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February 2010

How do We Develop Neighborhoods of Opportunity?

A significant impediment to this re-invigoration is the widespread and systemic inequity plaguing marginalized populations and communities. Communities of color, particularly African-American communities, are more and more isolated from the essential opportunity structures needed to succeed and thrive in the 21st century global society.  Such isolation, caused by factors such as divestment, job sprawl, and far less-than-adequate public transit systems, have resulted in a 28.9 percent unemployment rate in Detroit1 and increasing socio-economic gaps.

Geography, race, and poverty are intertwined in the Detroit region: poverty and place work together in a systematic way, fueling racial disparities and isolating communities of color from opportunity. Geographic, social, and racial disparities are more than just indicators of isolation for marginalized populations. These disparities play a significant role in undermining the future for all residents of the Detroit region and the state of Michigan. Acknowledging and addressing these inequities is a critical step to assure a functioning democratic society and prepare the region for its future.

Housing provides more than just shelter. Housing, depending on its location, can be either a conduit or an impediment to opportunity. Housing is the primary conduit to accessing opportunity and building wealth and economic stability in the U.S.  Housing location is the critical leverage point to determining access to education, employment, childcare, and health care or in determining the likelihood of developing assets/wealth through home equity.

Take a moment and think about neighborhood conditions throughout the city of Detroit and the tri-county area (if you have not traveled extensively around the metro area, you should take the opportunity).  Think about the housing, the presence or absence of services, and realize that the case can be easily made – where you live often determines how long you live.  Fifty years of social science research has demonstrated that racially isolated and economically poor neighborhoods restrict employment options for young people, contribute to poor health, expose children to extremely high rates of crime and violence, and house some of the least-performing schools. Neighborhoods powerfully shape residents’ access to social, political, and economic opportunities and resources.

john a. powell, who spell his name with capital letters, directs Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

Battered by challenging economic conditions, a national housing crisis and the continued decline of the once-robust manufacturing sector, the Detroit region, and the state as a whole, must find innovative ways to capitalize on the assets and redirect its course to be competitive in the 21st Century.

In January 2009, the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion sponsored a conference entitled “Opportunity for All: Inequity, Linked Fate and Social Justice in Michigan.”  The keynote speaker was john a. powell (no CAPS), a Detroit native who now directs the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State2.   Rather than begin the dialogue about race with a picture of ethnic trends, racial gaps and segregation measures, john’s approach is to lay out “opportunity” in a geographic context and, once clear distinctions as to geographic inequities across regional neighborhoods have been described and internalized, introduce race to understand how opportunity and race interact.

One of my key themes, when offered the opportunity to speak of the demographic trends that shaped our region, is the effect of federal actions post-World War II on the city and its populations of color. Federal subsidies for suburban housing and transportation made it economical for middle-class families to leave the city. Because early housing policy often prohibited integrated neighborhoods through lending restrictions and racially restrictive covenants, it was mostly Whites who left and built equity in new neighborhoods. As central cities lost significant population, jobs followed. The loss of tax revenue resulted in increased tax rates for municipal services for those who were least able to shoulder them. Funds for maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure waned3 as money went to subsidizing further suburban and exurban development. This is not a sustainable model for a region whose population in 2008 was 200,000 less than it was 38 years before.

The Detroit region suffers some of the worst racial segregation in its housing and schools in the nation. Analysis of trends in segregation during recent decades indicates that these trends have improved slightly, but generally the region has remained extremely segregated by race in its neighborhoods and its classrooms.  As persons of color, particularly African Americans, have increased their presence in the suburbs substantially since the early 1990s, leading to increasing representation in suburban school districts4, segregation in school systems, particularly at the individual school level, appears to be increasing.

