Detroit is the darling of the national media. But can its comeback benefit longtime residents?
That’s a defining question these days in Detroit, whose revival from bankruptcy just a few years ago is prompting difficult questions about whether the city’s rising tide can lift all.
To be sure, any talk about revitalization must acknowledge there’s still a long way to go.
Because while poverty has declined to 35.7 percent in 2016 and neighborhood services are improving, some say it’s difficult to argue that Detroit is gentrifying in any traditional sense – an influx of new residents who descend into neighborhoods and price out longtime neighbors.
“If the definition of gentrification is that people are getting displaced because of a rise of taxes or property values, we’re not really seeing that anywhere,” said Sam Butler, executive director of Doing Development Differently in Metro Detroit (D4), a nonprofit that advocates for policies that protect long-term residents.
In some ways, voters weighed in on the debate last month, with the overwhelming re-election of Mayor Mike Duggan (who scoffs at talk of “Two Detroits”) over state Sen. Coleman A. Young III (whose campaign was based on the argument that city policies favor a prosperous few.)
Butler wants the discussion continue. His group, known as D4, led community conversations this fall about so-called equitable development – requiring input from neighbors, local hiring and other benefits before the city grants subsidies to developments. More forums are planned early next year.
Done right, development downtown and Midtown should help all residents, Butler argued.
Eric Seymour contends the focus on the city’s core detracts attention and resources from neighborhoods.
Seymour, a researcher at Brown University, has studied Detroit for years. He argues that displacement in Detroit isn’t from gentrification, but tens of thousands of poor people losing their homes and apartments because of a housing crisis that is still unfolding. City leaders, he argued, are doing next to nothing to stop the hemorrhaging.
Bridge Magazine recently talked to both about Detroit and its future. Follow the links below for the conversations.