A Metro Detroit Business Owner on the Talent-Repelling Effect of Sprawl

The owner of a patent law firm in recession-battered metro Detroit may have to leave Michigan, and it’s not because of the taxes, says Andrew Basile, Jr. His firm, which employs 40 people in the city of Troy, spends “more on copiers and toner than we do on state taxes.” The problem, Basile says, is that the firm can’t attract talent to Michigan because of the “poor quality of place” and “car culture” that prevails in the region.

In a letter to nonprofit Michigan Future, Inc., Basile vents his frustration with a leadership climate that has gone “berserk on suburbia.” (Basile is also the brains behind the Woodward Project, an initiative aimed at developing a vibrant livable center for Detroit.)

This instructive letter, sent by email under the subject line “Why our growing firm may have to leave Michigan,” explains how places like Detroit pay an economic price for lagging behind other regions on livability. Reprinted with permission of the author:

All…

Our recruiters are very blunt. They say it is almost impossible to recruit to Michigan without paying big premiums above competitive salaries on the coasts.

People – particularly affluent and educated people – just don’t want to live here. For example, below are charts of migration patterns based on IRS data. Black is inbound, red is outbound. Even though the CA economy is in very bad shape, there is still a mass migration to San Francisco vs. mass outbound migration from Oakland County (most notably to cities like SF, LA, Dallas, Atlanta, NY, DC, Boston, and Philly). San Fran only seems to be losing people to Portland, a place with even more open space and higher quality urban environments.

Net migration to San Francisco: The black lines represent inward migration and the red lines outward migration.

The situation for Michigan is even worse than it seems because those lines are net migration…

Net migration from Oakland County, Michigan.

There’s a simple reason why many people don’t want to live here: it’s an unpleasant place because most of it is visually unattractive and because it is lacking in quality living options other than tract suburbia. Some might call this poor ‘quality of life.’ A better term might be poor ‘quality of place.’ In Metro Detroit, we have built a very bad physical place. We don’t have charming, vibrant cities and we don’t have open space. What we do have are several thousand miles of streets that look like this:

Having moved here from California five years ago, I will testify that Metro Detroit is a very hard place to live. Ask any former Detroiter in California, and you will hear a consistent recital of the flaws that make Metro Detroit so unattractive. Things are spread too far apart. You have to drive everywhere. There’s no mass transit. There are no viable cities. Lots of it is really ugly, especially the mile after mile of sterile and often dingy suburban strip shopping and utility wires that line our dilapidated roads (note left, below). There’s no nearby open space for most people (living in Birmingham, it’s 45 minutes in traffic to places like Proud Lake or Kensington). It’s impossible to get around by bike without taking your life in your hands. Most people lead sedentary lifestyles.

There’s a grating ‘car culture’ that is really off-putting to many people from outside of Michigan. I heard these same complaints when I left 25 years ago. In a quarter century, things have only gotten considerably worse. Ironically, California is supposed to be a sprawling place. In my experience they are pikers compared to us. Did you know that Metro Detroit is one half the density of Los Angeles County?

The fundamental problem, it seems to me, is that our region has gone berserk on suburbia to the expense of having any type of nearby open space or viable urban communities, which are the two primary spatial assets that attract and retain the best human capital. For example, I noted sadly the other day that the entire Oakland Country government complex was built in a field five miles outside of downtown Pontiac. I find that decision shocking. What a wasted opportunity for maintaining a viable downtown Pontiac, not to mention the open space now consumed by the existing complex. What possibly could have been going through their minds? Happily, most of the men who made those foolish decisions 30 or 40 years ago are no longer in policy-making roles.

A younger generation needs to recognize the immense folly that they perpetrated and begin the costly, decades long task of cleaning up the wreckage. These are problems, sure, but they could be easily overcome, especially in Oakland County, which is widely recognized as one of the best-run large counties in the country. But despite our talents and resources, the region’s problem of place may be intractable for one simple, sorry reason: Our political and business leadership does not view poor quality of place as a problem and certainly lacks motivation to address the issue.

