HIWAY AMERICA-THE DECAY OF DETROIT

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William Livingstone HouseMichigan Central StationAtrium, Farwell Buildinghttp://blogs.denverpost.com/captured/2011/02/07/captured-the-ruins-of-detroit/2672/

Anatomy of Detroit’s Decline

In a matter of decades, Detroit went from one of America’s most prosperous cities to one of its most distressed. Here is a look at how the collapse of this metropolis – battered by financial missteps, racial tensions and leadership lapses – culminated in insurmountable debt that led the city to file for bankruptcy.

Reliance on a Single Industry

A workman adjusted a Ford Mustang at the final assembly line in a Detroit-area factory on Nov. 6, 1967. Preston Stroup/Associated Press

The expansion of the auto industry nearly a century ago fueled a growth spurt that made Detroit the fourth largest city in the country. By 1950, the population peaked at almost 1.85 million as people moved to Detroit to work at the Big Three auto companies: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. But it was at the height of this prosperity that the manufacturers began to restructure, and the risks of the city’s reliance on a single industry became apparent, according to Thomas J. Sugrue’s essay “Motor City: The Story of Detroit.

First, there was decentralization. Strikes, inspired by union negotiations and a refusal by blacks and whites to work side by side, were halting progress, according to “Detroit, Race and Uneven Development,” co-written by Joe T. Darden. Factories were built in the suburbs and in neighboring states so that if there was a protest in one factory, work could still continue elsewhere. But as the factories spread out, so too did the job opportunities.

When the industry then experimented with automation, replacing assembly-line jobs with machinery, tens of thousands of jobs were lost. The industry shrank even more during the energy crisis in the 1970s and the economic recession in the 1980s. And foreign competition caused profits to plummet.

As auto jobs moved elsewhere and the region aged, Detroit’s labor costs — retiree health care costs, especially — increased substantially.

Though other cities experienced their own booms and busts, Detroit suffered more because it didn’t diversify, said Kevin Boyle, a Detroit historian who has written extensively about his native city. Places such as Chicago and Pittsburgh relied on other areas – like banking or education – beyond the industries that started their success.

The auto industry “was like Silicon Valley in the 1980s,” Mr. Boyle said. It was doing so well, he said, that Detroit officials didn’t see a need to do anything differently.

 

RELATED

Racial Tensions

A National Guardsman in Detroit during the riots of 1967. Associated Press

Tensions between the races have been high since the 1940s, when Southern blacks began moving to Detroit in search of work at automobile factories, said Mr. Boyle, the historian.

As the migration of blacks who swept into Detroit became especially intense, middle-class whites began moving to the newly built suburbs. But violent 1967 riots turned this stream into a torrent.

“It’s really hard to overstate how deep the fear was, on both sides of the color line,” Mr. Boyle said.

And after the riots, Detroit failed to bounce back, Mr. Boyle said. Businesses followed their customers. Thousands of houses were abandoned as the city’s population plunged.

“In some cities like Chicago, Boston and maybe New York, people say to themselves, ‘I want to be in this neighborhood where I grew up, where my grandparents live or where my synagogue is’ — that really roots people in place,” he said. “Detroit didn’t work that way.”

During the 1950s, the city lost 363,000 white residents while it gained 182,000 black residents. In 1950, the population was 16 percent black, and by the time of the 1967 riot it had grown to a third. Today, about 82 percent of the city’s population is black.

The Rev. Charles Williams II, who leads the Detroit chapter of the National Action Network, said little had been done to ease tensions. Those strained relations have hindered the city’s efforts toward economic progress.

“Race has basically been used as a tool to pit people against each other,” he said. “There’s a sincere, in-depth hate. Folks in the city have been taught to not trust those in the suburbs. Folks in the suburbs don’t trust those in the city.”

 

RELATED

Shortcomings of Leadership

Mayor Coleman A. Young of Detroit at an event in 1980. Richard Sheinwald/Associated Press

The financial crisis facing Detroit was decades in the making, caused in part by a trail of missteps, suspected corruption and inaction. Here is a sampling of some city leaders who trimmed too little, too late and, rather than tackling problems head on, hoped that deep-rooted structural problems would turn out to be cyclical downturns.