The Kirwan Institute analyzed the characteristics of communities across the region by conducting an “opportunity mapping” analysis. This opportunity mapping analysis looked at a number of indicators of opportunity and community conditions for neighborhoods throughout the Detroit region. This technique of measuring educational opportunities, economic opportunities, and other neighborhood and housing challenges (like concentrated neighborhood poverty, vacant property, or crime), resulted in a comprehensive evaluation of the region’s best and most challenged neighborhoods. The findings:

•    The African-American community is highly concentrated in low opportunity areas.
•    While only 36% of the total population lived in the region’s low opportunity neighborhoods (which represent two-fifths of the neighborhoods in the region), 90% of the African-American population (or nine of ten African Americans) were found in low opportunity neighborhoods.
•    Only 19% of Whites lived in low opportunity communities.
•    While more than 43% of the region’s total population lived in high opportunity neighborhoods, less than 4% of the African American population lived in these communities.
•    More than half of the Latino population is concentrated in low opportunity communities.

The Detroit region must be a place where everyone – regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. – must have the opportunity to thrive. This is not only a moral imperative but an economic imperative as well.  Regional success occurs where diversity of opportunity exists. We must all pay attention to these troubling indicators of inequality and opportunity isolation which plague the city, region, and state.

There are a number of organizations and initiatives in the region working toward the same goal5.  Data Driven Detroit is working with many of those groups around issues of social equity and funders are recognizing the need to apply a ‘social equity lens’ in their grantmaking activities.  Data Driven Detroit will be working with john powell and others at Kirwan, along with many local partners, to develop the “neighborhoods of opportunity” methodology for updating the data and measuring our progress.

It is only by addressing these challenges directly can we build a society that is sustainable, equitable, and allows all residents access to the levers of opportunity critical to succeeding in our 21st century society.

1 This is the “official” unemployment rate and does not account for those who are no longer looking for a job.  In addition, employment is counted as any paid work during the week in survey.  As a result, a 40-50% unemployment (and underemployment) for African Americans in the city is more likely the case.

John taught a class in the fall 2009 on structural racism at the Wayne State Law School.

3 SEMCOG has recently released a report identifying regional infrastructure needs over the  next 25 years that dwarf anticipated resources.  We will need to make regional choices as to where we concentrate our funds.

4 Open enrollment across county boundaries has also facilitated this growth.

5 OneD has begun to document these efforts on its website through its issue area of Race Relations.

The Census is Coming! The Census is Coming!


The census is coming! Make sure you’re counted!

When the first U.S. census was conducted in 1790, cries of undercount were heard across the land. Surely there were more than about 4 million residents in the new nation!

Ever since, the Census Bureau has made an effort to conduct an accurate count of every person1 residing in the United States every ten years.  All residents of the United States must be counted, including people of all ages, races, ethnic groups, citizens and non-citizens.

The U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 2) mandates this headcount to determine each state’s Congressional representation. The count also determined the taxes each state paid the government.

The census has taken on a wide variety of uses since then.  The numbers affect funding for states and local governments, determine governmental representation at all levels, influence business investment and help inform decision makers about how the community is changing – information that is crucial to many planning decisions, such as where to provide services for the elderly, where to build new roads and schools, or where to locate job training centers.

In the past, most households received a short-form questionnaire, while one household in six received a long form that contained additional questions and provided more detailed socioeconomic information about the population.  The 2010 Census will be a short-form only census and will count all residents living in the United States as well as ask for name, sex, age, date of birth, race, ethnicity, relationship and housing tenure – taking just minutes to complete. More detailed socioeconomic information is now collected through the American Community Survey (ACS), which provides current data every year, rather than once every 10 years2.

Census data directly affect how more than $400 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to communities for neighborhood improvements, public health, education, transportation and much more. That’s more than $4 trillion over a 10-year period.

With the state and local news dominated by stories of DEFICIT and RECEIVERSHIP, we cannot afford to sit idly by and hope that the Census Bureau, through its employees and media buys, will provide Michigan and all its local governments with an accurate count.  As is the case with elections…


Census Day – April 1, 2010– is almost upon us.  There is a great deal to do to get the word out throughout our state and time is passing.  We are the only state to have experienced population loss each of the last four years.  The Detroit region has also suffered losses this decade and the City of Detroit has continued, although at a much lower rate, its 50+ year out-migration flow.

We must be ready and willing to do everything we can to make sure everyone is counted.  We must reach out to the disenfranchised – numbers that have grown exponentially due to unemployment, foreclosures, etc. – and let them know that their participation may result in increased funding for their support3.  We must help new immigrants understand that completing a census form will not harm them in any way.