Indeed, Brooks Patterson — an otherwise extraordinary leader — claims to love sprawl and says Oakland County can’t get enough of it. These leaders presume that the region has ‘great’ quality of life (apparently defined as big yards, cul de sacs and a nearby Home Depot). In their minds, we just need to reopen a few more factories and all will be well. The cherished corollary to this is that Michigan and Metro Detroit have an ‘image’ problem and that if only people knew what great things were, they would consider living or investing here. The attitude of many in our region is that our problems are confined to Detroit city while the suburbs are thought to be lovely.

We don’t have a perception problem, we have a reality problem. Most young, highly talented knowledge workers from places like Seattle or San Francisco or Chicago find the even the upper end suburbs of Metro Detroit to be unappealing. I think long term residents including many leaders are simply so used to the dreary physical environment of southeast Michigan that it has come to seem normal, comfortable and maybe even attractive. Which is fine so long as we have no aspiration to attract talent and capital from outside our region.

My fears were confirmed when I began trying to gather local economic development literature to use as a recruiting tool. The deficits which so dog our region are sometimes heralded by this literature as assets. For example, some boosters trumpet our ‘unrivaled’ freeway system as if freeways and the sprawl they engender are ‘quality of life’ assets. In San Francisco, the place sucking up all the talent and money, they have removed — literally torn out of the ground — two freeways because people prefer not to have them. I noted one ‘Quality of Life’ page of a Detroit area economic development website featured a prominent picture of an enclosed regional shopping mall! Yuck. It’s theater of the absurd.

The people who put together that website must live in a different cultural universe from the high income/high education people streaming out of Michigan for New York, Chicago, and California. Not only is there no plan to address these issues, I fear that the public and their elected leaders in Michigan don’t even recognize the problem or want change. We have at least one bright spot in the nascent urban corridor between Pontiac and Ferndale, which is slowly building a critical mass of walkable urban assets. At the same time, there’s no coordinated effort to develop this. Indeed, MDOT officials lie awake at night thinking of ways to thwart the efforts of local communities along Woodward to become more walkable. Another symptom of the region’s peculiar and self-destructive adoration of the automobile. Even though the Big Three are a tiny shadow of their former selves, Michigan is still locked in the iron grip of their toxic cultural legacy.

I’d like to hang on another five years. I feel like we’re making a difference. But by the same token, I don’t see any forward progress or even a meaningful attempt at forward progress. It’s almost like the people running things are profoundly disconnected from the reality that many if not most talented knowledge workers find our region’s paradigm of extreme suburbanization to be highly unattractive. It seems to me that we are halfway through a hundred year death spiral in which the forces in support of the status quo become relatively stronger, as people with vision and ambition just give up and leave. As we descend this death spiral, we must in my mind be approaching the point of no return, where the constituency for reform dwindles below a critical threshold and the region’s path of self destruction becomes unalterable.

Thank you for considering my views. I welcome any opportunity to be of help to any efforts you may have to fix this.

Andrew Basile, Jr.

Andrew R. Basile, Jr.
Young Basile Hanlon & MacFarlane, P.C.
228 Hamilton Avenue, Suite 300
Palo Alto, California 94301

  • Basile does a fine job assessing the mediocrity of Metro Detroit suburbs. While downtown and Midtown Detroit have their own issues, at least these areas are heading in the right direction. I plan on asking if his firm has considered a move out of Oakland County and back to the city, not unlike what other major firms (e.g. Quicken Loans) have done recently.

  • icarus12

    Detroit died, not because it built highways, but rather because its white population left in droves. Whites did so, starting in the 1950s, long before the car companies fell on hard times. Yes, they left via interstates, but the push came from fear and loathing toward black people, as well as problems of the city and the lure of a pleasant life in the suburbs. After the 1967/68 race riots, the white exodus became a flood. The existence of highways facilitated the leave-taking but did not cause the yearning to leave.

