OT: City of Detroit Epic Comeback? (Business Insider)

Submitted by Ron_Lippitt on June 14th, 2013 at 9:45 AM
Business Insider give us its list of why they believe Detroit is on the verge of an "epic comeback."


Those of us who have been holding our breath, waiting for a Motown return to greatness, will likely be waiting a few decades longer. But reading through this list, it's hard not to get at least a smidge optimistic about the city's future.

We'll never be Chicago. But maybe we could be Indy. Or Pittsburgh.



June 14th, 2013 at 6:08 PM ^

...?  Overall trends in the US indicate that people are absolutely fleeing the Rust Belt (excluding Chicago) to the south.  Has Michigan had positive population growth in the past two decades?  The weather... honestly sucks; out of the 50 biggest cities in the US, Detroit has to be bottom 10 for weather.  There isn't a seaport, it isn't a railhub, the airport isn't a major hub, manufacturing and steel which were very reliant on the Great Lakes for transportation are no longer major industries.  What geography as you talking about?  The fact that there's plenttttyyyyyy of open space to build in the city?


June 14th, 2013 at 9:59 AM ^

While there are good things happening in Detroit, the fact is that the numbers make a comeback an epic challenge. It's a city who's infrastructure was built to support several million people. There are now 700,000ish. Even without majorly depressed property values, collecting enough revenue to support all the road/sewer/water system is a major issue. It's going to take a pretty long time for this to be corrected.

/ Policy nerdery. I hope that didn't cross the no politics line.


June 14th, 2013 at 11:10 AM ^

100% true. (Coming from another policy nerd). The city is almost going to have to consolidate within it's boundaries and that could be an incredibly difficult and slow process. One idea that I've heard thrown around is more urban farming to support a sustainable food system within the city. It can make the open space much more asthetically pleasing and provide access to food that a lot of people don't have. Check out "Detroit City is the Place To Be" by Mark Spinelli, it's very well written and a quick read. 


June 14th, 2013 at 12:39 PM ^

Detroit has to walk such a fine line in this area.  I think everyone would agree that if they could just cut off services to huge swaths of the city, and focus police coverage, lighting, etc. on populated areas, there are huge efficiencies and savings to be found.

The problem is you can't just force someone out.  Taxpaying (theoretically) citizens can't be just told they're not getting services.  On the other hand, you've got perhaps a few thousand holdouts eating up maybe a quarter of the city services budget.  (That may be extreme; it's just a guess.)  It's not fair to the other residents to have one stubborn resident holed up on one block.  It's a major conundrum.


June 14th, 2013 at 3:56 PM ^

You can do eminent domain for public projects; you can even use eminent domain to take land from someone and give it to someone else when that someone else has a big redevelopment plan in mind.  (I won't bring my full opinion on Kelo v. New London to bear here due to politics, but suffice to say, boo. I don't think eminent domain should be used lightly.)  But it would be a first in the courts for a city to take land and try to argue that "nothing" is a better public use of the land than what the owner was doing with it.  That would be a court battle for the ages.  Not sure the city could win, either.

Better idea perhaps would be to write a city rule declaring certain areas as zones where people who currently live there will be grandfathered in but once the occupant moves out, the city moves in, pays fair price, and shuts the area down.  Again, though, a halfway decent lawyer might argue illegal takings.


June 14th, 2013 at 4:34 PM ^

The Supreme Courts of Illinois, Michigan (County of Wayne v. Hathcock (2004)), Ohio (Norwood, Ohio v. Horney (2006)), Oklahoma, and South Carolina have recently ruled to disallow such takings under their state constitutions.

Maybe a member of the Michigan Bar can shed light on the Court's rationale for prohibiting eminent domain for improving blighted areas.

Foote Fetish

June 14th, 2013 at 3:18 PM ^

I hadn't heard of using urban farming as a solution to blight, which is actually pretty intriguing to me.

You guys are right, though.  We're essentially talking about regrowing a city, and no city starts out at 140 square miles.  For services to operate properly, the population needs to be consolidated and there's not really an easy way to do that.

What they need - which has been said earlier - are people and jobs, which provides revenue which means they can start paying for things again.  The nice thing is there have been signs of progress made there in midtown, downtown and a couple of other places.  To me, what inspires the most optimism are things like the Riverfront projects or the Marche du Nain Rouge (which is a lot of fun if you've never been.  I was in town this year for the Marche, stayed in a hotel on the riverfront, walked everywhere I needed to go and had a great time while I was at it.)

If Detroit can get the city government to a point where it can function and stay out of the way, I think the city has a good chance of attracting more people and becoming something unique.  I don't think it will ever be Chicago or New York, but hopefully it can at least be Detroit.


June 14th, 2013 at 10:03 AM ^

Detroit residents elect awful leaders year after year. Until that changes, the city won't recover.

Plus, the job growth in the city is misleading. The lions share of the "new" jobs are Quicken related, with a bit of BCBSM thrown in as well. Outside of those two companies, there's not much growth. The moment the mortgage market begins to tank, the job number will shrink significantly.


