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A Patchwork Guide to the (Disappearing) Neighborhood

How have foreclosures transformed the layouts of Detroit, Las Vegas, and other cities? Artist Kathryn Clark’s mapped it—in quilts.

Detroit Quilt by Kathryn ClarkForeclosure Quilts: Art and Photos by Kathryn Clark
Click here to view slideshow.

In the Deep South, where I grew up, quilts are a common sight in most people’s homes. Some of the most beautiful quilts were made during times of hardship, using cloth left over from fabric cut to make clothing. There is often an endearing story behind each quilt. They act as a functional memory, a historical record of difficult times.

Today we are facing those difficult times. From 1997 to 2004, I worked as an urban planner designing new urbanist neighborhoods across the United States, and when foreclosures began to occur I was acutely aware of how big an impact it would have on our cities and towns throughout the United States. Entire blocks of homes have been razed in places like Detroit and Cleveland.

The random lot locations yield an unexpected beauty when laid out on fabric. These torn holes weaken the protective nature of a quilt.

News reports generally tell this story with words and numbers, but offer few visuals. The only way to see the actual mapped numbers of foreclosures is through paid access to maps on foreclosure websites such as RealtyTrac and Foreclosure.com. But examining the sheer number of foreclosures on these sites makes a much stronger impression than seeing graphs and numbers.

I wanted to create some kind of endearing record to hold our attention on the staggering number of home losses. This is not the first time we’ve had a foreclosure crisis in the United States, but it seems that we forget the past too easily. I was struck by the enormity of the problem and wanted to help people see what the crisis looks like in a way they could relate to. What better way than a quilt, which reminds people of home?

The quilts in this collection depict neighborhoods with some of the highest foreclosure rates in the United States. They are spread across the country to demonstrate that no region is immune. The quilts are pieced together using the patterns of actual city block layouts of the chosen neighborhood.

I used RealtyTrac to locate foreclosed homes that have existed over a span of nine to 12 months. Within these quilt blocks, foreclosed property lines are marked with thread. I then tear open holes within these lines to reveal the underlying layer of cloth. The more foreclosures in these neighborhoods, the more fragile the quilt.

The random lot locations yield an unexpected beauty when laid out on fabric. These torn holes weaken the protective nature of a quilt. They suggest that the situation is so dire that even a quilt can’t provide the security one needs.

The neighborhoods shown are not an anomaly; they are a recurring pattern seen from coast to coast, urban to suburban neighborhoods. The problem has not been solved; it is still occurring, changing shape, and affecting more and more of us.


Kathryn Clark wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Kathryn is a full-time artist living in San Francisco, CA. Her work revolves around the wabi-sabi principles of simplicity and beauty in imperfection. She also writes a blog to inspire and inform other artists who work in the unique genre called Articraft: artists who use craft in their work and craftspeople who make art. Kathryn blogs at kathrynclark.blogspot.com.

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