Is gentrification helping or dividing Detroit?


Detroit is changing. But not all agree that everyone will benefit from the city’s downtown resurgence following bankruptcy.

Outside of Detroit, it’s hard to find a metro-area resident who isn’t optimistic about the city’s future.  A new hockey arena, trendy restaurants and housing under construction all over downtown, Midtown and nearby neighborhoods.

What’s not to love?

Inside Detroit, that can be a complicated question.

Amid the city’s revival following bankruptcy, some longtime residents are asking: What about us? Rents are rising. And new developments may not only be improving the central city but forcing out longtime residents.

Downtown vs. Neighborhoods likely will be a central theme in Mayor Mike Duggan’s re-election campaign this year. The one-term mayor has demolished nearly 10,000 houses, fixed streetlights and launched programs to increase home ownership, but critics including challenger, state Sen. Coleman A. Young II, say the improvements mostly benefit affluent neighborhoods.

This month, Duggan launched his first targeted neighborhood improvement effort, the $4 million  Fitzgerald neighborhood project, which aims to eradicate blight, landscape vacant lots and install a small park and bike path in the northwest Detroit neighborhoods.

Beneath the debate are hard questions about winners and losers in a chronically poor city, and whether civic improvements inevitably cause gentrification.

Bridge recently spoke to two writers who’ve looked at Detroit’s limited turnaround and drawn different conclusions about it.

Journalist Peter Moskowitz, in his new book “How to Kill a City,” criticizes the resources being focused on Detroit’s core city, in the form of tax breaks, infrastructure improvement and media attention, while outer neighborhoods decline.

Urban-affairs economist Joe Cortright recently wrote an article for City Observatory acknowledging that Detroit’s recovery is unequal but contending recovery of any sort is preferable to the alternative of the last 40 years – continued decline, ever-more-entrenched poverty and all the social ills that follow.

Bridge spoke to both by phone. Their interviews have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Click here for the discussion with Cortright Click here for the discussion with Cortright

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John Hulett
Thu, 04/20/2017 - 10:22am

This is one of the best articles I have read on the value of the rich to the poor.

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 8:17am

I don't think you could have come up with a better picture of stereotyped young hipsters. LOL

Kevin Grand
Sat, 04/22/2017 - 2:37pm

What I found humorous in reading both pieces is that given the multiple economic rises and falls of Detroit since its founding, not only are BOTH writers are essentially arguing for the same thing (more governmental involvement), but they BOTH fail to take into account that Detroit had turned itself around numerous times previously WITHOUT it.

The point that Mr. Cortright dances around is that the "wealthy" didn't just decide one day to pack up and move into the city. They did so because they were able to cajole some politician into giving them very favorable government assistance. Some quick examples of this are the subsidies that went into the Little Caesars Arena and the "Gilbert" Bills.

On the flip side of the equation, Mr. Moskowitz argues for things like rent control, D15 and graduated taxation (w/o calling it as such).

Does anyone remember reading about such things when Detroit grew during the early part of the last century?

Or when those ideas were tried during the end of it, people couldn't leave fast enough.

How does that saying go again about "...failing to learn from the lessons from history"?