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June 2010

The world is knocking at Detroit’s front door

Kunle Ifesanya tells of his Detroit experience while Delphine Regnauld of France listens.

As the poster child for industrial decline , Detroit has become a favorite subject of study and dissection. It can be exhausting. But one of the benefits of the renewed interest in Detroit is that the city has the potential to benefit from all of the bright minds thinking about what has happened here, and what’s going to happen next.  

In mid-June, 2010, Data Driven Detroit hosted about a half-dozen such bright minds, all Urban Heritage Ph.D. students from Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany. They came from all parts of the world—China, France, Armenia, Hong Kong and Nigeria—to live in a house on Moran St. in Hamtramck, near the Detroit border. They planned to stay for about ten days, exploring the area, learning from the community and conducting interviews to fuel their research.  

I was struck by the disciplines they were bringing to the table: architecture, environmental studies, sociology and urban studies. They were all clear how these disciplines affect the lifeblood of cities. They hoped to learn from Detroit, but also to leave something behind to further Detroit’s comeback.  

The project is being coordinated by Kerstin Neimann, a Hamburg, Germany student of applied cultural science, who has bought a house on Moran St. to use as a “research residency.” The project is called FILTER Detroit, a cultural exchange between the artists and academics who visit and the immediate neighborhood. Once the academics conclude their studies, their work will be used by the College for Creative Studies to create a project that responds to a community need.  

FILTER Detroit's house on Moran St.

“We need data to provide insight to our work,” said Neimann. “Without good information about the area, we would have to get it on our own, without knowing whether or not what we’re finding is accurate.” 

That’s where Data Driven Detroit came in. During a two-hour meeting, we were able to hear their ideas about urban heritage, while sharing demographic data about the area surrounding the house on Moran. From the beginning of the meeting, it was evident how differently they viewed urban areas, which are often considered the center of social, economic and political life. 

“Our cities aren’t the powerful entities that they are in Europe,” said D3’s Data Manager, Gregory Parrish. “We’re more interested in sprawl and suburbanization. Even our cities are suburban styled—single family homes and spread out.” 

“Maybe Hamtramck has a lesson for Detroit,” offered Lagos native, Kunle Ifesanya. “It’s more dense and efficient. There seems to be more of a sense of community identity, and it’s more walkable.” 

Ifesanya shared a fascinating story about his experience walking down streets in Lagos versus Detroit. In Detroit, he purposely walked into a group of large men to “see what would happen.” 

“They were friendly and asked me questions,” he said. “This would not have been the same in Lagos. It makes me wonder if the description of crime in Detroit is true.”  

Ultimately, the researchers will give their results to students at the College for Creative Studies. Supervised by Susan La Porte and Doug Kisor, the chair of CCS’ graphic design department, they will fashion a project that will leave behind a “living archive” of what the students discovered during their stay here.     

 “We’re keenly interested in connecting our students with students from other cultures who have different ways of looking at the world,” said Kisor. His students have participated in projects like Design Ignites Change 

Kurt Metzger shares data about Detroit with Bauhaus University students.

, which encourages students to apply design to urban environments to affect change.  

It will be interesting to see what kind of long-term projects evolve in the collaboration between CCS and the FILTER Detroit project. It’s one of the gifts of being at a place like Data Driven Detroit. We get to see how creative minds can use our data to directly affect lives on both a local and global scale.      



We’re number two! We’re number two!

Last Friday, June 18, 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the State of Michigan had the second highest unemployment rate in the nation. This marked the first time since April 2006—49 consecutive months—that Michigan was not number one!  The dubious distinction has now been passed along to Nevada.  The May 2010 numbers showed Nevada’s rate at 14.0 percent and Michigan’s at 13.6 percent.  Following in 3rd and 4th places are California (12.4 percent) and Rhode Island (12.3 percent).

The change in rank is even more important because it came as the result of increasing employment, rather than a drop in unemployment or by a shrinkage in the labor force as more discouraged workers drop out of the system.  May marked the 5th straight month where Michigan’s total labor force and employed workers increased in number, while the number of unemployed decreased.

Looking at the past 10 years, Michigan’s employment rate reached its high point in March 2000, when 4.9 million had jobs. The unemployment rate was only 3.3 percent! By December 2009, the number of people employed had dropped by 17 percent to 847,000 people, and the unemployment rate had risen to a whopping 14.5 percent.

While we are not out of the woods by any means, five months of steady progress qualifies as a trend.  If we keep this up, our unemployment rage might be lower than California’s and Rhode Island’s, which would drop our rank to number four! 

But what about Detroit?

