Detroit rising?

Last week Matthew wrote of the growing interest at U of M’s Ross School of Business in Detroit. And USA Today recently did an article on the growing number of young entrepreneurs choosing to start businesses in Detroit. It’s title: Entrepreneurs feed Detroit’s extreme makeover. This is the good news about the future of Detroit. It, of course, is completely eclipsed in our public conversation by the reality of Detroit’s collapse documented by the awful 2010 Census data.

But the reality is both are true. Lots of folks this past decade moved out of the city. But at the same time there are folks – so far way too few– that want to move in. The big picture story of the continuing depopulation of the city is that the groups that are leaving cities across the country are leaving in far higher proportions in Detroit and the groups that are moving into cities across the country are moving in far smaller proportions into Detroit. The future of Detroit in large part will be determined by its ability to attract those who want to live in central cities. Create a place where they want to live, Detroit can prosper, don’t and it will continue its collapse.

Families with children – of all races – are leaving central cities across the country. That includes world class cities like Chicago. But as they leave, vibrant cities are attracting new residents. Primarily immigrants, college educated households without children and gays. Detroit’s collapse comes from participating at a high level in the first trend. And hardly participating at all in the second.

Detroit’s decline was neither inevitable nor irreversible. In many ways it is the result of decades of bad decisions, primarily by the city but also the region and state. This can and needs to be reversed. As we have written previously that means first and foremost becoming welcoming to all, development friendly and committed to providing quality basic services. These are the pillars around which you build vibrant central cities. Detroit has been bad at all three for a long time.

The reaction of Declare Detroit is exactly what the city needs now. Rather than whining about the Census data, own it! Admit we are responsible for the decline and commit to go in a different direction. We need to develop an agenda to make the city great again and get organized to implement it.

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