City of Change: Toward a Neighborhood-Level Analysis

City of Change: Toward a Neighborhood-Level Analysis

Over the past several weeks, the City of Change series has looked at how Detroit’s residential neighborhoods have evolved over the past five years, identifying trends both sobering and hopeful.  We’ve revealed a mortgage market that continues to contract, pockets of neighborhoods that are increasing in density, and areas of improving and declining residential structure condition. Until this point, however, our analysis has largely been focused on citywide trends. While we’ve looked at some of Detroit’s Master Planning neighborhoods, our purpose was to identify areas that are either examples of a larger trend or to identify those that stand as outliers.

With the second portion of this series, we hope to focus the conversation more on that neighborhood level. Building on the analysis in the previous four installments, we will look at the changes over time in a number of targeted investment areas. As with the broader analysis of trends across the city, we’ll focus on previously identified data indicators pertaining to Detroit’s building conditions, its occupancy density, and its mortgage markets. This more granular focus will allow us to examine the differences in outcomes in these targeted communities in terms of attracting and retaining residents and market investment, both in comparison to other areas in the same program and the rest of the city as a whole.


Figure 1: Overlapping Investment Target Areas in the City of Detroit

Targeted Investment in Detroit’s Neighborhoods:  A Primer

As Detroit has struggled through population loss and general disinvestment over the past decade (and longer), a number of initiatives have focused investments on specific geographic areas in an effort to help increase the impact of the limited amount of money they have to spend. As shown in Figure 1, there appears to have been little coordination among many of these programs – so much so that a map reveals that fewer portions of the city are not targeted by one of the eight investment programs displayed than are.

Many of these initiatives have had different geographic scopes as well, though the overlapping areas in Figure 1 conceal the differences in their boundaries. Some programs have been enormous, sweeping across nearly half of Detroit’s land area. Others have focused on areas smaller than a square mile. The vast differences in scale among these various programs provide rich ground for comparing potential effects of more focused and more diffuse investment initiatives. And this is what the second portion of City of Change seeks to do.

It is important to note at the start that we are not looking to evaluate the impact of the efforts that we’ll look at in subsequent posts. The programs and policies that we’ll examine are enormously complex initiatives, and it diminishes them to attempt to evaluate their success through the lens of only three indicators. Some of these initiatives, for example, may measure success by the number of children they reach or the total number of structures demolished, instead of by increases in mortgage originations or occupied structures.

What we will do, however, is look at the differences in four sets of investment areas for the three indicators discussed in previous City of Change installments: housing condition, occupancy density, and mortgage markets. We’ll compare each area to other geographies targeted by the same program and to the city of Detroit as a whole to determine whether there have been differences in outcomes in these indicators. Some of the investment initiatives have been highly publicized, long-running efforts, while others may have fizzled out soon after implementation. As Figure 1 shows, many of the target geographies in the city overlap, but virtually no areas of investment have exactly the same boundaries. What they all have in common, though, is that they’ve been designated by some entity – whether the city of Detroit, outside foundations, or other entities – for program-related, geographically focused investment. In addition, all of the areas have been sites of investment activity in our 2009-14 study period.

We’ll seeking to answer a number of questions as we explore the changes over time in these various target areas. How do these areas compare to each other and the city of Detroit as a whole? Is change, whether positive or negative, more evident in program areas that have a tighter geographic focus? Do the data indicate that the areas identified effectively match the stated goals of each initiative? Are there differences in outcomes of different programs even in overlapping target areas, and if so, what do these differences tell us about different methodologies for geographically focusing investment?

In the new year, we’ll resume the City of Change series by taking a look at the first of our study areas, the Skillman Foundation’s Good Neighborhoods. We’ll follow that installment with a look at the Local Initiatives Support Corp.’s (LISC) Building Sustainable Communities neighborhoods and then the first- and third-round investment areas of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). We’ll close this part of the series with a reflective examination of geographic investment initiatives, looking at the differential outcomes (if any) between the four programs in any areas of overlap.