While the Detroit Metropolitan Area continues to have a higher unemployment rate than the state as a whole, things appear to be turning around here as well.  Employment gains have come in each of the last four months (May 2010 numbers have yet to be released). While the number of unemployed has fluctuated, the steady increase in the total labor force means that more people are optimistic enough to reenter the labor force.  We are coming back!

Michigan’s Defining Moment: Dark Clouds, Silver Linings

Are only storm clouds on the horizon for Michigan? According to two experts, maybe so. But taking a hard look at the facts and figures is the only way we can brighten up the horizon.         

On May 27, 2010, Leaders Without Borders sponsored a breakfast meeting to discuss the report “Michigan’s Defining Moment—Making it Happen.”  The Center for Michigan, a nonpartisan “think and do” tank, issued the report that was based upon the input of more than 10,000 ordinary citizens. Together they created an agenda for Michigan’s future.         

Data Driven Detroit's Kurt Metzger at the Leaders Without Borders breakfast


The report includes a 2010 Michigan Scorecard created in partnership with Data Driven Detroit. The Scorecard measures Michigan’s performance in the areas citizens found most crucial to the state’s success, including education, tax policy and economic development. Sunny icons represent the state’s “good” standing in comparison to other states and regions. Partly cloudy icons represent “average” performance, and “stormy” icons represent comparatively poor performance.         

At the breakfast, D3’s Kurt Metzger described some of the data behind the storm clouds that have gathered over Michigan. In 2008, 14.4 percent of Michigan residents were in poverty.         

 “No neighboring Great Lakes State has more people in poverty,” Metzger said.         

Education: flunking the test         

The state also received a stormy rating in employment. Michigan has been repeatedly at the bottom among states, leading the nation in unemployment for four straight years.         

Education isn’t much brighter, said Metzger. Although recent MEAP scores indicate improvements in reading and math skills, Michigan students are tanking on the National Assessment of Educational Program (NAEP). For example, in 2009 more than 84 percent of Michigan fourth graders scored “proficient” or better on the MEAP, but only 30 percent scored “proficient” or better on the NAEP.          

The same year, 70.3 percent of Michigan eighth graders scored well on the Michigan math test, while only a third of them passed the NAEP. The gap of proficiency between the state and national tests makes you wonder if we are just dumbing down the tests to make ourselves feel good, Metzger said.         

Poor test performance may be linked to the lack of funding devoted to education in Michigan, said Metzger. Although Michigan educators are well-paid, the data shows the state is slipping in money spent per-pupil. Metzger suggested we start rethinking the big paychecks for superintendents and give the money to the kids.         

Stemming the brain drain         

Education isn’t the only place where dark clouds loom over Michigan. The state is also ranked last in population growth in this decade.         

“Migration led to growth in every state, but Michigan,” said Metzger. “We have to find a way to bring young people back to Michigan.”    

Phil Power stressed the common agenda that Michiganders share.


Undaunted by the dark clouds, the Center for Michigan’s Phil Power insisted that it is only by taking an accurate assessment of where we are that the state can begin to address its critical needs. Like a coach before the big game, he motivated the leaders present to form nonpartisan coalitions to help build Michigan’s future. The Center’s report, “Michigan’s Defining Moment—Making it Happen,” gives ten steps to transforming Michigan. The primary target areas are: Economic Growth & Quality Of Life; A Talented, Globally Competitive Workforce; and an Effective, Efficient & Accountable Government.        

Angela Wynn and Joan Morehead are all smiles after the Michigan's Defining Moment presentation


 “It has to be a collective act from all of us in order to save our state,” Power said.         

Angela Wynn, Senior Community Liaison for Blue Cross Blue Shield, was compelled by the focus on bi-partisan education reform. “I’m an advocate for education,” she said, “so anything about education grabbed my interest.”         

Joan Morehead, a community leader who develops workshops for the unemployed, was amazed at how the priorities for the state remained consistent across different demographic groups. “Our needs are more similar than dissimilar,” she said.         

Power stressed the importance of having a shared vision, and putting our differences aside to achieve a mutual goal.         

“We are at the hinge of our history,” he said. “We cannot let things go on the way they are.”

GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test Finds 38 Million American Drivers May be Unfit for Roads

D3’s recent work with the Center for Michigan found a number of areas – particularly around education, employment and income—where Michigan ranked near the bottom.  As a result, we are always pleased to report better news—even if it’s not about our economic recovery.

