis,” in Jean-Claude Bolay, Jérôme Chenal, and Yves Pedrazzini, eds., Learning from the Slums: The Habitat of the Urban Poor in the Making of Emerging Cities (Basel, Switzerland: Springer International, 2016), pp. 211-220.
  • Margaret Dewar, Matthew Weber, Eric Seymour, Meagan Elliott, and Patrick Cooper-McCann, "Learning from Detroit: How Research on a Declining City Enriches Urban Studies," in Michael Peter Smith and L. Owen Kirkpatrick (eds.), Reinventing Detroit (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2015), pp. 37-56.
  • Margaret Dewar, "Reuse of Abandoned Property in Detroit and Flint: Impacts of Different Types of Sales," Journal of Planning Education and Research 35(3), 2015: 347-368.
  • Margaret Dewar and Robert Linn, "Remaking Brightmoor," in June Manning Thomas and Henco Bekkering (eds.), Mapping Detroit (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2015).
  • Margaret Dewar, Eric Seymour, and Oana Druță, "Disinvesting in the City: The Role of Tax Foreclosure in Detroit," Urban Affairs Review 51(5), 2015: 587-615.
  • Margaret Dewar, "Paying Employers to Hire Local Workers in Distressed Places," Economic Development Quarterly 27(4), 2013: 284-300.
  • Margaret Dewar and June Manning Thomas, The City After Abandonment (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).
  • Margaret Dewar, "What Helps or Hinders Nonprofit Developers in Reusing Vacant, Abandoned, and Contaminated Property?" in Margaret Dewar and June Manning Thomas, eds., The City After Abandonment (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).
  • Margaret Dewar, Christina Kelly, and Hunter Morrison, "Planning for Better, Smaller Places after Population Loss: Lessons from Youngstown and Flint," in Margaret Dewar and June Manning Thomas, eds., The City After Abandonment (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).
  • Katrin Groβmann, Robert Beauregard, Margaret Dewar, and Annegret Haase, "European and U.S. Perspectives on Shrinking Cities," Urban Research and Practice 5(3), 2012: 360-363.
  • Margaret Dewar and Matthew Weber, "City Abandonment," in Rachel Weber and Randall Crane, eds., Oxford Handbook of Urban Planning (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
  • Hunter Morrison and Margaret Dewar, "Planning in America's Legacy Cities: Toward Better, Smaller Communities After Decline," in Alan Mallach, ed., Rebuilding America's Legacy Cities: New Directions for the Industrial Heartland (New York: American Assembly, 2012).
  • Margaret Dewar, "CDC Partnerships," in Joseph Schilling and Alan Mallach, Cities in Transition: A Guide for Practicing Planners, Planning Advisory Service Report Number 568 (Chicago: American Planning Association, 2012). 

Current Research Projects

My research aims to contribute to residents' efforts and to policy decisions, in consultation with those involved, as well as to bodies of knowledge in urban planning.  
  • Saving Detroit’s neighborhoods from mortgage foreclosures.  With Lan Deng, June Manning Thomas, and Eric Seymour (postdoctoral fellow at Brown University), I am investigating how residents and community-based organizations have worked to prevent disinvestment in Detroit’s middle-class neighborhoods.  Between 2006 and 2014, more than one-third of the houses in these neighborhoods experienced mortgage foreclosures, and housing values fell more than 80 percent.  Much of the research on community capacity treats connections to institutions and governmental entities outside the neighborhood as a black box.  We focus on how such connections helped or hindered neighborhood efforts.
  • Transitioning residential land use to green storm water infrastructure.  I am part of a large team led by Joan Nassauer (Landscape Architecture Program) that is working with the Detroit Land Bank and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to install and study green infrastructure in Detroit.  With Alicia Alvarez and graduate students, I am studying the governance of this land use transition.  Scholars know how land use change occurs when strong demand for property exists.  In this project, we aim to learn how land use transition takes place when demand is very weak, when the market-determined highest and best use may well be a neglected vacant lot.
  • Preserving affordable housing in Detroit--low-income housing tax credit projects at year 15.  With Lan Deng, graduate students, and the Community Development Advocates of Detroit Affordable Housing Work Group, I am analyzing the challenges facing low-income housing tax credit projects in Detroit and identifying possible solutions to assure the preservation of decent affordable housing.  Almost 5500 units of housing will reach their 15th year in the next three years.  At that point tax-credit investors will leave the projects, and most projects will require financial restructuring to address debt and needed maintenance.  This process is particularly difficult in a very weak housing market.
  • Preserving and facilitating homeownership in the context of tax foreclosure.  With Roshanak Mehdipanah (School of Public Health), Public Health Ph.D. student Alexa Eisenberg, Harley Etienne, Marc Norman, and the United Community Housing Coalition, I am evaluating the effectiveness of a measure to prevent tax foreclosure for very low-income homeowners and studying the results of a pilot program in Detroit to transition renters to homeownership after landlords allow property to go into tax foreclosure.  Such programs offer hope for greater housing stability for low-income households and protection of neighborhoods from further disinvestment.
  • Remaking very vacant neighborhoods.  Scholars rarely look closely at places that are experiencing extensive disinvestment.  Those who do tend to focus on the ruins of abandoned structures.  Some policy makers have suggested clearing remaining residents out of such areas so that the city government can cut all services.  In research with Eric Dueweke and in connection with another research project undertaken by Joan Nassauer and her students, I am looking closely at how residents have remade two very vacant sections of Detroit.  We are discovering the considerable transformations they have brought about despite their difficult environment.