Brian Doucet

Urban Geographer

Why Detroit Matters:

a photo tour of the motor city

Detroit: a regional metropolis

The City of Detroit has a population of around 700,000 and lies in a region of about 4.2 million people. That means that over 80% of the region's population lives outside Detroit itself. It is important to stress that many of the more than 1 million Detroiters who left the city since 1950 didn't move very far; as Detroit decline, its suburbs boomed.

This didn't just 'happen.' Generous tax subsidies that favoured whites more than blacks, restrictive covenants which prohibited houses from being sold to African Americans, violence and intimdation, racist politicians, the construction of freeways through the heart of the city and into the suburbs, the dismantling of Detroit's streetcar network all contributed to the region's current situation. Greater Detroit is the most racially segregated region in the United States. The city is around 83% African American while the suburbs are over 80% white.

And, like most American regions, Greater Detroit has no regional government. Municipalities on the fringes of the region can build more homes or give tax breaks to businesses without having to consult other jurisdictions within Greater Detroit. That means that each municipality ends up competing with each other, to the detrement of the entire region. Each year new houising continues to be built on the edges of the suburbs, while the region's population has remained stagnant for more than 40 years. With all this new development on the periphery, it is easy to see why there is so much abandonment in the core. Regional fragmentation is one of the key obstacles to Detroit's current and future vitality. The ruined neighbourhoods and abandoned homes in Detroit which we saw during the last part of the tour are as much a political issue as they are an econmic one. This part of the tour is all about placing Detroit in a wider regional context.