Every year, GMAC Insurance asks drivers to complete a National Drivers Test to see whether they still remember the rules of the road. This year, 5,202 licensed Americans from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., completed the test. GMAC found that 18.4 percent of licensed drivers—roughly 38 million Americans—would not pass a written driver’s exam if they had to take it today.  Michigan, with a score of 79 (national average was 76.2), ranked 15th in the country.  This represented a jump of 8 spots from its 2009 ranking of 23rd.  Michigan ranked 18th in 2008, though its score was higher than that in 2010.

Among the key findings:

  • The national average score was 76.2 percent; a score below 70 percent is considered failing.
  • Average test scores in 2010 continue to show a slight trending downward, from 76.6 percent in 2009 to 76.2 percent this year and a drop of almost 2 percent from the national average in 2008 (78.1 percent).
  • With age comes wisdom: The older the driver, the higher the test score. Males over 45 earned the highest average score.
  • The average test score was significantly higher among males than females (78.1 percent male versus 74.4 percent female). Females also had a higher failure rate than males (24 percent female versus 18.1 percent male).
  • After dropping to 4th place last year, Kansas regained its 2008 number 1 ranking this year (average score of 82.3 percent); New York drivers ranked last for the third time in the survey’s six-year history (average score of 70.0 percent).
  • The Midwest region had the highest average test scores (77.5 percent) and the lowest failure rates (11.9 percent).

Questions that Confused Drivers: Seventy-three percent of drivers could not properly identify a typical safe following distance from the car in front of them (at least a two-second cushion).

Eighty-five percent of drivers did not know what to do at a traffic light displaying a steady yellow signal (stop if it is safe to do so).

Fortunately, similar to last year, nearly all respondents (97 percent) know what to do when an emergency vehicle with flashing lights approaches, what to do when hydroplaning and the meaning of a solid yellow line.

Survey Says: Drivers are Distracted

In addition to the 20-question exam, the survey explored distracting habits. These findings reveal:

  • Conversations with other passengers is the leading distraction while driving, with more than half of all drivers engaged in this activity (52 percent).
  • Approximately, a quarter of drivers admitted to talking on a cell phone, selecting songs on an iPod or CD, adjusting the radio or eating while driving their vehicle.
  • Only five percent of participants reported they text while driving.
  • The following actions were reported significantly higher among females than males: engaging in conversation with passengers, selecting songs on an iPod or CD, adjusting the radio, talking on a cell phone, eating, applying make-up and reading.

Want to take the test? Click here. Let us know how you did!


Hey, Baby, what’s happening?

Birth rates, DetroitWhen I was in Eastern Market over the Memorial Day weekend, it seemed like there were babies everywhere. But statistics show that fewer Michiganders are having children.  

The State of Michigan has just released 2008 data and the trend of decreasing births that began after 1990 is continuing. 

“Figure 1” shows Michigan’s birth numbers from 1990 to 2008.  Births peaked in 1990 at 153,080, the highest seen since the early 1970s. Between 1990 and 2008, births decreased 21 percent ( 11 percent since 2000).  Such a trend, combined with the continued net out-migration of the population, creates a double whammy for a state that is clamoring to retain its talent and its tax base.

Figure 1.  Michigan Births, 1990 – 2008





A recent release from the National Center for Health Statistics showed that Michigan had one of the lowest birth rates in the country – only the New England states, Pennsylvania and West Virginia had lower rates.

The decrease in births has been mirrored in Southeast Michigan.  While there is great variation across communities – many of which have seen their birth numbers grow—Wayne County and City of Detroit have trended downward.

Macomb County, which has seen continued in-migration and growth since 1990, experienced the smallest loss among Macomb County, Oakland County, out-Wayne County and Detroit – 7.6 percent since 1990; 6.1 percent since 2000.

Procreators in Oakland County have really been hit hard by the economic downturn.  Oakland County’s births dropped only 4 percent during the 1990’s. But since 2000, it has dropped 14.8 percent.  

Out-Wayne County’s drop has been less severe than that of Oakland County – most likely due to the increasing population of younger residents in growing communities such as Brownstown, Canton, Northville and Plymouth townships.   The drop in out-Wayne County’s births has been 15.4 percent since 1990 and 8.1 percent since 2000.

Figure 2.  Births in the Tri-County Area, 1990 – 2008

The drop in Detroit’s birth rate is largely due to population loss. The first time that Detroit’s births have fallen below the 12,000 mark reached in the early 20th Century was in 2008 (11,774). That was less than half of the 1990 total of 24,129.  The loss since 2000 has been 26 percent.

What does decreasing births mean for the State and the region?  How does it affect school districts, tax revenue, business development, etc.?  We welcome your input.