Charles E. Bowles, backed by the Ku Klux Klan, was in office for seven months in 1930 before people demanded his removal. His ascension to the mayor’s office was followed by a spike in crime, and he was suspected to be linked to some of Detroit’s underworld figures, according to “Detroit: A Biography” by Scott Martelle. “The stories of gangland feuds and killings were diversions from the deeper agony that spread across Detroit in the 1930s,” Mr. Martelle wrote. “Unemployment was high and deep poverty endemic.”

Edward Jeffries, who served as mayor from 1940 to 1948, developed the Detroit Plan, which involved razing 100 blighted acres and preparing the land for redevelopment. The area sat vacant for several years, and the 7,000 black residents who were displaced moved to neighboring areas where whites, in turn, left. Rather than ending blight, the project simply redistributed it.

Albert Cobo was considered a candidate of the wealthy and of the white during his tenure from 1950 to 1957. He declined federal money for housing projects and facilitated the construction of freeways. Highways were being built across the country that encouraged suburbanization, but while the rest of the nation was expanding, Detroit’s population was shrinking as people used the newly built roadways to leave.

Coleman A. Young was seen as a divisive figure in the 20 years he served as mayor. He won his first mayoral election in 1973, largely on the promise to ease tension between the police and black residents. But while many blacks saw him as a hero who pledged to fight crime, some whites felt he wasn’t looking out for their interests. Mr. Young seemingly breezed to second, third and fourth terms without making the expected bridge-building racial appeals. Isabel Wilkerson, writing in The New York Times in 1989, said the mayor, running in a city in which 70 percent of the voters were black, seemed “to revel in the sort of polarization that other politicians dread.” Though Mr. Young was credited with revitalizing the waterfront, the rest of downtown was often compared to a war zone, with neighborhoods crumbling, businesses boarded up and poverty remaining high.

Kwame M. Kilpatrick, who led Detroit from 2001 to 2008, was nicknamed the “hip-hop mayor” when first elected at 31, in part for his larger-than-life persona, flashy suits and the diamond stud in his ear. He brought new attractions to the city’s riverfront and much-needed business investment downtown, but he also increased the city’s debt obligations to fill budget gaps. After a series of scandals he resigned in 2008 and pleaded guilty later that year to obstruction of justice charges, served four months in jail and was ordered to pay $1 million to the city. He was behind bars two years later for hiding assets from the court, and in October he was sentenced to 28 years in prison after he was found guilty of racketeering, fraud and extortion.

Dave Bing, a former professional basketball star, took office in 2009 pledging to solve Detroit’s fiscal problems, which by then were already overwhelming. During his term, there were numerous announcements of cuts to the city’s work force, efforts to fill annual budget deficits and urgent calls for sacrifices from labor groups. Then in March the state appointed Kevyn D. Orr, a veteran lawyer, as an emergency manager to oversee the city’s operations, rendering Mr. Bing virtually powerless. Mr. Bing announced in May that he would not run for re-election. And in November Mike Duggan, a former hospital executive who campaigned with the backing of Detroit’s business leaders, was elected mayor.

 

RELATED

Lack of an Efficient Transit System

Detroit’s once-glamorous Michigan Theater, which is now used as a parking garage. Sean Doerr/WNET.org

In the hometown of the auto industry, public policies encouraged a car culture, with more money being invested in building highways rather than a public transportation system.

Efforts like

Anatomy of Detroit’s Decline

In a matter of decades, Detroit went from one of America’s most prosperous cities to one of its most distressed. Here is a look at how the collapse of this metropolis – battered by financial missteps, racial tensions and leadership lapses – culminated in insurmountable debt that led the city to file for bankruptcy.

Reliance on a Single Industry

A workman adjusted a Ford Mustang at the final assembly line in a Detroit-area factory on Nov. 6, 1967. Preston Stroup/Associated Press

The expansion of the auto industry nearly a century ago fueled a growth spurt that made Detroit the fourth largest city in the country. By 1950, the population peaked at almost 1.85 million as people moved to Detroit to work at the Big Three auto companies: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. But it was at the height of this prosperity that the manufacturers began to restructure, and the risks of the city’s reliance on a single industry became apparent, according to Thomas J. Sugrue’s essay “Motor City: The Story of Detroit.

First, there was decentralization. Strikes, inspired by union negotiations and a refusal by blacks and whites to work side by side, were halting progress, according to “Detroit, Race and Uneven Development,” co-written by Joe T. Darden. Factories were built in the suburbs and in neighboring states so that if there was a protest in one factory, work could still continue elsewhere. But as the factories spread out, so too did the job opportunities.

