Welcome to Detroit, Michigan. A city that may closely resemble a scene out of the Walking Dead by day and Grand Theft Auto by night. With a population of 1,568,662 – 1,623,452 in the 1930’s, Detroit now has a population of 713,777 and loses approximately 3,573 people annually.
The city of Detroit has gone through a major economic and demographic decline in recent decades. The city’s automobile industry has suffered from global competition and moved much of the remaining production our of Detroit. Local crime rates are among the highest in the United States, and vast areas of the city are in a state of severe urban decay. In 2013, Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history, which was successfully exited on December 10, 2014.
Contributions to the decline of Detroit include the rise and fall of the automobile industry, a rise in suburbs resulting in “white-flight” (the large-scale migration of people of various European ancestries from racially mixed urban regions to more racially homogenous suburban or exurban regions), racism in housing (The home owners loan corporation red lined areas that were considered ‘unsafe’ for banks to give loans to homeowners. Thus forbidding unemployed African Americans access to update their homes or buy new homes. While white Detroiters were updating their homes, African Americans had to stay in a home that had not been updated in 30+ years. This disinvestment caused many neighbourhoods to be considered “blight” and perfect areas for urban renewal. In white neighbourhoods, realtors would create contracts that forbid homeowners from selling their home to an African American family. This was used to keep neighbourhoods racially homogeneous. Thus, African Americans were forced to buy/rent homes that were overpriced and disinvested in.), 1950s job loss (a postwar period in which the city lost nearly 150,000 jobs to the suburbs), 1950-1960 freeway construction, Detroit riots (a large race riot that broke out in 1943 and lasted for 3 days and lead to a vast economic and social fallout.)
Detroit’s protracted decline has resulted in severe urban decay. Some parts of the city are so sparsely populated that the city has difficulty providing municipal services. Roughly half of the owners of Detroit’s 305,000 properties failed to pay their tax bills in 2011, resulting in $246 million in taxes and fees going uncollected, near half of which was due to Detroit; the rest of the money would have been earmarked for Wayne County, Detroit Public Schools (more of that subject…), and the library system.
The city has faced an onslaught of other issues including political corruption (which cost the city an estimated $20 million) and charges brought against building inspectors, 12 principals, a former school superintendent and supply vendor.
As it stands today, Detroit is considered a city of renaissance. Several initiatives have been taken by Detroit citizens to improve the cityscape by renovating and revitalizing neighbourhoods. Such include the Motor City Blight Busters, the Heidelberg project (which I had the pleasure of visiting) and various urban gardening movements. Michigan Central Station has been renovated with new windows, elevators and facilities. Several other landmark buildings have been fully renovated and transformed into condominiums, hotels, offices, and for cultural uses.
Detroit is a city of incredible history, culture and beauty. Don’t let the decay fool you. This city truly is reviving itself. The people are friendly. The architecture is beautiful. Here are some photos of my experience.