June 14th, 2013 at 10:04 AM ^

The problem I have with this, amongst many things, is that they claim Detroit has strong leadership.  The two people that they mentioned in the article had to take over the city because of incompatent leadership at the city level.  Not to get too political, I will leave it at that.  Also claiming the city will rebound because of good sports teams is ridiculous.  For well over 20 years the Red Wings have been a cup contender year in and year out.  They have brought a lot of people back to the city, along with the Tigers doing well, and the Lions moving back into the city limits, but to say they will turnaround an entire city is ridiculous.  The turnaround of the auto industry benefits the entire region, not just the city of Detroit.  The only thing I got out the article that is truly helping the city is Dan Gilbert stepping up and purchasing properties downtown, and Jack White helping out the Masonic Temple.  If Detroit is truly going to turn around, it needs to start from the inside and at the top with the city leadership.  They need to work together for the common good, not what is going to benefit themselves economically or politically.  Detroit has a LONG way to go.


June 14th, 2013 at 10:05 AM ^

I will let this thread hang around for now because it is of regional interest to a fair number of people on this site. Hopefully, folks behave, as there is an interesting discussion to be had here, particularly if you live in SE Michigan.

One thing I can say is that if you read the operational plan from the EFM, one of the items in there actually affects my work personally - the city will be exiting the electric resale business. One of the proposals is to retire the PLD system and transfer their customers to our existing infrastructure in the city. It's a 3-5 year plan, from what I understand - it also includes trimming down the streetlight density to best serve more populated areas of the city. 

The Geek

June 14th, 2013 at 10:05 AM ^

I moved from the city in 1990, and returned in 2011. I couldn't believe how much the city had changed...

I love the city of Detroit, and want to believe in it's "comeback," but it's hard for me to imagine today. The argument that the Big 3 are profitable and selling cars doesn't hold water... American cars simply aren't being built in America like they were 40 years ago, and that likely won't change.

The article does a decent job of highlighting some of the great things about the city, and I consider myself an optimist (My wife and I were considering purchasing a beautiful home in Indian Village, only to change my mind, largely due to my three school-aged children.)

I just finished Charlie LeDuff's book Detroit: An American Autopsy, which I enjoyed, and paints a slightly different picture. In my opinion, if the Kevyn Orr can fix the ills plaguing the city government, then Detroit has a fighting chance. If he fails, who knows...



June 14th, 2013 at 2:24 PM ^

I was really torn about it.  Some of his facts were fudged, some of his analysis was wrong-ish, but when you hold up his narrative and put it all together, it's accurate.  And devastating.  I work in Detroit, but live in Ann Arbor.  I've seen it get better in the past ten years (at least in the central business corridor), but it's got a long way to go. 

Today's EM meeting with creditors could be a first step.  But even that process will take 3-4 years, at a minimum. 

Monocle Smile

June 14th, 2013 at 10:33 AM ^

The city needs more people to make its "epic comeback," but those people need a reason to move back into the city. Someone's going to have to take a substantial financial risk to boost the desireability of Detroit and hope people get drawn in. This is why Jack White's donation is so important; the city has produced a decent number of wealthy people whose fortunes could make a real difference here.

Of course, the problems start and end with the city council. Fire sale.


June 14th, 2013 at 10:24 AM ^

"Epic comeback" is really pushing it.  And a lot of those "reasons" ended up being out in the suburbs.  "Detroit" is not home to all those Fortune 500 companies, the area is.

It's nice to see the city getting some positive press.  But I get the sense that the article also implies the whole region is (or was) as troubled as the city.

I do think that a lot of the old thinking is starting to be marginalized in the city.  You don't see as much reticence toward "outsiders" - there's still plenty of it getting publicized, but now you look at these "protests" that make the news and it turns out that like two dozen people showed up.  I think people are seeing some of the positive effects of "outsider" change ("wow, I got my kid out of DPS and into a charter school and it's a hell of a lot better"), or else just sick and tired of seeing what happens when the old guard tells everyone to piss off, or whatever.  But I believe there's more openness in the city than before, which is a big step in improving things.


June 14th, 2013 at 10:47 AM ^

They're going to restructure most of that debt (which is mostly pension obligations anyway).  On a going forward basis, they need to increase their tax base and reduce the tax rates. 

The key is really jobs.  When a kid graduates from UofM or MSU, they will ask themselves, where should I go for the best chance at getting a job?  Most of them choose Chicago, some stay in Ann Arbor (or other Michigan suburbs) and others chase the coasts.  How many of them say Detroit? 

Those are the kids you want to fill up your demographic.  Once they get married and have kids, they will buy houses, furniture, and eat out at restaurants... and their consumption fuels growth year after year. 


June 14th, 2013 at 10:29 AM ^

I'm not from Detroit and don't live within 1,000 miles of the place...so I have no skin in the game. But Detroit has lots of land and lots and lots of fresh water. If you have those two things, you will always have a city. 

Yes, you have to undo decades of political and criminal and union corruption. No, it's not going to be like it was back in the day...but maybe that's a good thing. 