The Census Bureau has created a variety of programs and materials for getting the word out.  On the government side, the Bureau encourages and supports the creation of Complete Count Committees.  The Census Education Project (my favorite) creates curriculum materials for students and teachers across the K-12 spectrum.  Promotional materials have been produced in a wide variety of languages for use in ethnic communities across the country.

The staff at the Data Driven Detroit (D3) is ready to assist in any way we can.  We recognize the importance of complete and accurate data and want to make sure that Detroit, the region, and all of Michigan do everything they can to make that happen.  We are an official partner with the Census Bureau, are providing technical support to the City of Detroit, serve on the advisory committee for the Michigan Nonprofit Association’s 2010 Census Project, and “talk census” wherever and whenever we can.

An inaccurate census will only hurt the city and the region’s ability to go forward.  There are no do-overs, and whining about an undercount will not change the results.

To take liberties with a tag line for Detroit Public Schools, ‘I get it….do you?’ ”


1 The history of the census shows that though every person was to be “counted,” not everyone always counted equally.

2 Results from the 2008 American Community Survey will be released on September 22.  This release will cover all states, as well as counties and communities with populations of 65,000 or more.

3 The Michigan Nonprofit Association has launched a targeted effort to bring nonprofits to the table to understand the critical role they play in reaching their clients and constituents.


Driving Decisions with Data

I remember a few months ago, the New York Times  reported about efforts underway in local governments across the country to make government data more accessible through the internet. The article asked a great question: “What good is a pile of data?”

Not much good at all. Statistics are a lot like any other raw material. They don’t do anyone any good until you make something useful out of them. We at Data Driven Detroit are dedicated to taking raw data and turning them into clear pictures of what is happening in our community.

By gleaning data from several agencies, we have been able to compile the “Detroit Parcel Survey,” an unpre

What good is a bunch of studies that don't lead to informed policy change?

cedented snapshot of the condition of all of the residential structures in Detroit. This is valuable baseline information for city departments and, eventually for neighborhood organizations.

With birth data from the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion coupled with our mapping technology, we were able to pinpoint specific neighborhoods in Detroit were teen pregnancy remains alarmingly high. We believe that better and more accessible data lead to better decision-making. 

We are definitely NOT ALONE in this belief.  The economic restructuring that is taking place in our state and region has devastated us.  It has also, however, brought numerous organizations to the table to begin turning things around.  In order to invest properly, they will need up-to-date information and the expertise to interpret it.

Our goal is to spawn useful Web sites and mobile applications — and perhaps even have people think differently about their city and its government. In Washington, D.C., they combine crime data with information on bars, sidewalks and subway stations in order to allow individuals to find the safest route home after a night out. The site is called Stumble Safely.

The City of San Francisco which has created Data SF , a clearinghouse of data sets available from the city and surrounding county.  San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, said that the program “will change the way citizens and government interact, but perhaps most important, it’s going to change the way elected officials and civil servants deliver programs, services and promises.”

Even data about mundane things like health codes and commuting patterns can improve people’s lives when it is packaged and customized in an accessible way. New York City’s Datamine includes directories of sidewalk cafes, property values, horseback riding trails and historic houses.  A Web site called CleanScores  tracks restaurant inspection scores in various cities and explains each violation. After School Special  combines data from San Francisco schools, libraries and restaurants so parents can plan after-school activities and see how children’s nutritional options compare by neighborhood.

The big question is:  Will historically reticent governments release data that exposes problems or only information that makes them look good?  There is also the concern that people might misinterpret the data, creating public relations problems.

But that hasn’t stopped political leaders like Mayor Newsom, who signed an executive order saying city data should be released, and Pres. Barack Obama, who has given a similar directive to federal agencies.

Let the sharing begin!

A Booming Idea for Playgrounds

London is for swingers—especially those over the age of 65.

One London neighborhood is actually designing an outdoor playground for Baby Boomers.  The park will offer low-impact exercise equipment to help older people improve their balance, flexibility and muscle tone.