When the industry then experimented with automation, replacing assembly-line jobs with machinery, tens of thousands of jobs were lost. The industry shrank even more during the energy crisis in the 1970s and the economic recession in the 1980s. And foreign competition caused profits to plummet.

As auto jobs moved elsewhere and the region aged, Detroit’s labor costs — retiree health care costs, especially — increased substantially.

Though other cities experienced their own booms and busts, Detroit suffered more because it didn’t diversify, said Kevin Boyle, a Detroit historian who has written extensively about his native city. Places such as Chicago and Pittsburgh relied on other areas – like banking or education – beyond the industries that started their success.

The auto industry “was like Silicon Valley in the 1980s,” Mr. Boyle said. It was doing so well, he said, that Detroit officials didn’t see a need to do anything differently.

 

RELATED

Racial Tensions

A National Guardsman in Detroit during the riots of 1967. Associated Press

Tensions between the races have been high since the 1940s, when Southern blacks began moving to Detroit in search of work at automobile factories, said Mr. Boyle, the historian.

As the migration of blacks who swept into Detroit became especially intense, middle-class whites began moving to the newly built suburbs. But violent 1967 riots turned this stream into a torrent.

“It’s really hard to overstate how deep the fear was, on both sides of the color line,” Mr. Boyle said.

And after the riots, Detroit failed to bounce back, Mr. Boyle said. Businesses followed their customers. Thousands of houses were abandoned as the city’s population plunged.

“In some cities like Chicago, Boston and maybe New York, people say to themselves, ‘I want to be in this neighborhood where I grew up, where my grandparents live or where my synagogue is’ — that really roots people in place,” he said. “Detroit didn’t work that way.”

During the 1950s, the city lost 363,000 white residents while it gained 182,000 black residents. In 1950, the population was 16 percent black, and by the time of the 1967 riot it had grown to a third. Today, about 82 percent of the city’s population is black.

The Rev. Charles Williams II, who leads the Detroit chapter of the National Action Network, said little had been done to ease tensions. Those strained relations have hindered the city’s efforts toward economic progress.

“Race has basically been used as a tool to pit people against each other,” he said. “There’s a sincere, in-depth hate. Folks in the city have been taught to not trust those in the suburbs. Folks in the suburbs don’t trust those in the city.”

 

RELATED

Shortcomings of Leadership

Mayor Coleman A. Young of Detroit at an event in 1980. Richard Sheinwald/Associated Press

The financial crisis facing Detroit was decades in the making, caused in part by a trail of missteps, suspected corruption and inaction. Here is a sampling of some city leaders who trimmed too little, too late and, rather than tackling problems head on, hoped that deep-rooted structural problems would turn out to be cyclical downturns.

Charles E. Bowles, backed by the Ku Klux Klan, was in office for seven months in 1930 before people demanded his removal. His ascension to the mayor’s office was followed by a spike in crime, and he was suspected to be linked to some of Detroit’s underworld figures, according to “Detroit: A Biography” by Scott Martelle. “The stories of gangland feuds and killings were diversions from the deeper agony that spread across Detroit in the 1930s,” Mr. Martelle wrote. “Unemployment was high and deep poverty endemic.”

Edward Jeffries, who served as mayor from 1940 to 1948, developed the Detroit Plan, which involved razing 100 blighted acres and preparing the land for redevelopment. The area sat vacant for several years, and the 7,000 black residents who were displaced moved to neighboring areas where whites, in turn, left. Rather than ending blight, the project simply redistributed it.

Albert Cobo was considered a candidate of the wealthy and of the white during his tenure from 1950 to 1957. He declined federal money for housing projects and facilitated the construction of freeways. Highways were being built across the country that encouraged suburbanization, but while the rest of the nation was expanding, Detroit’s population was shrinking as people used the newly built roadways to leave.

Coleman A. Young was seen as a divisive figure in the 20 years he served as mayor. He won his first mayoral election in 1973, largely on the promise to ease tension between the police and black residents. But while many blacks saw him as a hero who pledged to fight crime, some whites felt he wasn’t looking out for their interests. Mr. Young seemingly breezed to second, third and fourth terms without making the expected bridge-building racial appeals. Isabel Wilkerson, writing in The New York Times in 1989, said the mayor, running in a city in which 70 percent of the voters were black, seemed “to revel in the sort of polarization that other politicians dread.” Though Mr. Young was credited with revitalizing the waterfront, the rest of downtown was often compared to a war zone, with neighborhoods crumbling, businesses boarded up and poverty remaining high.