One thing...whenever people talk about the mass exodus from Detroit, it's important to note that the population decrease has taken place in the city limits. But since 1980, the population of the Detroit METRO area has largely stayed the same. Eventually, it will be make more economic sense to move back within the city limits and start filling in those massive gaps currently being occupied by weeds, broken glass and burned out homes. 

The influx of young, creative people looking for cheap housing is what fueled a renaissance (of sorts) in both Philly and Pittsburgh. Detroit could see the same thing going on. You need to stabilize your society. That means figuring out a way to address the crime (on some level). There's a whole generation of people that are swirling the drain in a vicious cycle. That has to stop as well. 

But you've got land and water. Ask Texas how important that is. Remember when Austin was the place that everyone wanted to move to? Well, it bursts into flames every summer.....

Of course, this is also an article that claims Houston is the *best* city in America. It's easily the ugliest city I've ever been in.


June 14th, 2013 at 12:13 PM ^

As you noted, jobs are the key.  Detroit may be the crown jewel of midwestern rust belt cities in terms of how far the city has fallen, but what has happened in Detroit parallels Cleveland, Cincinnati and dozens of other cities throughout the midwest, New England, etc..  Much manufacturing is being done offshore and getting it back seems more like wishful thinking than economic reality.  

In the short term, consolidation seems like a better appoach so that infrastructure support is less expensive.  Then there is the issue of Detroit's eroding tax base.  I'll keep my fingers crossed but don't feel terribly exuberant about the city's chances of an easy or quick turnaround.


June 14th, 2013 at 11:20 AM ^

Young people could be the key to the turnaround in the city. Cheap rent is one of the major draws to Detroit, along with the opportunity to live in an urban environment with so much rich history.

Universities (including U of M) have programs that send students to Detroit for summers to take classes, work internships, participate in service projects, etc. These little things make a difference. Companies like Quicken Loans have helped too by providing benefits to relocate employees within city boundaries. 

Crime is an interesting dilemma in Detroit. We obviously all know about the dangers of the city, but unless you venture too far off the beaten path you should typically be ok. The statistics and portrayal of crime in the media really is terrifying though and gives the city a terrible stigma that really can't be shaken, especially from people who didn't grow up near Detroit or visit it often.

I'm optimistic about the city's return, but not in the short term.

snarling wolverine

June 14th, 2013 at 11:20 AM ^

To get people to move back in, city services have to improve.  The crime rate remains appallingly high, and things like replacing broken streetlights and plowing after snowfall are iffy.  And then there's the public schools . . . yikes.

Mayor Bing's plan to consolidate residential areas was a good idea.  Hopefully the new mayor will do likewise.  The parts of the city with extremely low population density should be turned into parks or something.  The city can't provide adequate services to an entire 139-square-mile area as it is.


June 15th, 2013 at 12:02 AM ^

I live in Ann Arbor but work in Detroit.  I've thought about what it would take for me to consider moving to an ok neighborhood in Detroit and the answer was "The Schools".  If the State and local governments can fix the schools, make them some of the best in the Michigan, then I think we would see an influx of younger families who work in the area or immigrants who are moving to the US.


June 14th, 2013 at 11:04 AM ^

I've been working in the hood for the last 10 years, and these are some things I've seen change recently (for the good):

Police actually patrolling I75 and <gasp> pulling people over for speeding

The "Slow's effect" on the immediate surrounding area

I actually saw kids playing in the street yesterday on Scotten (which is where our plant is located). 

Delapidated houses are starting to get demoilished (at least in the area I'm located.  Still a LOT more to go)

Right across the street from our building is a couple burned out and abandoned homes.  Just this morning I was considering going downtown to inquire into buying those two.  In MY opinion, I think we may have reached the bottom here in Detroit.  It might be time to invest.


June 14th, 2013 at 11:33 AM ^

looks like you need to replace the roof and gut the interior.  i'd be worried about weather damage on the inside w/ those broken windows all winter.  need to check for mold and water damage.  otherwise, there is some potential depending on how cheap u can buy it for.


June 14th, 2013 at 1:13 PM ^

I think it'll be a while before land values increase notably in the parts of the city that have been devastated by blight and neglect. If you can afford to have a very long-term view—twenty years at least—buying cheap isn't a bad idea.


June 14th, 2013 at 12:07 PM ^

In MY opinion, I think we may have reached the bottom here in Detroit. It might be time to invest.

Unless you're talking about an area in very close proximity to downtown/the riverfront, I'd be careful. I don't really know what can be done about the neighborhoods elsewhere in the city. Why would someone with the means choose to live by, say, Seven Mile when they can move just a couple miles north and live in a much safer area with better schools and better shopping?  Until there's a compelling reason to convince people in the outlying neighborhoods to stay, they'll continue to lose population.



June 14th, 2013 at 11:17 AM ^

to buy a rowhouse in Baltimore and I can only hope for the same. People have been trying to revive Baltimore for decades. Detroit isn't that bad. Parts of Baltimore would make the Detroit slums look like Disneyland.