Brian Doucet

Urban Geographer

Why Detroit Matters:

a photo tour of the motor city

Introduction to the Motor City

This tour will give you a look at Detroit and its suburbs in order to better understand what has happened to the city, and what it means for other places. Detroit was founded in 1701 by the French. It grew wealthy through the timber trade in the mid to late 19th Century; that wealth created the venture capital to invest in the latest technology of the day: the automobile. Henry Ford, the Dodge brothers, William Durant and others developed the car at the start of the 20th century. Their factories drew hundreds of thousands of migrants to Detroit, creating vast amounts of wealth and made the city one of the fastest growing in the world. Downtown grew upward and city neighbourhoods sprung up across Detroit, enabling ordinary factory workers to pursue the American Dream. Deindustrialisation, race relations, political mismanagement and regional fragmentation have all contributed to Detroit's decline, which began shortly after World War II. Today, the city's population is less than 40% of its peak, reached in the 1950s. After several decades of decline, Downtown Detroit is undergoing rapid gentrification and change. Long abandoned buildings have been restored and new businesses and residents are moving it. While this is often celebrated, Detroit's current 'renaissance' comprises less than 10% of the city. Many Detroit neighbourhoods struggle with disinvestment, tax foreclosure, crime and abandonment. In 2016 alone, roughly 10% of the city's population faces eviction through tax foreclosure.

Click on the first photo below to start the tour!