Kwame M. Kilpatrick, who led Detroit from 2001 to 2008, was nicknamed the “hip-hop mayor” when first elected at 31, in part for his larger-than-life persona, flashy suits and the diamond stud in his ear. He brought new attractions to the city’s riverfront and much-needed business investment downtown, but he also increased the city’s debt obligations to fill budget gaps. After a series of scandals he resigned in 2008 and pleaded guilty later that year to obstruction of justice charges, served four months in jail and was ordered to pay $1 million to the city. He was behind bars two years later for hiding assets from the court, and in October he was sentenced to 28 years in prison after he was found guilty of racketeering, fraud and extortion.

Dave Bing, a former professional basketball star, took office in 2009 pledging to solve Detroit’s fiscal problems, which by then were already overwhelming. During his term, there were numerous announcements of cuts to the city’s work force, efforts to fill annual budget deficits and urgent calls for sacrifices from labor groups. Then in March the state appointed Kevyn D. Orr, a veteran lawyer, as an emergency manager to oversee the city’s operations, rendering Mr. Bing virtually powerless. Mr. Bing announced in May that he would not run for re-election. And in November Mike Duggan, a former hospital executive who campaigned with the backing of Detroit’s business leaders, was elected mayor.

 

RELATED

Lack of an Efficient Transit System

Detroit’s once-glamorous Michigan Theater, which is now used as a parking garage. Sean Doerr/WNET.org

In the hometown of the auto industry, public policies encouraged a car culture, with more money being invested in building highways rather than a public transportation system.

Efforts like Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 helped fuel urban sprawl, and the city’s streetcar system was dismantled the same year. In the 1980s, with federal aid, the city built its People Mover, a monorail that looped around three miles in the downtown area. The project was criticized as not being cost effective, as it primarily serviced visitors to restaurants or the stadium rather than helping the city’s residents get around effectively. Though there is a bus system, it is thought to be unreliable, said Mr. Williams of the National Action Network, a Detroit native. A light-rail system, backed in part by corporate donors, is slated to begin operating in early 2016.

“It’s almost like two Detroits,” Mr. Williams said. “The light rail will go up to West Grand Boulevard, where all the development is taking place. The other side is where the poverty is.”

Without an efficient mode of transportation over the past few decades, blacks and whites didn’t travel side by side as they did in other cities, a missed opportunity to ease racial tensions, said Mr. Boyle, the historian.

“It makes a difference that you have to sit in a subway car or a bus with people who are of different races and different ethnicities, different ages different classes,” he said. “It creates a sense of connection, even if it’s just a superficial one.”

 

RELATED

Impact of Poverty

Shuttered homes and businesses lined a street in downtown Detroit in 2008. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Officials are now faced with trying to shrink the city, a complicated task because dilapidated homes and empty lots are speckled throughout neighborhoods rather than consolidated in convenient chunks.

About 36 percent of the city’s population is below the poverty level, and, by 2010, the residential vacancy rate was 27.8 percent. With fewer people paying taxes, the city has starved financially and has struggled to maintain social services. Swaths of the city are in total darkness because of nonfunctioning street lights. And the average police response time, including top priority calls, is 58 minutes, according to a report by the emergency manager.

The student enrollment at Detroit’s public schools has drastically declined to 52,981 in 2012 from 164,496 in 2002, according to Michelle A. Zdrodowski, a spokeswoman for the district. In response, several school buildings have been shuttered.

Poverty has been exacerbated by middle-class black families’ moving to the suburbs to pursue jobs or better schools, and to escape crime. Meanwhile, the city’s poor have stayed in Detroit. The city’s unemployment rate is about 19 percent, but the lack of a transportation system has prevented residents from commuting to jobs elsewhere. A plan to cut retiree pensions, which some estimate account for $3.5 billion of the city’s $18 billion in debt, could worsen the lives of some.

As the city works to reinvent itself, it has drawn a community of artists and young people with big dreams of a total makeover for Detroit. Mr. Williams said the challenge was to make sure longtime residents were included in the movement.

“The people who are living in the city of Detroit, who have been holding on,” he said, “they should be a part of the progress.”

