By Kaid Benfield
We're often told that Detroit has been abandoned—but the metro area is stable, and addressing sprawl is still a challenge.
At the bottom of this post are two short videos about Detroit, both featuring architect and planner Mark Nickita, principal of the city's Archive Design Studio and a lifelong Detroit resident. In a very refreshing change from the mind-numbing negativity one usually hears about the city, Nickita is upbeat and hopeful. His point of view, emphasizing revitalization, is much closer to my own than much of what I read, which effectively takes the approach that the city has somehow been abandoned beyond redemption, leaving the only question how to manage its more-or-less permanent shrinkage.
But it's not that simple.
There has indeed been a decline in part of the region. In 1970, 1,670,144 people lived within the city limits of Detroit. By 2010, that number had declined to 713,777, an astounding apparent loss of some 57 percent of the 1970 population. Recently, much has been made the 25 percent population decline over the last decade, from 2000 (951,270) to 2010.
But the extent to which Detroit is such a tragically "shrinking city" depends on your definition of "city." The population of metropolitan Detroit—the jurisdictional inner city and its immediate suburbs—did decline from 1970 to 2010, but only from 4,490,902 to 4,296,250, a loss of only 4 percent. Big difference.
Do the math: What that means is that, while the inner city's population was declining so drastically, its suburbs added some 761,000 people, growing at the handsome rate of 27 percent. (In the most recent decade of 2000-2010, the suburbs added some 91,000 people, or between 2 and 3 percent.) Patrick Cooper-McCann writes on his blog Rethink Detroit that, far from shrinking, the physical size of metro Detroit grew by 50 percent in those 40 years. As I've written before, neither the economy nor the environment pay attention to jurisdictional lines; neither should analysts.
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