    If you think highways and strip malls and auto culture are the cause of Detroit’s problems, you need to look at powerful counter-examples. Houston, Dallas, Atlanta — all have sprawl and, for me, unappealing traffic and car culture. But each of these cities is growing rapidly and attracting lots of educated people to their thriving economies.

    And before any San Francisco resident gloats about how great it is here, look at the Census figures that show San Francisco grew about 1% this past decade, while Bakersfield used its wide open spaces to sprawl and experienced a 50% population gain.

  • NattyB

    @Adam,

    Sorry, but the white flight explanation it a tad overly reductionist.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/03/the-city-as-a-problem/72369/#

    And yah, I grew up in Oakland county and heard that tall tale many times.

    The sprawl, sure as F doesn’t help the D. We got tons of poor people. And, cars are expensive. And, we can’t have any suitable mass transit system because of all the space. There’s way too much space in Metro Detroit. You’re talking about a city that had at one time, 1.89M people, and now has less than 900,000. We have over capacity everywhere.

    Sprawl, in the D, is a major impediment to it’s re-development.

  • jd

    icarus12 wrote: “And before any San Francisco resident gloats about how great it is here, look at the Census figures that show San Francisco grew about 1% this past decade, while Bakersfield used its wide open spaces to sprawl and experienced a 50% population gain.”

    Ah, as an SF resident, you’re making my case! I don’t want this city to grow, especially not 50%! How can that possibly be sustainable? We have finite resources on this planet, and the whole damn economy of this country is built on the idea of growth. That is insane. Like a virus, growth is exponential until you kill the host or piss it off enough that it kills you, and then your growth is massively negative. We should not be striving for any growth, but stability. If we can’t learn to adapt our economy to that reality, the planet will force us on it in a much less pleasant way.

    However, I do agree that Basile certainly is playing the “grass is greener on the other side” card. SF certainly is much more progressive than most other US cities in many ways. But in some ways, SF is worse. For example, SF’s public transit is barely average, and for being so left-of-center and pro-environment, we literally epitomize the culture of materialism where everybody has to have the latest electronic gadget and the trendiest clothes, furniture, cars, etc. And look at how much people drive all over the Bay Area with our traffic and air quality still being some of the worst in the country. If reality actually lived up to SF’s image, Caltrain wouldn’t be struggling to survive and in fact would be expanding, hi-speed rail wouldn’t be stuck in the purgatory which is nimbyism, MUNI wouldn’t be utterly incompetent at providing reliable and frequent service, and getting bike lanes put in wouldn’t be so damn difficult. Further, look at how many people drive, drive, drive solo for 1-2 hours everyday, most of them young people who are paid well who have intentionally chosen such a lifestyle.

    So you’re right that SF shouldn’t gloat (well, we can gloat a little, as we certainly *did* rip up the absolute urban disaster that was putting a freeway (elevated no less) right along our beautiful waterfront), but not for the reason you mentioned.

  • jd

    Oh, by the way: I’d still rather live in SF than just about any other city in the US, certainly Detroit. So in that sense, the author has some good points.

    And though there are counter examples of cities with sprawl that are growing (e.g., Houston, Phoenix, etc.), they just have gotten into the game later than Detroit, so they are at the point now that Detroit was at 40 years ago. I think they too will find the same problems that are haunting Detroit will be haunting them soon, and by that time, I suspect Detroit will be well on its way to a full-blown renaissance or sustainable urban design and people there will be complaining about gentrification!

  • how is being anti-growth in SF progressive and pro-environment rather than just NIMBYist jd? I don’t get it. Unless you support real population reductions, if you support no growth in SF then you are directly supporting growth in sprawling places like Bakersfield. Simplistic anti-growth perspectives are anti-urban and anti-environmental as far as I’m concerned. You come off as a bizarre historical preservationist instead of someone thinking hard about our environmental and ecological future.

    J

  • EP

    I confess, I haven’t read through this article and all the comments as thoroughly as I should and normally would.

