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A Poll With Promise: What one study says about our hope for the future

Detroit has become the poster-child for a 21st Century, post-industrial region searching for a future. We are under the microscopes of the media, the federal government, the academic and research communities, national and local foundations, and ordinary residents.  While we don’t always take kindly to what others have to say about us, we need to separate the wheat from the chaff—there is often much to learn from criticism. 

Here’s one poll that contained a welcome surprise. A November 2009 poll was conducted by the ( Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University revealed that “almost all residents of the main three-county metropolitan area of Detroit see their economy as in ruins.”

That’s hardly news, and frankly, feels a little like piling on. But here’s something else the poll found:

“A large majority of residents expect that things will get better, with 63 percent optimistic about the area’s future and the same percentage expecting their finances to improve over the next decade.”

That’s the kind of poll that we cling to around here. Good news is hard to come by. And yet…

How exactly will the region’s outlook improve over the next decade?  The same poll takes a hard look at a critical issue we must face before we can really be optimistic: the divide between Detroit and its suburbs.

The most disturbing finding (see Figure 1) was the fact that half of suburban respondents stated that they never come to the city – primarily because they have no reason to visit or because they fear crime (studies that this author began in 2004 have shown that downtown Detroit is safer than many suburban communities   When asked whether their visits had increased or decreased over the last year, 39 percent reported a decrease, while only 12 percent reported an increase. 

While it is true that the City of Detroit lacks the presence of a regional shopping mall, big box chain stores or multi-screen cinema complexes – all magnets for visitors–where else can you go to match the offerings of the DIA, Detroit Science Center, African-American Museum and Detroit Historical Museum? We know that suburban residents will visit for that occasional sporting event – Tigers, Red Wings or Lions – but do they ever stay to explore Campus Martius, stroll the River Walk, visit the many exciting new restaurants and night spots?  We may not have big boxes, but we have a number of unique venues that should be visited – Avalon Bakery, Bureau of Urban Living, City Bird, Detroit Artists Market, and many others.  And, rather than taking the expressway in and out of the city, why not take a little time to explore the unique neighborhoods that Detroit provides – from Corktown to Morningside; from Palmer Woods to Indian Village; from Woodbridge to East English Village; from Rosedale Park to Lafayette Park; and many, many more.

The evidence is overwhelming –a successful region requires a successful central city. Those areas that are growing economically across the country have shared regional visions that are structured around cities that are attractive to all segments of the population.  They are regions that, through successful public transportation and planning, have strong central business districts and facilitate the movement of city residents to employment in the suburbs, and vice versa.  How will we be able to develop a shared vision around Detroit when so many people are unconvinced that Detroit matters?

City/Suburb Divide

It is only through increased interaction that we can begin to break down the barriers – racial, socioeconomic and geographic – that have held us back for so long.

We need your thoughts.  How do we encourage increased cross-boundary traffic?

9 responses to “A Poll With Promise: What one study says about our hope for the future”

  1. Megan says:


    Give people an attractive, convenient commuter train linking the city and suburbs and perhaps people will travel more.

  2. Bill Dickens says:


    You have pulled together some nice stuff but when are you going to handle the population curves… that is vital, for Bobb, for Us for everyone.


  3. Miss V says:

    Successfully educating the children of Detroit will help with building a better future for this city. Dropping out of school, having little hope for the future, getting involved with others who don’t see a light at the end of their tunnel, are only a few things that move young people towards a life of poverty and crime, thereby keeping the city in a downward spiral with little hope of change and prosperity.

  4. Ron Befrd says:

    Clean up the streets and demolish burned out buildings – driving the main thoroughfares is like driving though a war zone! The appearance is ungodly and gives the impression that no one is in charge or gives a darn!

    Increased Police presence!!

  5. We need a come visit us campaign that highlights the various attractions the city has to offer. How about a mid-night stroll for lovers on the river walk, a weekend cultural event that for a certain amount a family of five or less can visit the Historical , Science center, and African American Museum, a city historic neighborhood tour or a rediscover belle isle event with the fountain flowing, and bike rentals, petting zoo, and flower house all at a minimal price (people are struggling but need some fun). MY thought is that we need events to bring people in. Once here they will see what Detroit has to offer and come back.

  6. I believe that Detroit is on the way to making a comeback. I also believe that my finances will be much improved in the next 5 to 10 years. I spend a lot of time exploring the Detroit communities on my bike and I get to see all of the wonderful things that the city, especially downtown, has to offer. The Riverwalk is one of my absolute favorites. I ride my bike from early morning before the sun comes up to late in the evening when I am leaving a concert at Chene Park and feel safe. I also notice that a lot of peple form the suburbs are enjoying the city as well. MOSES is working with other organizations in the city and suburbs on regionalism. What we all have to understand is that we ARE connected. What affects Detroit also affects the suburbs and vice versa.

  7. brenda archie says:

    very interesting… I am a supporter of the city and enjoy most of the resources it has to offer, especially the resturants and Campus Martius. Those folk that do not take advanage of what the city has to offer are really missing something good. Perhaps an advertising campaign should be made promoting the city sites and maybe the incoming freeways should be closed on certain days like opening day of the Tigers or during Red Wing games.

  8. Jerry Maiorano says:

    Hi Kurt,
    You may not remember me, retired principal in Warren Cons. Schools, Dir. Assessment Center for Computerized Educational Support Services ACCESS. I worked with you on DA allignment parcels for our district when you were at Wayne. Saw the Postcard article in Time March 29 and interested. I recall when demographer Harold Hodgekinson wrote about the need to keep Detrot healthy. I still believe in Detroit, read about Hantz’s hydroponic farms and still interested in data.

    Anything on a volunteer level, would interest me as well as hearing from you. I attended many of your Census presentations and used your data in district presentations often.


  9. Jan BenDor says:

    I worked downtown in the 70s and still love to visit Detroit. My friends here in Washtenaw County think I am crazy, until I describe what they are missing. So I propose a film/video project that would attract student filmmakers from programs at universities and colleges in the area. (See for a comparable contest). Promote a contest to showcase Detroit, with a number of categories that are randomly drawn and handed out to registered teams. Definitely allow filmmakers to enter pieces already done, as I know of several excellent short films that feature urban farming, land protection, and other upbeat projects. The State Film Council can assist in finding prize sponsors, providing publicity, and possibly with grants.

    People do hate the freeways, which are confusing and alienating to negotiate into the city. Until we get the light rail system, I’d like to see weekend tour buses! Stewart McMillin has the right idea!