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We May Be Down, But We Certainly Aren’t Out!

The long-awaited 2010 Census counts were released yesterday for the State of Michigan and all its subdivisions – down to the block level.  Now the redistricting process for US. Congress, State House and Senate, and County Commissioners can begin.

While we have known since December that Michigan was the only state in the union to lose population over the decade, the real question on everyone’s mind locally was….”What will happen to the population of Detroit?”  While not as active as March Madness betting, there were a number of “pools” out there (no money involved, I assure you), “at least among those of us who do this stuff for a living.”  While I am not sure who came closest without going over, I know if was not yours truly.

As we all know by now, Detroit’s population for 2010 is 713,777.  This registers as a loss of over 237,000 residents in 10 years – a 25% drop, second only to New Orleans.  While the Mayor says he wants to challenge the figure, past experience tells me this is a waste of time and energy.  Let’s accept the facts and work to tell the other side of the story.

Samantha Howell, 32, is quoted in the New York Times today (and it becomes the quote f the day). “Yes, the city feels empty physically, empty of people, empty of ambition, drive. It feels empty.”  This is indeed the message that reinforces the articles we have read rather regularly since Time Magazine came out with its cover story “The Tragedy of Detroit.”

With all this as a backdrop, let us raise up the other side of the story.  I spoke yesterday at the Book Cadillac as part of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities conference.  This is a national gathering of philanthropic representatives who are interested in issues of cities.  In talking with Laura Trudeau from the Kresge Foundation prior to the conference, I discovered that registration for the conference was up 30% because of Detroit.  The inquiries that we receive at Data Driven Detroit come from across the country and beyond.  The Federal government is planning to provide technical assistance to Detroit across a variety of departments.

Of most importance and promise are the efforts that are currently underway in the city.  The Detroit Works Project (DWP) is geared toward creating a Detroit that works for everyone.  While dogged by a number of issues, there is great hope for this work going forward.  The work of CDAD (Community Development Advocates of Detroit) to create a strong community development network for the city and to understand neighborhoods, through a neighborhood typology, shows great promise.  D3 is proud to be working with CDAD and two local planning efforts, LEAP on the eastside and UNI in the Southwest, to truly engage community residents in visioning a brighter future.  We hope that this effort can help to inform the city’s process.

Philanthropy has truly stepped up to the plate to bring money and best practices to the city.  The efforts are too numerous to describe, but let me just name a few.  The New Economy Initiative is supporting business accelerators across the region – TechTown in Detroit – and helping to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship.  Hudson-Webber’s 15 x 15 plan is working with anchor institutions (Henry Ford, WSU and DMC/Vanguard) to promote living, buying and employing locally.  This effort will serve to bring new residents to the greater downtown area, spur more joint purchasing from existing Detroit businesses, while fostering the creation of new businesses in the neighborhood, and develop programs that will allow existing neighborhood residents to find jobs.  The Skillman Foundation continues its work in 6 Detroit neighborhoods to create success for children, while the Community Foundation develops extensive plans for the Near East side and supports greenways across the city.  The Kresge Foundation, and Living Cities, are dedicated to supporting and expanding the arts and cultural base of the city, while bringing dollars and best practices to help support Midtown’s growth and redevelop the Northend.  Finally, Excellent Schools Detroit will soon be rolled out.  Sparing the details, suffice it to say that the goal is to provide an excellent school for every Detroit child and give each parent the tools he/she needs to make more informed educational decisions for his/her child(ren).

While the numbers are down, Detroit is definitely not out.  Let this be a clarion call to increase our efforts at making Detroit a city that provides a high quality of life for all.  We are blessed with people who truly care.  I have the good fortune of working with them every day – both across my staff and in meetings throughout the city and region.

In the end it is not the number of people who occupy the city, but the quality of life we create.  Let us go forth and herald our accomplishments and work harder to make our dreams for the city become reality.

5 responses to “We May Be Down, But We Certainly Aren’t Out!”