 

RELATED

Anatomy of Detroit’s Decline
In a matter of decades, Detroit went from one of America’s most prosperous cities to one of its most distressed. Here is a look at how the collapse of this metropolis – battered by financial missteps, racial tensions and leadership lapses – culminated in insurmountable debt that led the city to file for bankruptcy.
Reliance on a Single Industry
Racial Tensions
Shortcomings of Leadership
Lack of an Efficient Transit System
Impact of Poverty
Share
Reliance on a Single Industry

A workman adjusted a Ford Mustang at the final assembly line in a Detroit-area factory on Nov. 6, 1967. Preston Stroup/Associated Press

The expansion of the auto industry nearly a century ago fueled a growth spurt that made Detroit the fourth largest city in the country. By 1950, the population peaked at almost 1.85 million as people moved to Detroit to work at the Big Three auto companies: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. But it was at the height of this prosperity that the manufacturers began to restructure, and the risks of the city’s reliance on a single industry became apparent, according to Thomas J. Sugrue’s essay “Motor City: The Story of Detroit.”

First, there was decentralization. Strikes, inspired by union negotiations and a refusal by blacks and whites to work side by side, were halting progress, according to “Detroit, Race and Uneven Development,” co-written by Joe T. Darden. Factories were built in the suburbs and in neighboring states so that if there was a protest in one factory, work could still continue elsewhere. But as the factories spread out, so too did the job opportunities.

When the industry then experimented with automation, replacing assembly-line jobs with machinery, tens of thousands of jobs were lost. The industry shrank even more during the energy crisis in the 1970s and the economic recession in the 1980s. And foreign competition caused profits to plummet.

As auto jobs moved elsewhere and the region aged, Detroit’s labor costs — retiree health care costs, especially — increased substantially.

Though other cities experienced their own booms and busts, Detroit suffered more because it didn’t diversify, said Kevin Boyle, a Detroit historian who has written extensively about his native city. Places such as Chicago and Pittsburgh relied on other areas – like banking or education – beyond the industries that started their success.

The auto industry “was like Silicon Valley in the 1980s,” Mr. Boyle said. It was doing so well, he said, that Detroit officials didn’t see a need to do anything differently.

RELATED
Motor City: The Story of Detroit (The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History)
Detroit Census Confirms a Desertion Like No Other
Detroit Is Now a Charity Case for Carmakers
Racial Tensions

A National Guardsman in Detroit during the riots of 1967. Associated Press

Tensions between the races have been high since the 1940s, when Southern blacks began moving to Detroit in search of work at automobile factories, said Mr. Boyle, the historian.

As the migration of blacks who swept into Detroit became especially intense, middle-class whites began moving to the newly built suburbs. But violent 1967 riots turned this stream into a torrent.

“It’s really hard to overstate how deep the fear was, on both sides of the color line,” Mr. Boyle said.

And after the riots, Detroit failed to bounce back, Mr. Boyle said. Businesses followed their customers. Thousands of houses were abandoned as the city’s population plunged.

“In some cities like Chicago, Boston and maybe New York, people say to themselves, ‘I want to be in this neighborhood where I grew up, where my grandparents live or where my synagogue is’ — that really roots people in place,” he said. “Detroit didn’t work that way.”

During the 1950s, the city lost 363,000 white residents while it gained 182,000 black residents. In 1950, the population was 16 percent black, and by the time of the 1967 riot it had grown to a third. Today, about 82 percent of the city’s population is black.

The Rev. Charles Williams II, who leads the Detroit chapter of the National Action Network, said little had been done to ease tensions. Those strained relations have hindered the city’s efforts toward economic progress.

“Race has basically been used as a tool to pit people against each other,” he said. “There’s a sincere, in-depth hate. Folks in the city have been taught to not trust those in the suburbs. Folks in the suburbs don’t trust those in the city.”

RELATED
5 Days in 1967 Still Shake Detroit
Shortcomings of Leadership

Mayor Coleman A. Young of Detroit at an event in 1980. Richard Sheinwald/Associated Press

The financial crisis facing Detroit was decades in the making, caused in part by a trail of missteps, suspected corruption and inaction. Here is a sampling of some city leaders who trimmed too little, too late and, rather than tackling problems head on, hoped that deep-rooted structural problems would turn out to be cyclical downturns.

