Some have talked about this, but I’m having trouble getting my head around it.
Detroit was once the fifth largest city in America; now it is 18th. From its peak in 1950 (pop. 1,849,568), it has lost over 60% of its population (713,777 in the 2010 census), 25% of that in the last decade alone.
And while Detroit is still overwhelmingly black (82%), even the black population has fled the city in about the same percentage as the population as a whole.
And that may be the good news:
Akinya Khalfani, who has run his own small planning firm since leaving the city’s recreation planning department in 2002, projects Detroit’s population to hit bottom at 500,000 in 2016, the same date Detroit Public Schools has projected its student population will fall to 50,617. The school system had 168,213 students in 2000.
“A half-million, that’s the core of the population that can’t afford to leave,” said Khalfani, of the Southfield-based Central Place Planning Professionals.
“At that point, when we bottom out, even the service industries like fast food restaurants won’t have enough people in the city with disposable income to support them. At that point, the population is so poor, so poorly educated and spread out that the city becomes an urban prairie, a wasteland,” the Detroit resident added.
“This city now is the center of an unnatural disaster that is a harbinger of what could happen to other cities,” Metzger said. “There are a lot of funders now looking at Detroit for experimentation, to see what can happen to turn a shrinking city around. What can be done has been done in New Orleans. With these new figures, you will see more federal and national effort and attention turn to Detroit.”
New Orleans, which was struck by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, is the only U.S. city with more than 100,000 residents to have a greater percentage decline than Detroit. New Orleans dropped 29 percent, losing 140,000 residents.
I honestly don’t know how to analyze this. Detroit has been overwhelmingly black for decades, but other overwhelmingly black cities aren’t basket cases like Detroit. Birmingham, Jackson, Baltimore, and Atlanta—all roughly two-thirds to three-quarters black—aren’t swirling the drain. And New Orleans was swamped by a one-a-century natural disaster, Ray Nagin. Maybe it is Detroit’s over-reliance on one industry, auto manufacturing. But people haven’t stopped buying cars.
I suspect there is something in the combination of single party politics—the Democrats—and union membership. Remember, as GM and other car companies faced bankruptcies, then and only then did the unions give up some of the perks like the so-called jobs banks—which were funds paid to unneeded workers in lieu of salaries.
But the “reprimitivization” (a word and concept I learned from Mark Steyn) of Detroit is complete. The only thing Mayor Dave Bing (one of the greatest players in NBA history, and therefore a hero of mine) has contemplated is contracting the remaining Detroiters more densely and turning vast tracts over to farm land.
All sorts of commercial agricultural plans have been offered to the city, from a proposed winery on Belle Isle to the Hantz Farms and RecoveryPark projects. Proponents say the project will do more than grow fruits and vegetables; they say farming will create a local food-based industry with jobs and tax base coming from food processing, agritourism and the like.
But the proposals are on hold until the city deals with two main issues — Michigan’s Right to Farm Act and Mayor Dave Bing’s Detroit Works planning project.
The Right to Farm Act bars municipalities from curtailing farming operations already under way. It was designed to protect farmers from suburban sprawl. Detroit officials worry that it will keep them from regulating operations like Hantz Farms once they get started.
Meanwhile, Bing’s planners have yet to decide whether they want to make large-scale commercial agriculture part of the city’s redevelopment efforts under the Detroit Works Project.
Meanwhile, others are even more desperate:
Gov. Rick Snyder reissued his State of the State call for increased immigration, telling Muslim leaders gathered in Lansing last week that Michigan’s diversity is a selling point for businesses.
New numbers show there are between 300,000 and 400,000 Muslims in the state.
“The nice thing about Detroit is it has a lot of vacant land and cheap housing stock,” Vogel said. “The resourcefulness and energy of immigrants has always driven economic opportunity in this country.”
That’s true, but only up to a point. Immigrants can enliven an area, but the area has to have a pulse first. It’s not clear Detroit does. And let’s be honest with ourselves. Muslims are welcome contributors to American society, but they number only about one or two percent of the population of America. Given the very real and not at all bigoted concerns over home-grown radicalism among some American Muslims, is an enclave of disadvantaged Muslim immigrants in a failed city really such a good idea? I ain’t convinced.
Wither Detroit, certainly. But whither Detroit?