“Every park has a children’s playground, very few have playgrounds for adults, and none have playgrounds for the elderly,” said Madeline Elsdon, whose local residents’ association has won funding for the playground, which is planned for London’s popular Hyde Park. “We wanted something that would be of long-term benefit to people, so we came up with this idea for an older person’s playground.”  The playground, which is due to be built by this spring, will have six pieces of equipment bought in Denmark, including a stationary bicycle, a cross-trainer and a sit-up bench.

Exercise areas aimed at the elderly are popular in Europe and Asia, so why not here? According to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), Southeast Michigan is currently home to 640,000 people 65 years and over—that’s 13 percent of our population. 

But this is nothing compared to what we will see in the next decade (starting in 2011) as Baby Boomers begin to reach 65.  Our senior population will grow by over 230,000 individuals in the next 10 years, and add another 250,000 between 2020 and 2030. By 2025, we (I have to admit to being one of those early Boomers) will outnumber everyone under 18 years of age.

WE NEED PLAYGROUNDS NOW!  The region cannot afford to support an unfirm and unfit population of this magnitude. Besides, working out with others their own age could help older people alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression.

Some may ask – why not just go to the gym?   Besides the cost that many are not in a position to pay, there is the intimidating nature of many gyms – just too much firm flesh!

Haulin’ it out of Michigan

The moving industry’s numbers have been corroborated by the Census Bureau, which estimates that Michigan lost 278,000 persons to domestic out-migration[1] between 2006 and 2009.  And our own Data Driven Detroit (D3) analysis of IRS migration data revealed that every state in the country gained Michigan residents between 2007 and 2008 (latest data available).  Florida (4,806), Texas (3,522), Arizona (2,933) and California (2,782) stole the biggest share of our residents.
   Not everyone left Michigan, but many left the six-county Detroit metropolitan area. In the most recent year available, 2007-08, the area lost over 62,000 residents to outmigration.  Wayne County far outdistanced the others, losing 45,140, while Oakland (-9,428), Macomb (-3,302), St. Clair (-1,707), Lapeer (-1,330) and Livingston (-1,253) also joined in.

While D3 has raised questions as to the current population of Detroit,[2] there is no question that the population has decreased since 2000 as residents have moved to nearby suburbs or left the area entirely.  We must wait for the 2010 Census to inform us in 2011 when the data are released.

While we may not know the numbers, we can get a picture of the depth of population loss by looking at U-Haul rental rates.  The data are clear:  It costs more to rent a truck in Detroit to go just about anywhere, than it does to travel in the opposite direction. 

I did some research and found the following rates for a 17” truck on a one-way trip starting on February 15, 2010.

1.  Detroit to Charlotte, NC    $1,048        Charlotte to Detroit    $341

2.  Detroit to Austin, TX    $1,786               Austin to Detroit    $835

3.  Detroit to Los Angeles, CA    $2,351    Los Angeles to Detroit    $1,942

4.  Detroit to Chicago, IL    $363                   Chicago to Detroit    $313

5.  Detroit to Orlando, FL    $1,445              Orlando to Detroit    $714

6.  Detroit to Philadelphia, PA    $850       Philadelphia to Detroit    $531


While the differentials may vary, the trip from Detroit is consistently higher.  One would think that this would encourage people across the country to come to Detroit via U-Haul just for the cost savings and the low cost housing.


Understand that it is not a “Detroit thing,” because a rental from Troy, or even Ann Arbor, comes up essentially the same.  It is not a “winter thing” either, because scheduling a move for the summer will show no difference.


The only explanation I can come up with is one of supply and demand.  The high levels of out movers has driven up the demand for U-Haul trucks locally and reduced the supply.  The numbers of in-movers are not enough to replenish the supply and the rates respond accordingly.


The moral of the story? We will know that Michigan and Detroit are on their way back when the U-Haul rate differentials start to shrink.  If it ever costs you more to go from Austin or Charlotte to Detroit, than the reverse, we will know that our recovery is at hand!

[1] Domestic (internal) migration is the movement of people within national boundaries.

[2] The Census Bureau has released two separate numbers for Detroit’s 2008 population: a Census estimate of 912,000 and an American Community Survey count of 777,493.