Charles E. Bowles, backed by the Ku Klux Klan, was in office for seven months in 1930 before people demanded his removal. His ascension to the mayor’s office was followed by a spike in crime, and he was suspected to be linked to some of Detroit’s underworld figures, according to “Detroit: A Biography” by Scott Martelle. “The stories of gangland feuds and killings were diversions from the deeper agony that spread across Detroit in the 1930s,” Mr. Martelle wrote. “Unemployment was high and deep poverty endemic.”

Edward Jeffries, who served as mayor from 1940 to 1948, developed the Detroit Plan, which involved razing 100 blighted acres and preparing the land for redevelopment. The area sat vacant for several years, and the 7,000 black residents who were displaced moved to neighboring areas where whites, in turn, left. Rather than ending blight, the project simply redistributed it.

Albert Cobo was considered a candidate of the wealthy and of the white during his tenure from 1950 to 1957. He declined federal money for housing projects and facilitated the construction of freeways. Highways were being built across the country that encouraged suburbanization, but while the rest of the nation was expanding, Detroit’s population was shrinking as people used the newly built roadways to leave.

Coleman A. Young was seen as a divisive figure in the 20 years he served as mayor. He won his first mayoral election in 1973, largely on the promise to ease tension between the police and black residents. But while many blacks saw him as a hero who pledged to fight crime, some whites felt he wasn’t looking out for their interests. Mr. Young seemingly breezed to second, third and fourth terms without making the expected bridge-building racial appeals. Isabel Wilkerson, writing in The New York Times in 1989, said the mayor, running in a city in which 70 percent of the voters were black, seemed “to revel in the sort of polarization that other politicians dread.” Though Mr. Young was credited with revitalizing the waterfront, the rest of downtown was often compared to a war zone, with neighborhoods crumbling, businesses boarded up and poverty remaining high.

Kwame M. Kilpatrick, who led Detroit from 2001 to 2008, was nicknamed the “hip-hop mayor” when first elected at 31, in part for his larger-than-life persona, flashy suits and the diamond stud in his ear. He brought new attractions to the city’s riverfront and much-needed business investment downtown, but he also increased the city’s debt obligations to fill budget gaps. After a series of scandals he resigned in 2008 and pleaded guilty later that year to obstruction of justice charges, served four months in jail and was ordered to pay $1 million to the city. He was behind bars two years later for hiding assets from the court, and in October he was sentenced to 28 years in prison after he was found guilty of racketeering, fraud and extortion.

Dave Bing, a former professional basketball star, took office in 2009 pledging to solve Detroit’s fiscal problems, which by then were already overwhelming. During his term, there were numerous announcements of cuts to the city’s work force, efforts to fill annual budget deficits and urgent calls for sacrifices from labor groups. Then in March the state appointed Kevyn D. Orr, a veteran lawyer, as an emergency manager to oversee the city’s operations, rendering Mr. Bing virtually powerless. Mr. Bing announced in May that he would not run for re-election. And in November Mike Duggan, a former hospital executive who campaigned with the backing of Detroit’s business leaders, was elected mayor.

RELATED
Obituary for Charles E. Bowles
Obituary for Edward J. Jeffries
Obituary for Coleman A. Young
Former Mayor of Detroit Guilty in Corruption Case
Detroit Mayor’s Tough Love Poses Risks in Election
For Detroit’s New Mayor, Power, With Conditions
Lack of an Efficient Transit System

Detroit’s once-glamorous Michigan Theater, which is now used as a parking garage. Sean Doerr/WNET.org

In the hometown of the auto industry, public policies encouraged a car culture, with more money being invested in building highways rather than a public transportation system.

Efforts like Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 helped fuel urban sprawl, and the city’s streetcar system was dismantled the same year. In the 1980s, with federal aid, the city built its People Mover, a monorail that looped around three miles in the downtown area. The project was criticized as not being cost effective, as it primarily serviced visitors to restaurants or the stadium rather than helping the city’s residents get around effectively. Though there is a bus system, it is thought to be unreliable, said Mr. Williams of the National Action Network, a Detroit native. A light-rail system, backed in part by corporate donors, is slated to begin operating in early 2016.

“It’s almost like two Detroits,” Mr. Williams said. “The light rail will go up to West Grand Boulevard, where all the development is taking place. The other side is where the poverty is.”

Without an efficient mode of transportation over the past few decades, blacks and whites didn’t travel side by side as they did in other cities, a missed opportunity to ease racial tensions, said Mr. Boyle, the historian.

“It makes a difference that you have to sit in a subway car or a bus with people who are of different races and different ethnicities, different ages different classes,” he said. “It creates a sense of connection, even if it’s just a superficial one.”

