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November 2011

The Walkability Factor

by Lisa Rayle, Transportation Consultant


walkable grid – small block size // less walkable subdivision – large block size

In last week’s Times, Chris Leinberger argued that the apparent shift in homeowner preferences toward walkable, urban neighborhoods will spell decline for the far-flung auto-oriented suburbs.  Leinberger, a Brookings fellow and U-M professor, cites a recent survey finding that only 12% of future homebuyers will continue to want large houses in car-dependent suburbs.  Across the U.S., this shift, caused by changing demographics and homeowner preferences, would raise demand for housing in central cities and the denser suburbs.  Leinberger’s prediction may or may not become reality, but other evidence does suggest a demand for, and undersupply of, walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods [1, 2].

If Leinberger is correct, what would this mean for metro Detroit? Which places might see increased demand?  This is a complex question and we can’t predict what will happen. But it’s interesting to look at one factor: walkability.  Leinberger suggests that neighborhoods in the most demand will be those that are walkable.


Census 2010: You Can Count on Counties

by Clay Martin, Research Analyst

With so many changes in life, it would be nice to be able to count on counties to be there when you need them. For the most part, you can. Of the 3,234 counties listed in the 2000 Census, 3,221 were still around in 2010.* Of the counties that disappeared, one is in Guam, five are in American Samoa, four are in the Northern Mariana Islands, three are in the US Virgin Islands, and two are in Alaska. Astute readers may have noticed that these numbers don’t add up: the county count only dropped by 13, but we lost 15 counties! What happened? Turns out, unlike matter, counties can be both created and destroyed. In addition to losing two counties, Alaska added two.

* Figures may differ depending on what you count as a county. Should you count municipios in Puerto Rico as counties? What about New York City boroughs? Or Census Areas? Experts disagree.

Toxic Releases!

By Amy Grodin, Environmental Analyst

Total Amount of Fugitive Air Pollution Released: 1988 – 2009 from datadrivendetroit on Vimeo.

This video shows total air pollution in Detroit census tracts as monitored from 1988-2009 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For 1988 through the mid 1990’s, heavy concentrations of toxic releases into the atmosphere can be seen throughout the city. As the year 2000 approached, most of the reported cases of air pollution in each census tract tapered off significantly. However, the video shows that several locations throughout the city have persistent air pollution releases. In Southwest Detroit specifically, air pollution is a constant problem that has actually worsened in recent years. The odors, smog, and coal dust associated with toxic air releases in this area have a significant impact on quality of life for residents.


Packing the Park: How Big is Belle Isle?

by Kevin Chapo, GIS Analyst

If every member of the United States lived in an area with the population density of Brooklyn, NY (35,000 per sq mi) we all could fit into New Hampshire, the 5th smallest state.

At 982 acres (1.534 sq mi), Belle Isle Park is the largest city island park in the United States and is larger than Central Park in New York City.

Belle Island has 42,775,920 sq ft of total area. There are 6,104,916 sq ft of water from the two ponds and 3 lakes. That leaves 34,993,352 sq ft of land, which would give all 713,777 Detroiters room to be on the island at one time. Each resident would get 49 sq ft – about the size of a picnic table. If you took all 9,883,640 Michiganders and placed them on the island, each citizen would get 3.5 sq ft, which is approximately the shoulder-to-shoulder density at concerts.

Gary Hustwit’s Urbanized Screened at the Detroit Film Theatre

by Louis Bach, Communications

The documentary “Urbanized” was shown at the DIA on Tuesday, October 11; director Gary Hustwit took questions after the screening. “Urbanized” is the third of Hustwit’s highly-regarded trilogy of documentaries about design, following “Helvetica” (on the typeface) and “Objectified” (on industrial design of consumer products).

Detroit features prominently in the movie: Detroit’s population decline is addressed between the film’s discussion of the world’s growing slums and Stuttgart’s protests against the expansion of its rail lines. Highlighted in the movie’s coverage of Detroit was Mark Covington and his Georgia Street Community Garden, discussing the grassroots response to the issue of food access and affordability.