Redevelopment Beyond Downtown and Midtown Detroit Thomas Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis, said that Detroit’s comeback depends on whether the city can improve the lives of working class African Americans and I couldn’t agree more. With the gentrification of downtown and midtown Detroit showing many recent successes for those in its realm, it still isn’t providing benefits for the majority of its surrounding residents which are predominately African American. In the neighborhoods outside the downtown area, the physical environments are still deteriorating with high unemployment rates and widespread poverty.
There is little evidence that these efforts are inclusive of the communities and residents that need it the most. As promising as it may seem, gentrifying downtown and midtown Detroit is not going to solve its problems. Unless there is more done to uplift every household well-being and not just those who can afford luxury condos, Detroit‘s elusive comeback is questionable. Historians and urban development theorists have debated the decline of Detroit for decades. Most agree on two factors that aided in Detroit’s fall.
Scott Martelle of The Los Angeles Times describes one of the factors in a 2011 report saying “The collapse of Detroit has roots in intentional de-industrialization by the Big Three Automakers. ” He wrote “Their flight was augmented by government policies in the 1970s and 1980s that helped companies profit at the expense of the communities. ” The second attributes to another large scale abandonment involving the Detroit’s white residents leaving the city in the 1950s and 1960s after federal courts struck down any and all policies protecting segregated housing and school districts.
Reverend Bill Wylie- Kellerman explains in a blog post Gentrification and Race: Can We Have a Real Conversation, how the suburbs were created post-war by guaranteed GI Bill and FHA loans that were only available for new housing and only for whites. Restrictive covenants (explicitly forbidding sale to blacks) built into title deeds were legally enforceable until the mid-fifties and were still effective past the .
This “white flight” overlapped with the flight of Big Auto. White Detroiters followed the auto industry out of the city because the good jobs moved there, because the land was plentiful in the suburbs, housing and schools were newly built, and because they wanted to get away from their black neighbors and buy homes in the racially segregated suburbs,” Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, wrote in 2014. “When overcrowding and immigration of blacks threatened the racial segregation of Detroit’s neighborhoods, whites picked up and left.
This left Detroit with few jobs or community resources. This deserted city is now the spark of rapid redevelopment in the greater downtown area and changing on every level. With a new bridge, streetcar line, arena and lots of new housing all on the way at the same time. John Gallagher of the Detroit Free Press writes “Some of Detroit’s most famous vacant sites finally may see new construction getting under way in 2016, turning some of the city’s longest-running symbols of distress into emblems of renewal. It is never a bad thing to have an impoverished city change for the better.
However, the problem lies when inequality rears its ugly head and makes the change uneven. Peter Moskowitz writes in an article titled, The Two Detroits; A City Both Collapsing and Gentrifying at the Same Time: In the neighborhoods outside the downtown core, residents earn an average of 25% less. Housing is crumbling. There are 150,000 vacant or abandoned buildings. In some areas, just one or two houses keep entire blocks from reverting to grasslands.
Separated by as little as a city block, the new Detroit and the rest of Detroit feel like two completely different cities – physically close, far apart in everything else: education, income, outlook on their future. With a population of 82% African American, Detroit is blacker than any big city in America. But black people are not being helped by revitalization. The strategy to attract young creative professionals, who will bring about economic transformation maintained by many urban theorists, only helps a select few while leaving everybody else no better off than before, argues Thomas Sugrue.
Developers argue that it’s just a matter of time before other neighborhoods rise up too. “Folks want to move from zero to investable project, and it just doesn’t work that way,” said David Blaszkiewicz, the president of Invest Detroit, a development company that works with nonprofits and corporations to funnel money into the city core. “You start with the best neighborhoods and you migrate to the most challenged neighborhoods. ” However, there is not a lot of evidence that trickle-down economics works.
Motor City is blighted with 83,000 abandoned homes and is also seeing forced relocation of low-income residents including seniors. Kelly Guillory, Detroit author explains, “We all deserve to live here. The people who move from another city and are excited to lend themselves to Detroit’s future, deserve to live here. They deserve to buy an apartment, get adjusted to the culture of our city, and proudly call themselves Detroiters. ” She adds, “The residents of that same neighborhood deserve to be respected when they gain a new neighbor.
They deserve to remain in Detroit and not forced to move outside of the city because they can’t find an afford\able place to live. But they also deserve a better neighborhood, one that wasn’t so safe a few years ago. They deserve dedicated neighbors who will take care of their property and look out for them. They’ve been needing these kinds of neighbors for a long time. ” Without a doubt Detroit desperately needs newcomers to add to its tax base, services and vision. They add a voice to the cries of Detroit otherwise left unheard.
All the people of Detroit deserve to have a voice in their future and in the future of the city they’ve given their lives to. More must be done to bridge the gap between the redevelopment efforts in Detroit’s gentrification and addressing the racial equality for the city’s long term prosperity. Developing a city that deconcentrates poverty not through displacement or relocation but with a strategy that aims at economic integration and uplifting household well-being can make it possible for all Detroit residents to access opportunity pathways towards a better future for themselves and their families.