    I am someone who grew up in one of the suburbs of Detroit (Grosse Pointe, my parents were born and raised in Detroit, and were proud to have worked hard to be able to raise their children there) and have lived in NYC for 22 years. My parents, extended family and a number of friends are still based in the Detroit metro area.

    I’m not going to get into the MANY issues that have contributed to the decline of what was once a vibrant city (unfortunately, it wasn’t the one I ever knew). But aside from the larger issues, lack of public transportation is definitely one of them.

    I am happy and proud to see my former hometown try to address these issues. Detroit is not an easy city to love…but if you really know the city, there is still a passionate and vibrant community of people who want to help get Detroit back on its feet. I applaud the efforts that those who are still in Detroit and trying to make it a better place to live.

    When I was ‘home’ visiting this summer, it was the first time I had a desire to move back. I think and hope that Detroit is finally making the turn-around that will lead to it’s reinvention and comeback. It’s a long haul, but it’s starting.

    And this is a blog post that I came across that has a wonderful compilation of things in Detroit to see and do…I know this doesn’t address transportation issues, but I am tired of Detroit getting bashed and wanted to share some positive

    http://www.designspongeonline.com/2010/11/detroit-design-guide.html

  • As others noted, there are many counter-examples to the argument that high-end talent needs urban spaces.

    In particular, Silicon Valley has replicated Detroit auto-oriented development patterns, with companies locating in distant locations. The Googleplex is across the street from a trash dump, Yahoo’s buildings are all along freeway offramps, etc.

    It is also disingenuous to suggest Michigan suffers a brain-drain. The Univ. of Michigan generates a huge amount of R&D, and will continue to do so even if there are no streetcars or hip cafes. Science and engineering types don’t really have much time to go clubbing anyway.

  • Kenney

    Basile is my new hero. Great letter. However, there are some serious flaws (mostly with respect to things he didn’t mention, but also with respect to a few things he did mention) in his piece that opens his argument up to criticisms like Drunk Engineer’s. While it is certainly important to attract young talent from outside a city – and to retain the young talent that are native to a city, and who are looking to leave due to the conditions Basile mentions – there is an understandably negative perception that smart growth and transit serve only the interests of an elite class of young people who want to shop at pricey retailers, dine at pricey cafes, and get drunk at pricey clubs or bars, all within a stone’s throw of their apartment or row house. Forget taking transit to your destination, a lot of people want their destinations within walking distance, if not actually attached to their apartment (what I like to call ‘elevator/stairwell’ distance)!

    There’s definitely some pent up demand for that lifestyle, but that shouldn’t be the purpose or focus of smart growth and transit. Basile only perpetuates smart growth and transit’s perception problems when he says things like “People – particularly affluent and educated people – just don’t want to live here.” I, for example, left my hometown after college graduation for Washington, DC for many of the same reasons young people are leaving Detroit for places like DC, but I wasn’t then, and I’m not now, “affluent.” To be sure, I have more disposable income than many of my working peers who live in suburbia, not because I’m paid more, but because I don’t own a car, an annual savings of around $10,000 or more.

    The purpose of smart growth and transit is to rectify the mistakes of the past, which Basile eloquently describes, and to provide a foundation of sustainability for the future. But rectifying and sustainability for whom, exactly? For everybody! I understand that he may have been exaggerating to make his point, but this line from his letter sticks out like a sore thumb:

    “I think long term residents including many leaders are simply so used to the dreary physical environment of southeast Michigan that it has come to seem normal, comfortable and maybe even attractive. Which is fine so long as we have no aspiration to attract talent and capital from outside our region.”

    My answer to that is no, it’s NOT fine, irrespective of the region’s aspirations with respect to attracting talent and capital. It’s not fine because, despite the folly of the politicians and planners Basile references, most people understand (or should learn to understand) that they themselves are worth the investment, because they are the ones suffering from disinvestment (or investment in all the wrong infrastructure priorities). There are several other compelling reasons to pursue smart growth and transit apart from addressing Detroit’s brain drain. There are the negative equity impacts of auto-centrism, which have left racial minorities and low-income Americans segregated, and living in areas with no ready access to healthy options for food or physical activity. There are the psychological impacts that affect all people, stemming from the disconnected lifestyles facilitated by sprawl, not just between neighbors, but within households as well.

