During our four weeks here, I have noticed a pretty jarring difference between people’s perception of Detroit. There is on one hand the optimism expressed by those working on reviving downtown, showcasing successful landmarks such as Campus Martius Park, the riverfront, Dequindre Cut, and all the development by Quicken Loans/Dan Gilbert. Then, you drive through a particularly bad neighborhood and are quickly reminded that the Downtown and Midtown areas are just small bubbles of development within a vastly struggling city.
The Detroit Journalism Cooperative is a collaboration of 5 media outlets reporting on community engagement opportunities concerning Detroit’s recovery after the bankruptcy. Their news is sorted into three “chapters:” Power, Police, and Poverty. When I started reading the news about poverty, I found the article “Poverty and joblessness, fuel for ‘67 riot, even worse today” by Bill McGraw. I was struck by how different its outlook was, especially after experiences like our Quicken Loans tour where a strong sense of optimism for Detroit’s revival persisted everywhere.
While the article recognizes there have been some improvements in police and inclusion of African Americans since its comparison year of 1967, it focuses on the unemployment and poverty that still pervades the region. There has been a steady flight of middle-class white and African American residents to the suburbs, leaving behind an impoverished black community. McGraw’s main point is to demonstrate the economic regression Detroit has experienced in the last 50 years. One jarring statistic he includes is that black Detroiters’ income is currently only a little more than half of white Detroiters’ income: $17,921 vs. $31,877. He touches on the fading government action to help the poor, which has resulted in doubled poverty rates since 1970. Deindustrialization in Detroit has especially taken its toll on Black Detroiters, as there has been no major job creation for low-educated individuals. Education is yet another area of racial inequality that is perpetuating the income and employment disparities.
The data he presents throughout the entire article is pretty shocking and terrifying and makes me realize more and more how sheltered we are in our living situation and work experience. We rarely venture past Midtown, Downtown, Corktown, or Mexicantown, leaving us with a very different sense of the Detroit than this article paints a picture of. The photograph that the article starts with pretty perfectly sums up a lot of the disparity I have noticed in Detroit. It is captioned, “A man begs for money from a patron leaving one of Midtown’s critically acclaimed restaurants, where a roasted mushroom salad is $14.” Just blocks away from our dorm, it features Selden Standard, an expensive restaurant with predominantly white consumers that acts as a bubble in the midst of devastating poverty.
Many of the big developers in the Downtown area argue that it takes this central revival first to jump start progress in the deserting those who need the most help. There must be a way to form a collaboration between the efforts focusing on Downtown and the ones focusing on the neighborhoods to promote a more inclusive and equitable Detroit.