Detroit: Reinventing the Smaller City

Thursday, March 24, 2011

According to the most recent Census data, the city of Detroit lost over 237,000 people over the past decade. Today, the Motor City has a population of only 713,777, making Detroit America’s 18th most populated city. The Census findings fit nicely into the narrative of Detroit as a modern-day ghost town. However, say argue that the city's blight is also an opportunity to build a new urban environment with opportunities to create a new local economy.

John Gallagher is a business reporter for the Detroit Free Press and author of the new book “Re-imagining Detroit: Opportunities for re-defining an American City.” He explains why the city’s slimming population might turn out to be a good thing.


John Gallagher

Produced by:

Hsi-Chang Lin

Comments [8]

Steve Miller from Decatur, GA

While I'm not a resident of Detroit I have a close friend who grew up there in the 1940's and 50's. As a scholar he has been studying Detroit's history and the factors which have led to its current state of decay. His thesis or requiem as he has named it, starts back in the early twentieth century under the influence of automobile industry magnates notable among them Henry Leland, founder of the Cadillac Automobile Company. If I understand correctly, it’s a story of a community based political structure usurped by moneyed elite with a progressive ideology, puritanical religious zeal, and utopian visions. According to my friend, Detroit’s history is unique among American cities. I have found it a fascinating study in light of our current political environment.

But before I get in over my head I will make my point. In light of what I understand about Detroit’s history I’m surprised by the absence of dialogue and or understanding of factors that have led to its Detroit’s demise. Has anyone stopped to ask why Detroit has suffered devastation not experienced by other northeastern cities and shouldn’t this discussion take place before those of renewal or rebuilding? New Orleans has built floodgates but is anyone in Detroit thinking long term enough to take similar measures?

Mar. 28 2011 01:31 PM
jerry palmer from pikeville , ky.

detroit will never grow or get better untill they put the right peaple in charge of this great city . i love detroit more than any other place in the world , but the wrong type of peaple have been milking it ,for all it's worth ! untill someone worries more about the city of detroit , instead of how deep they can line there pockets with money nothing will ever change ! i'm just glad we still have the tigers ,lions and the redwings to go see downtown ! i do pray things will get better for this GREAT CITY called DETROIT !

Mar. 25 2011 11:04 AM

How very interesting -- five uncoordinated comments from five different Detrioters, all of them essentially correct.

Robert correctly points out that people leving the city of Detroit appear to be plainly fed up with high taxes and terrible governmental services.

Matt rightly points out the abject failure of the welfare state, regardless of any racial considerations. (In the past 10 years, it is mostly middle-class blacks who have fled Detroit.)

Kathy wisely suggests that for all of the bad news, Detroit (actually metro Detroit, including all of southeast Michigan) is amazingly rich in essential resources including people, land, fresh water and infrastructure.

DarkHorseSki notes the inarguable incompetence of two multi-term mayoral kleptocracies -- Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick.

And Candice supplies a valid personal picture of why someone would rightly love living in and/or around Detroit.

Finally, there is this: Michigan is a closely divided (but significantly segregated) red/blue state. And almost without exception, localities in Michigan that have been historically Republican-dominated count as the few areas of real growth, in a state that is net-negative in population growth. (Growth areas include counties like Livingston, Oakland, and the Northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula.) At the very same time, the exodus from the cities that have been Democrat fiefdoms for decades is franly shocking. Detroit, Highland Park, Inkster, Flint; all losing vast numbers of residents. All on a path to bankruptcy. All struggling with huge legacy costs from decades of bloated, union-dominated local governments.

This is a story to be mentioned in the very same breath with the story of what Republican governors in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania are now trying to accomplish, getting the budgets of state an local governments in order.

Mar. 24 2011 10:32 AM
Robert Helineva from Helsinki Finland

I went to school in Detroit in the 80's. Even back then there were nation leading unemployment, poverty, and with that crime. Even the most staunch Detroit supporter cannot deny the harsh realities of a tough way of life in the city. I feel the population loss is based on citizens fed up with high taxes -low services, high crime and people and families wanting a better community and living in a nearby suburb. Inspite of the negative news and reports Detroit and the metro area has alot of nice communities and lifestyle. It is sad to think the huge impact Detroit had on the country during wartime it wasn't that long ago. I visit Detroit every summer and I cherish my time there. I live in Finland currently

Mar. 24 2011 09:12 AM
matt from Detroit, MI

In my once beautiful neighborhood, I enjoyed going to the end of my street in Detroit to see the freighters make the turn in the Detroit River where my street ends. Now, drug dealers and prostitution houses have moved in as the African American population in the neighborhood has increased. We were a 50-50 black-white neighborhood that watched the best black and white, most mobile people walk away from their over-valued homes, leaving the void for Terrorists to move in and set up shop. Until the Federal census decides to count this aliased population and identify these people as terrorists- we live in a terrorist city. I am regularly threatened in my neighborhood now and 2 convicted sex offenders have moved in on either side of my family's house. We save have unlimited funds to save every other nation where these conditions exist, yet the patrols of Border Patrol and police down my street doesn't stop us US citizens from being terrorized. The Government has failed and Detroit is the evidence. Why get a job when the Government will pay for your food, housing and Oxycoton, which can all be traded to help neighborhoods like mine decline. Bought my house for 90K ten years ago and neighbors house just sold for 15K. Do New York and Washington D.C. have anymore great futures to sell to the rest of the country? Take-away-Moral bankruptcy leads to financial bankruptcy.

Mar. 24 2011 08:54 AM
Kathy Beltaire

I made a choice to live here in 1969 and have never left. There have been good and bad times over those years, but, throughout all, the Faith, Hope and Charity of the People of Detroit has shone through. We have the most important resources in this city: land, water and great human beings. We will survive and we will thrive because we have the smarts, the will and the vision.

Mar. 24 2011 08:51 AM

As a lifelong resident of the Detroit metro area I saw Detroit really begin to implode under Coleman Young, stagger towards recovery under Dennis Archer and then jump off the precipice when Kwame Kilpatrick was mayor. Bad government drives people away, good government brings people in. Even the state of Michigan demonstrates that connection. Jennifer Granholm said we would be "blown away" and she was right, as lots of the population here was blown away to other states during her 8 disastrous years as the top executive.

Why would anybody want to live or work in Detroit? Cities that have their own income tax need to create some sort of return on that value for those that pay it. Even worse that they can apply that tax to people who only work within the city but do not live there and thus cannot vote there. Taxation without representation is never a good thing.

Mar. 24 2011 08:41 AM
Candice from Detroit

As a life time Detroiter, I left only to go North for college, I have made the decision not to leave Detroit because even with the many challenges we face...this is home. A home I love and everyday I try to use my education and love for this city to be a founding member of a revitalized Detroit. I am very well aware this is not the Detroit my grandparents came to from the South, but my generation understands we can create a new Detroit, one that does cling to the industry that built the city as the only hope. WE understand that there are new tech industries (and others) that can utilize an already existing infrastructure to create the jobs of the future. I will be the home I purchased in the city with a million or 714,000 people cheering the rise of Detroit.

Mar. 24 2011 08:37 AM

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