The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Did sprawl kill Detroit?

Not directly, but probably yes:

As late as 2005 or 2006 — that is, until the eve of the Great Recession — you could argue that there wasn’t a whole lot of difference in aggregate performance between greater Pittsburgh and greater Detroit. Obviously, however, Detroit’s central city has collapsed while Pittsburgh has had at least something of a revival. The difference is really clear in the Brookings job sprawl data (pdf), where less than a quarter of Detroit jobs are within 10 miles of the traditional central business district, versus more than half in Pittsburgh.

It’s hard to avoid the sense that greater Pittsburgh, by taking better care of its core, also improved its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. In that sense, Detroit’s disaster isn’t just about industrial decline; it’s about urban decline, which isn’t the same thing. If you like, sprawl killed Detroit, by depriving it of the kind of environment that could incubate new sources of prosperity.

The New Republic weighed in with five startling maps that show exactly what happened along five key metrics. Over 20 years, the city lost 60% of its population (even while its suburbs increased theirs), and only the poorest people seem to have stayed, driving down the city's income at an even faster rate. With fixed infrastructure to support 1.8 million residents, the remaining 700,000 can't generate enough tax receipts to fund the city's commitments. Bankruptcy was inevitable given these circumstances.

Lots of things killed Detroit, but most of these things were policies and decisions that favored wealthy, white suburbanites over poorer, black city dwellers.

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