    Again, I loved Basile’s letter, and I understand that he was addressing the issue with respect to his specific concern over Michigan’s brain drain, but I would encourage future letter writers to present a more holistic view of the problem of sprawl.

  • v

    This letter kind of made me want to move to Detroit, if only because the writer obviously cares a great deal about making the city a good place to live. Everyone should care so much about their ‘place’ even when their place doesn’t seem like there’s much sense of place left in it. That’s a place worth supporting.

  • jd

    Justin wrote: “how is being anti-growth in SF progressive and pro-environment rather than just NIMBYist jd? I don’t get it.”

    I’ll say it again: the very foundation of sustainability is the premise that our resources are finite, so we must find a way to use them that does not require increasing consumption. And sustainability is THE basis of the environmental movement today. And maybe you’ve heard about environmental groups working against sprawl.

    Maybe I should be more clear: since we won’t stop population growth anytime soon, we must make sure we grow sustainability, ie, with high-density development around public transit and walking and not via car-centric sprawl (like Bakersfield). That is what I am against: growth via sprawl. And that is also what the environmental movement is against.

    What we must stop is the growth of resource consumption. Now, if your population is going to grow, then that means people need to consume less per capita (especially those of us who consume the most, like in North America). Or, you can shrink your population and consumer more. Whatever you do, the point is designing a culture and economy that not only works but *thrives* in such an environment. Right now, if you don’t grow, you’re not successful. I’m arguing that this needs to change given how it is inherently incompatible with a planet that has finite resources.

    “Unless you support real population reductions, if you support no growth in SF then you are directly supporting growth in sprawling places like Bakersfield.”

    I do support population reduction, and in fact it is also one of the biggest issues that all environmental movements are fighting. So does that mean the rest of your argument doesn’t apply (since you started your statement with “Unless”)?

    “Simplistic anti-growth perspectives are anti-urban and anti-environmental as far as I’m concerned. You come off as a bizarre historical preservationist instead of someone thinking hard about our environmental and ecological future.”

    Again, I’ll rephrase: in the near-term, since our population will grow and we can’t avoid it, I’m anti-sprawl (like Bakersfield) and pro dense urban growth (like SF). In the long-term, I’m in agreement with all environmental movements that we need to address population growth.

    I will also point out that SF simply cannot grow much because its boundaries are physically constrained and its density can hardly increase (it’s already the most dense city in the US besides NYC). So having the discussion that SF needs to grow is moot. But saying that we need to grow like Bakersfield is completely unsustainable and not, I believe, the future.

  • SteveS

    Increasing density decreases consumption, especially when it comes to energy use, where it is the single biggest factor. You can hardly be in favor of decreasing consumption without being in favor of increasing density.

    Why can San Francisco’s density hardly increase? In pointing out that San Francisco is second to New York in the US, it should be emphasized that it is 40% less dense than NYC and 75% less dense than Manhattan, which is a better comparison for such a small land area, all in a country with some of the lowest densities in the developed world. For a global perspective, SF is 70% less dense than Paris, which is hardly considered a over-dense hellhole of urbanism run amok.

  • jd

    SteveS: I think Howard Kunstler said it best here:
    http://www.grist.org/article/2011-03-09-james-howard-kunstler-we-need-a-new-american-dream

    Specifically:

    “From now on, we need desperately to tone down our grandiosity. We will discover to our dismay that all these skyscrapers — amazing feats that they might be — are liabilities, not assets. Our cities are going to contract a lot and the process will be painful in terms of lost notional wealth (and probably other ways, too). They have attained a scale that is inconsistent with the economic and energy realities of the future. The optimum building height, we will re-discover, is the number of stories most healthy people can comfortably walk up.”