RELATED
Razing the City to Save the City
Shrinking Detroit Back to Greatness
The Odd Challenge for Detroit Planners
Detroit Insists the Future Will Be Cars, Cars, Cars
Impact of Poverty

Shuttered homes and businesses lined a street in downtown Detroit in 2008. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Officials are now faced with trying to shrink the city, a complicated task because dilapidated homes and empty lots are speckled throughout neighborhoods rather than consolidated in convenient chunks.

About 36 percent of the city’s population is below the poverty level, and, by 2010, the residential vacancy rate was 27.8 percent. With fewer people paying taxes, the city has starved financially and has struggled to maintain social services. Swaths of the city are in total darkness because of nonfunctioning street lights. And the average police response time, including top priority calls, is 58 minutes, according to a report by the emergency manager.

The student enrollment at Detroit’s public schools has drastically declined to 52,981 in 2012 from 164,496 in 2002, according to Michelle A. Zdrodowski, a spokeswoman for the district. In response, several school buildings have been shuttered.

Poverty has been exacerbated by middle-class black families’ moving to the suburbs to pursue jobs or better schools, and to escape crime. Meanwhile, the city’s poor have stayed in Detroit. The city’s unemployment rate is about 19 percent, but the lack of a transportation system has prevented residents from commuting to jobs elsewhere. A plan to cut retiree pensions, which some estimate account for $3.5 billion of the city’s $18 billion in debt, could worsen the lives of some.

As the city works to reinvent itself, it has drawn a community of artists and young people with big dreams of a total makeover for Detroit. Mr. Williams said the challenge was to make sure longtime residents were included in the movement.

“The people who are living in the city of Detroit, who have been holding on,” he said, “they should be a part of the progress.”

RELATED
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helped fuel urban sprawl, and the city’s streetcar system was dismantled the same year. In the 1980s, with federal aid, the city built its People Mover, a monorail that looped around three miles in the downtown area. The project was criticized as not being cost effective, as it primarily serviced visitors to restaurants or the stadium rather than helping the city’s residents get around effectively. Though there is a bus system, it is thought to be unreliable, said Mr. Williams of the National Action Network, a Detroit native. A light-rail system, backed in part by corporate donors, is slated to begin operating in early 2016.

“It’s almost like two Detroits,” Mr. Williams said. “The light rail will go up to West Grand Boulevard, where all the development is taking place. The other side is where the poverty is.”

Without an efficient mode of transportation over the past few decades, blacks and whites didn’t travel side by side as they did in other cities, a missed opportunity to ease racial tensions, said Mr. Boyle, the historian.

“It makes a difference that you have to sit in a subway car or a bus with people who are of different races and different ethnicities, different ages different classes,” he said. “It creates a sense of connection, even if it’s just a superficial one.”

 

RELATED

Impact of Poverty

Shuttered homes and businesses lined a street in downtown Detroit in 2008. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Officials are now faced with trying to shrink the city, a complicated task because dilapidated homes and empty lots are speckled throughout neighborhoods rather than consolidated in convenient chunks.

About 36 percent of the city’s population is below the poverty level, and, by 2010, the residential vacancy rate was 27.8 percent. With fewer people paying taxes, the city has starved financially and has struggled to maintain social services. Swaths of the city are in total darkness because of nonfunctioning street lights. And the average police response time, including top priority calls, is 58 minutes, according to a report by the emergency manager.

The student enrollment at Detroit’s public schools has drastically declined to 52,981 in 2012 from 164,496 in 2002, according to Michelle A. Zdrodowski, a spokeswoman for the district. In response, several school buildings have been shuttered.

Poverty has been exacerbated by middle-class black families’ moving to the suburbs to pursue jobs or better schools, and to escape crime. Meanwhile, the city’s poor have stayed in Detroit. The city’s unemployment rate is about 19 percent, but the lack of a transportation system has prevented residents from commuting to jobs elsewhere. A plan to cut retiree pensions, which some estimate account for $3.5 billion of the city’s $18 billion in debt, could worsen the lives of some.

As the city works to reinvent itself, it has drawn a community of artists and young people with big dreams of a total makeover for Detroit. Mr. Williams said the challenge was to make sure longtime residents were included in the movement.

“The people who are living in the city of Detroit, who have been holding on,” he said, “they should be a part of the progress.”

 

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