Shared responsibility for Detroit’s plight



As a Michigander for the past 21 years, I have heard my share of Detroit criticisms, jokes, and put downs, both from within and outside the Great Lakes State. While fingers can be and have been correctly pointed at the lack of past civic and political leadership in Detroit, our collective actions (or lack thereof) can certainly share in the responsibility. Some may scoff at such a notion, but here’s a few reasons why:

  • As a nation we elected leaders who adopted a tax code and laws that advocated, promoted, and accelerated flight from cities and suburban sprawl. Many in this nation continue to support such policies. Granted, this affects every city, but that does not mean it was beneficial for them unless they had scads of excess land for new subdivisions or the ability to annex freely.
  • As a nation we collectively turned our backs on inner cities many years ago only saw fit to reverse course when the notion of revitalization became profitable.
  • As a state, Michigan has some of the most arcane home rule laws that created thousands of 36 square mile “kingdumbs” (pun intended) that fight with each other like cats and dogs and seldom do the right thing.
  • This nation very nearly turned its collective back on the auto industry due to political self-interest, mostly from conservatives. Funny how these same self-righteous types expect and demand financial help when they have economic and natural disasters in their own states.
  • As a state and nation we allowed expressways, poorly placed factories, urban renewal projects, sports stadiums, and other projects to carve up and displace perfectly healthy inner city neighborhoods leaving a tattered and disjointed landscape.
  • Residents/politicians living in outstate Michigan from Detroit would short-sightedly say, act, and vote as if Detroit was not their problem too.
  • In Southeast Michigan, leaders and residents alike outside of Wayne County often could care less what happened south of Eight Mile.


  • One of the best interurban transit systems in the nation was torn up replaced by diesel belching buses that have as many endearing qualities as a lump of coal.
  • Corporations ran away in the 60s and 70s…with some finally seeing the light of their actions in the 00s and 10s.
  • Half of Detroit’s professional sport franchises left for the ‘burbs with one (Pistons) still practically playing closer to Flint than Detroit.
  • Far too many lenders and insurance companies red-lined inner city neighborhoods.
  • Shady lenders who offered inner city loans foreclosed on homeowners the first chance they got.
  • Absentee landlords let their properties decline into disrepair and blight.
  • Politicians shied away from making the tough decisions.
  • Rhetoric replaced reason in far too many discussions about Detroit.
  • Too many people in Southeast Michigan acted like the city was an island unto itself, when, like it or not, their collective futures are inexorably linked to Detroit’s fate.
  • Up until recent years, the national media tended to solely focus on the bad news  about Detroit. There are many, MANY great things about Detroit. Piling on does nothing to reverse problems, it only reinforces incorrect perceptions and stereotypes.
  • Has the American Planning Association (APA) ever held its national conference in Detroit? If not, SHAME on us for never having done so!

Shall I go on?

This entry was posted in adaptive reuse, Advocacy, architecture, art, Cars, cities, civics, commerce, culture, diversity, downtown, economic development, Economy, entrepreneurship, geography, globalization, government, historic preservation, history, homelessness, Housing, humanity, inclusiveness, infrastructure, land use, new urbanism, placemaking, planning, politics, poverty, racism, revitalization, spatial design, sports, sprawl, States, sustainability, transit, transportation, urban planning, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Shared responsibility for Detroit’s plight

  1. Klaus says:

    Great to see your post. I was thinking of you with all the talk about Detroit lately. I agree that Detroit is not alone in the blame but all those policies you so aptly list. Baltimore is too close for comfort and we should all hope that the bigger lessons will be learned.


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