    Sure, we can build more skyscrapers in SF, but I don’t think that’s the way to move forward, per Kunstler’s argument. Keeping buildings to 3 or 4 stories, with taller exceptions here and there, there really isn’t a whole lot of room in SF (without taking the parks, which I believe are critical to healthy living … in fact, I think we need more). And sure, I bet SF can increase it’s density a little more and still be a livable city without going to skyscrapers; I doubt we’ve maximized it completely.

    But my point is, it’s not going to be growing 10%, 20%, or anything more than a few percent a decade. And that’s just fine. No, it’s a great thing. The growth of the US population is finally settling down; it certainly isn’t growing 40% per decade like Bakersfield (it grew 10% in the last decade). And for the first time, our population growth is only caused by immigration, so there’s no doubt that our growth will slow down in the next decades.

    Like everything, we need to find the happen medium between wasteful sprawling suburbs and overly dense and hectic skyscraper-based cities like Manhattan. I think SF is doing a good job in this regard and is about as close to that middle ground as any city of comparable size. And so my point is: even though there is a lot of work to do, I think SF is doing a great job being a leader in how to develop our cities to be livable and sustainable. And I certainly don’t believe that you can criticize it for not growing enough.

  • SteveS

    Kunstler is just trying to rebut Ed Glaeser, and in my opinion he does a very poor job of it. Glaeser has presented us with ample, concrete facts on how tall buildings drastically reduce energy use and footprint, while Kunstler is only offering emotional critique based on his personal vision of the future.

  • estes kefauver

    Sprawl isn’t the cause of Detroit’s problems. Its problems were caused by the bulk of its main industry shifting overseas. Many people dislike sprawl, but it just isn’t a big-enough factor to play more than a marginal role in a region’s decline. There are plenty of cities, like Atlanta and Charlotte, that have been able to attract many newcomers despite being ugly, sprawling places. That’s because they have other advantages (the most significant one being the weather) that appeal to people more than sprawl turns them off.

    But although sprawl isn’t the main problem with Detroit, it could be part of the solution. Detroit can’t copy Charlotte’s weather, so it has to formulate an advantage in some other area in order to keep up. Not everyone likes dense walkable environments, but a lot of people do. Those cities that are able to become denser and more walkable can capture a pretty substantial niche market. Pittsburgh is a fairly livable city and is doing much better than Detroit is doing, despite sharing a lot of similarities with it – the steel industry left Pittsburgh just like the auto industry left Detroit. Pittsburgh still isn’t a fast-growing area like Atlanta is, but it’s stable.

  • jd

    SteveS wrote: “Kunstler is just trying to rebut Ed Glaeser, and in my opinion he does a very poor job of it. Glaeser has presented us with ample, concrete facts on how tall buildings drastically reduce energy use and footprint, while Kunstler is only offering emotional critique based on his personal vision of the future.”

    I don’t think Kunstler would disagree … *if* you disregard the energy and resources spent in building the skyscraper (which I presume Glaser is neglecting, correct?). Kunslter was trying to point out the costs of actually building the skyscraper. So I would agree that, if you neglect the costs of building the skyscraper — and then having to rebuilt it again when its lifetime is up — then a skyscraper is more energy efficient. But when you include the capital costs, it’s not so clear.

    Plus, there definitely is a livability issue with skyscrapers, in that that sort of density is not something most people want (or if they do, not for long). It’s just too intense.

    Estes: I’m trying to understand your argument, but you seem to contradict yourself. You start with, “Sprawl isn’t the cause of Detroit’s problems” and instead say that it’s because “the bulk of its main industry” shifted overseas. But then you end your comment by saying the same thing happened to Pittsburgh with regards to its industry shifting overseas, but then you say it’s doing well and point out that it is more livable. So that seems to make the case that making the city more livable is the difference between the two, which is the point of Basile’s letter.

