Skip to content

Detroit’s Recovery

Posted in Posts, and Syllabus Schedule


The eye opening drive through the city of Detroit during our weeklong trip perfectly showcased the devastation and the challenges that the city faces. The trip was particularly poignant for me because of the striking similarities between my city, New Orleans, and Detroit.

The drive through Indian village, I saw a beautiful neighborhood bordered by crumbling buildings and abandoned homes. Everywhere I looked, I saw the abandoned street blocks, some with only one house in livable condition. It reminded me of the moment I returned home to New Orleans a few months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and disproportionately affected the some of the poorer areas.

The similarities did not stop there: During the last decade following hurricane Katrina, the population in New Orleans decreased by almost 30%, which parallels Detroit’s 25% population decline in the past 10 years.

After viewing the city and the extent of the decline, I couldn’t help but wonder if Detroit will ever make a full recovery some day.



  1. oliver

    I think that Detroit will never return to its heyday. At the Detroit Institute of Arts in the exhibition Motor City Muse: Detroit Photographs, Then and Now there were exercises in rephotography; pictures that showed the city in the mid 20th century bustling and pictures just recently taken of the same places showed just a shadow of past activity. With time more and more mechanization will take place in factories and I doubt the population of the city will ever approach peak levels, which is a real problem for the city which can’t pay its debt and has large numbers of pension responsibilities to retired public servants.

    May 14, 2013
  2. gjeong

    As professor Smitka mentioned yesterday, the decline in Detroit was not sudden. It took a long time for Detroit to become a “devastated” city. Remembering what I saw from DIA, I also agree with Oliver and Professor Smitka that it is not possible for Detroit to recover unless something happens (like government’s involvement?). By recovery, I meant it will be extremely difficult for Detroit to go back to its 1 million population days.

    May 14, 2013
  3. We aren’t focused on urban economics – perhaps Prof. Shester will offer a course at some point – but a city has tremendous fixed costs. In addition, the down cycle was not governed by any local planning, so no neighborhood in Detroit is totally gone. As a result, it’s hard to close down police and fire stations, or elementary schools, because they need to be close to where people live.

    On top of that Detroit has had a couple decades of corrupt government – Louisiana doesn’t exactly have a reputation for clean government, either, but Detroit is exceptional, with the previous mayor and various close associates in prison, or heading that way. Many, many millions were embezzled, and lots frittered away on projects inappropriate to the city’s needs.

    Politically the state of Michigan doesn’t want to help Detroit (and is itself hurting), and the Federal government is nowhere to be seen. A slow disaster does not qualify for FEMA assistance. There’s no money to tear down the odd abandoned house in an otherwise intact neighborhood, and that makes it harder for adjacent houses to avoid blight – they lose their resale value. Teachers can’t be paid, with the connivance of city officials the warehouse that’s supposed to hold books and supplies is empty, and with the collapse of employment homes are unstable. Kids suffer.

    Cruise the city and count the grocery stores. In some neighborhoods one hand suffices. For those interested, read a new book (2013), Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff. I didn’t pick it up until long after I had to order books for the class, but it’s a riveting read.

    May 15, 2013
  4. kuveke

    Maybe the city of Detroit should not spend resources trying to remove its fixed costs but rather try to draw people back into the city. Detroit has a horrible reputation throughout the country (on youtube we’re not detroit is a popular phrasing. Don’t believe me? Watch this While Detroit was a lot better than what I’ve heard its difficult to escape perception and it doesn’t help that for the past few years Detroit has ranked in the top 3 U.S. cities for violent crime.

    May 15, 2013
  5. tyler

    I agree with Paul, Detroit has some wonderful things to offer, but it will never return to its former glory until it can escape its less then attractive past. The auto industry hurt Detroit in more then one way in this regard. People see the Detroit 3 as an extension of Detroit itself. At the congressional meetings when people became angry and frustrated with the Detroit 3, they were becoming angry at Detroit by extension.

    May 17, 2013
  6. tommd13

    Detroit went from millions of people to around 800,000 people and though it was over a long period of time, it took a toll on the city. We drove through many abandoned areas and rough areas just seeing the sites. One thing I found very interesting though was the Heidelberg project. Tyree was an incredible man to meet and really helped open our eyes to “The Real World.” He picked our brains and truly made us think, especially Shipp. Shipp would have an answer and he would ask him to dissect it more and more. The man was also a great artist and very down to earth.

    May 17, 2013

Comments are closed.