Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Brotherly love for Detroit

How appropriate that, on the night we returned to Michigan from our weekend in Philadelphia, this headline graced the front page of a Free Press snuggled into the snow on my parents' Grosse Pointe porch: "What Midtown Detroit can learn from West Philadelphia college district's renaissance."

The gist of the article is that Philly used to look a lot like Detroit (read: empty), but now--much to my mother's chagrin--the crowds of pedestrians walk brazenly in front of cars, the hallmark of a healthy, thriving city.
So what could it mean for Detroit's Midtown, where employees of the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System and Wayne State University are being offered incentives to move in? If the outcome in West Philly is an indication, it could result in higher property values, a drop in violent crime, better schools and a neighborhood where former suburbanites are eager to move.
What do we think?


  1. I think the first step for revitalizing Detroit is getting people to want to move back there. I think that will lead to the other things (shops, restaurants and what not) to follow.

  2. Although incentivizing living in midtown Detroit will certainly bring more money to the area and expedite improvements, all of the changes this article predicts are unnecessary or already underway. Violent crime rates are low in midtown, houses and apartment buildings are already being built and repaired, businesses are moving in, there is a great deal of cultural opportunities already available, the schools in midtown are vastly better than average for Detroit, and there is ample access to fresh foods and produce.
    This is just another case of journalists committing an ecological fallacy when reporting on Detroit neighborhoods. And it is even more depressing when it is being done by our own journalists.

  3. The article touched on displacement, but only through one to two paragraphs in an otherwise glowing endorsement. While I am excited to see development in Detroit, questions remain as to who is benefiting from that development and who is potentially displaced as the affluent return to a gentrified cityscape.
    David Harvey's "The Right to the City" traces the devastating connection of capital investment and urban realities/inequalities, and raises the question of how and with whom we should imagine our urban ideal.

  4. @Mikoyan - "the first step ... is getting people to want to move back there." What would you suggest?

    @Ella - way to pull out the David Harvey, though it's by now a classic question how well traditional gentrification concerns apply in Detroit. Harvey wrote frequently of cities like Paris or Manhattan, which were "full" and therefore meant an influx of monied households must by definition mean displacement, or like Las Angeles, where rapid growth provided a constant supply of newness to be concerned over the division of.

    Detroit does not well fit either of these categories, with many arguing that the supply of vacant land and structures provides a substantial buffer against displacement. I'm not on board with the laissez-faire attitude often accompanying and justified by this argument, but I do find the mathematical basis of it fairly sound.

    Detroit may provide a pretty unique opportunity to address concerns of gentrification & displacement - these usually set up a positive feedback loop that is resistant to intervention, but Detroit may have enough of a buffer that we can see the problem developing and intervene on behalf of existing residents. (A backhanded benefit, to be sure.)