  • SteveS

    Glaser addresses the initial costs of skyscrapers in this Atlantic article:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/03/how-skyscrapers-can-save-the-city/8387

    “The cheapest way to deliver new housing is in the form of mass-produced two-story homes, which typically cost only about $84 a square foot to erect. That low cost explains why Atlanta and Dallas and Houston are able to supply so much new housing at low prices, and why so many Americans have ended up buying affordable homes in those places.

    Building up is more costly… But many of these are fixed costs that don’t increase with the height of the building. In fact, once you’ve reached the seventh floor or so, building up has its own economic logic, since those fixed costs can be spread over more apartments… The actual marginal cost of adding an extra square foot of living space at the top of a skyscraper in New York is typically less than $400… The land costs something, but in a 40-story building with one 1,200-square-foot unit per floor, each unit is using only 30 square feet of Manhattan—less than a thousandth of an acre.”

    This still assumes you are only looking at the dollar cost, and not the environmental impacts of the building. Certainly those cheap homes in Dallas are externalizing a lot of environmental costs. And then we can begin considering how those homes use twice as much energy every year over their life.

  • estes kefauver

    It’s true that you don’t understand my argument, jd, but not because there are any contradictions in it.

    My point is that even if Detroit were a very nice urban place to live, it still would have lost population and its economy still would have suffered. You’ll notice from the map in the post that most of the people who moved away did not go to urban places. They went to places like Florida, Georgia, and Arizona.

    Thus, Basile is wrong when he says “The fundamental problem, it seems to me, is that our region has gone berserk on suburbia…” and likewise, when he says “”There’s a simple reason why many people don’t want to live here: it’s an unpleasant place because most of it is visually unattractive and because it is lacking in quality living options other than tract suburbia.” In fact, Detroit has many problems and there are many reasons why people haven’t wanted to live there; its lack of urbanism is not even close to being the biggest one on the list. You misread Basile when you say “making the city more livable is the difference between [Detroit and a city like Pittsburgh]” is his argument. That is not his argument. His argument is that the lack of urbanism is *the* fundamental problem of why Detroit has lost population and no one is moving there.

    However, now that Detroit has *already* lost so much, it can stanch the flow by becoming a more livable place. If it had been made livable years ago, it still would have shrunk by today. And making it more livable now will not make it rebound. The best it can do is prevent any further damage from occurring. As was the case with Pittsburgh.

    Or to put it in crude numerical terms, Detroit used to be a 9 in terms of desirability as a place to live. Today, if it were a livable urban place it would might be a 4. As a non-livable non-urban place, it’s more like a 1. Becoming more livable can get Detroit back to a 4. But it’s not going to get it back to 9. And if it had been made livable a decade ago, it still would be no higher than a 4 today.

  • Anya4yoga

    A great article. Even though the mood is grim, I feel that reflections like those expressed in this article are very important in changing the situation.
    What about Detroit’s used to be great museum? Is it still there? The music scene? Making electric cars? Wonderful responsible citizens like Michael Moore?

  • Good article. Hope you pursue your point of view.

    http://www.elawsuit.com

  • motorless

    Amen!

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

How Sprawl Got Detroit Into This Mess

|
It wasn’t de-industrialization that bankrupted Detroit, wrote Paul Krugman in a New York Times column yesterday. If that was all there is to it, then how do you explain the fact that Pittsburgh, once so dependent on the steel industry, is now recovering? No, what brought Detroit to this low point, more than the loss […]

Michigan Cities See Placemaking as the Way to a Brighter Future

|
There’s no consensus in the urban planning profession — or in public opinion more generally — about how to handle declining cities like Detroit. All sorts of solutions have been proposed, ranging from the outlandish (making Detroit a “skyscraper ruins park“) to the more widely accepted (converting vacant land into urban agriculture). But lately Michigan […]

Transit Vote 2016: With Historic Decision, Detroit Could Heal Old Divides

|
We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Detroit. Previous installments in this series examined Indianapolis and Seattle The four-county transit ballot measure before voters in Southeast Michigan this November is truly historic. It took 40 years and 23 failed attempts for Detroit and its suburbs to establish a […]