  1. Keith Cooley says:

    Well said, Kurt! There are a small number of us, I guess, who’ve moved into the City to “do what we can” to kick start the State’s real central geographical hope for a resurgence.

    Glad you are here to keep us all encouraged for the tough job ahead.

  2. Remedy says:

    Kurt, I always appreciate your insight, but I am a bit confused by some of the reasons for hope that you listed. For example, “Finally, Excellent Schools Detroit will soon be rolled out.”

    Is there any indication that this latest effort will be any different in effect from those that have failed in the past? It seems to me that we have been hearing about this Excellent Schools Detroit for some time and I still have trouble understanding what it is and what effect it is having or is to have.

    What happened to Skillman’s Good Schools Initiative? $100 million was supposedly invested in Detroit schools over a few years, but where are the results? What schools dramatically improved? How many of those are now closed? What about the Skillman Good Neighborhoods program? The Osborn community in particular continues to lose enormous amounts of residents and its schools continue to lose enormous amounts of students.

    This isn’t just about Skillman, though. Without the resources to implement many of the anticipated recommendations of the Detroit Works project (such as neighborhood consolidation, housing rehabilitation, homeowner attraction programs, etc.), and with city revenues continuing to nosedive, will this initiative really be effective in reinvigorating the city?

    Is the New Economy Initiative, which has made very few investments, really inspiring entrepreneurial activity in the city? Is TechTown, which is mostly aimed at entrepreneurs with significant resources and experience, really serving the startups and novice entrepreneurs in the city?

    I think this region is often so desperate for signs of hope that we fail to ask the tough questions of these initiatives and investments, and often to our own detriment.

  3. Damon says:

    “In the end it is not the number of people who occupy the city, but the quality of life we create.”

    I’d say it’s not the number of people who occupy the city, but the direction of the trend, and the direction of the trend is absolutely horrible no matter which way you turn it. I’ve been one of the most ardent Detroit boosters out there, but this number is absolutely deflating. Who left in the city won’t see this number and then use it as yet another excuse to give up? I’d always believed there was a bottom to this loss, but when you go from losing 7.5% of your population over the 90’s (which weren’t exactly a great decade for Detroit, either), to an accelerated loss of 25% – a full QUARTER – of the population in the next, something is PROFOUNDLY wrong.

    Detroit, as an independent, self-governed municipality may not be out, but it’s pretty damned closed. Short of major national government intervention (and I’m not talking of block grants of incentives), I don’t see the hope. Detroit’s local issues have coumpounded its problems, but at the very heart of this are national policies and issues that have been out of the city’s control.

    The only way there is “hope” is if you set the bar incredibly low for what constitutes Detroit. If we’re talking Midtown, sure, there is hope, but that’s approximately 20,000 Detroiters out of a total of 714,000. The “creative class”‘s idea of Detroit has to be more inclusive unless you want a “city” surrounded by open fields for square miles before you hit the city limits.

  4. Damon says:

    I left a comment on here, and I’m a bit baffled as to why it was delted (or never made it through)?

  5. Damon says:

    Must have been a mistake, because now everything is showing.

    Kurt, litereally a few months before the Census, Data Driven Detroit with help from others did a visual mapping of every single residential property in the City of Detroit. It was quite an undertaking to say the least, and the most comprehensive residential survey ever done of the city in its modern history. The website has highly detailed maps an info, and something struck me about what you guys found and what the Census found.

    The Census found that approximately 349,000 housing units in the city, in total. The comprehensive residential parcel survey found approximately the the exact same number, but here’s the catch: that only includes single-family homes, duplexes, and apartment buildings up to four units. That literally means that the parcel survey didn’t even survey the THOUSANDS of units in apartment buildings over 4 units in the City of Detroit.

    It would seem to me that the Census didn’t found thousands of extra housing units, which would cause a significant undercounting of the population, even taking into account similar vacancy rates found by numerous parties in the last few years.

    Isn’t this something the city should be raising with the Census Bureau? Am I missing something?