OT: Are you bullish or skeptical on Detroit's comeback?

Submitted by chuck bass on December 10th, 2018 at 1:11 PM

I was in Detroit all of last week and it was encouraging to see neighborhoods doing well, neat restaurants, and construction. But honestly, the changes don't seem anywhere near as robust as needed to move the needle, especially if you've recently been to a Boston, Dallas, Denver, Portland, Silicon Valley, Seattle, Atlanta, Nashville, D.C., or Chicago.

Any of you encouraging your children to choose Detroit over an already turn-key coastal or Sun Belt city? If the Midwest is where a 20-something kid wants to be, how do you justify $1500 average rent in downtown Detroit when $1500 can put your kid in Lakeview or Wrigleyville Chicago? And that's before Detroit's sky-high rental and auto insurance. It's one thing if living in Detroit was a remarkable value for kids, but it's not at all.

Further, GM slashing headcount and looming Ford layoffs (up to 25,000) can't be good. I follow Charlie LeDuff's podcast (a great listen) and stay current with various Detroit news outlets. Seems corruption and practically nonexistent public services are ongoing issues. Cooking crime stats, hyper-aggressive parking & towing schemes prey on residents, same crooked politicians and consultants. Detroit has a slightly more polished facade but hasn't cleansed itself of unsavory old ways.



December 10th, 2018 at 1:19 PM ^

Perhaps this post should be re-titled "Why I think Detroit is still bad, put prove me wrong." Which is a fine take to have, but at least it would be more accurate.  

No offense to OP, but it reads like this guy in blog form:



chuck bass

December 10th, 2018 at 1:36 PM ^

I genuinely wish to see Detroit blossom and was there all of last week appraising everything with an optimistic eye. What I saw was underwhelming if you've spent much time out of state or in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids; so I didn't leave feeling super bullish about its future. It seems like a really expensive place with few of the perks you get from similarly priced more dynamic cities. But I'm open-minded and look forward to responses from all sides.


December 10th, 2018 at 2:16 PM ^

Not sure where you got your info on rent.  My kid has an apartment in mid-town (an older, but nice apartment; nice area) for $900/month.  

Furthermore, comparing a rebuilding project to some of the nicest cities in the country (as well as GR & AA, some of the nicest cities in the state) is epitome of apples and oranges. 

You made some valid points: cost of insurance and looming Big3 layoffs.  Bringing up Detroit corruption when you've already compared Detroit to Chicago is laughable.  Show me a large city without corruption.  I'll just wait.  Go ahead.   

Your OP doesn't sound optimistic.  It doesn't even sound objective.  It sounds biased and elitist.

I, myself, am admittedly biased, though. Obviously.  Lol.  


December 10th, 2018 at 3:41 PM ^

Yeah, the corruption part cracked me up.  I've now lived in NYC and Boston for extended periods of time and can say without reservation that EVERY major city is full of grifters and people who abuse the system for their own gains.  The one thing I have noticed, though, and this is probably somewhat intentional dog-whistling, but some cities with, um, historical population clustering get more guff for it than others.  I don't think OP is saying that here, but there is this weird double standard that has gone on for decades with certain cities that don't match up.


December 10th, 2018 at 3:26 PM ^

$1500 for a downtown apartment in any city is reasonable in my opinion, but I'm also someone who has lived in east coast cities for over a decade, so I'm probably burned out.  We thought about moving to Detroit some years ago and even with kids, our only major concern were schools, which is a real problem but also one that you see in a lot of big cities (even nice, shiny ones like NYC, Chicago, and Boston).  It's not a safe city and the services are mediocre at best, but a lot of that falls into the chicken-and-egg quandry cities have where they need a good tax base to provide good services but people won't move there without said services.

Also, Detroit is MUCH more vibrant than Grand Rapids.  Which makes sense because it's the bigger, more diverse city.  And Ann Arbor, for all of its greatness, is still a college town that has a fraction of the population.

Is it a place that is going to ever be one of the "top" cities in the country?  Absolutely not.  But I've been to enough places in my life to say I'd rather live in Detroit than, I don't know, Charlotte NC.  


December 10th, 2018 at 5:29 PM ^

Always crazy to see rent prices in big cities in America. I live in Seoul and I pay a little less than 550 a month for a studio apartment. About 400 square feet I think. I don't know the exact size. Anyway its not big but it's also just fine for me. I'm in a very central area right near the train station, 2 subway lines, and a lot of buses. It's not a rich area but a nice thing here is crime isn't an issue when choosing a neighborhood.

I did actually have to put a deposit of 5000 dollars down but I get that back whenever I go. It's the system in Korea and Japan. In fact 5000 is low.

Utilities are cheap too. Paid 3 bucks for gas last month. Internet is 10 bucks a month with the fastest download speeds in the world. Health care as well, which is one of my biggest concerns about moving back to America. I got my MRI here for 250.


December 11th, 2018 at 5:43 PM ^

I think the issue for many Detroit boosters is that being here comes with the kind of folk-memory of having been one of the top cities in the country. That is always the aspiration lingering behind the thinking of many in the state, Detroit used to be a cultural hotbed and the second city of the midwest... how do we get back there? The idea that we kinda can't isn't popular. 

Partially, though, that's just because there has been so much concentration of cultural power in NYC and LA. Parochial American cities just aren't as cool as they were once upon a time, even Chicago has lost a step in terms of being a hotbed for artists. The internet hasn't made it easier to be an actor or musician in Detroit, it's incentivized leaving Detroit for NYC or LA sooner. 


December 10th, 2018 at 1:22 PM ^

Detroit's other issue aside from the things you mentioned, is the school system. No young family will want to put their kids in the DPS and that will hurt the come back. 


December 10th, 2018 at 1:23 PM ^

Detroit's "comeback" is way overblown. There is a like a 3 mile by 3 mile part that is doing well, yes. However, the city is massive and that prosperity has been felt only a little, if at all, by areas outside of the downtown. To put it in perspective, you can fit Boston, San Francisco, and Manhattan inside of the city limits of Detroit. What they need to do is shrink the city limits by more or less abandoning a large portion of the city. You'd keep the vast majority of the tax revenue and drastically reduce expenses.

Plus, the schools are still horrible so the higher income people living/working downtown will move out as soon as they have children.



December 10th, 2018 at 2:39 PM ^

Speaking only for Chicago, some are. Some of Chicago Public Schools are some of the best performing schools in the state. Now, a large section of the Chicago Public Schools are underperforming and have a lot of problems.  Chicago has used magnet programs, specialized schools and a lottery system to create some very good schools within the school system. This has arguably also detracted from other schools. But, nevertheless, there are some excellent schools in the Chicago public school system to which some affluent parents send their kids.  I don't know enough about the Detroit public school system to know if the same is true.


December 10th, 2018 at 3:26 PM ^

Yes, there are always going to be schools in urban cities that chronically underperform due to poverty, transient families, staff turnover. The school I’m AP at on the east side of Detroit has 97% poverty and we have lost 13 teachers this school year alone. On average about 25-30% of our students do not return the following school year. It’s very difficult to succeed in comparison to more stable schools when all of these factors are in place. 

Still, Cass and Renaissance perform better than a lot of suburban high schools.


December 10th, 2018 at 5:55 PM ^

The reality is the system in Chicago is that your kids either get into the right charter or magnet school, which may require getting lucky in the lottery system, or you move out to the suburbs, if you're not wealthy enough to send your kids to private school.  Most of the Chicago public school system is in terrible shape.


December 11th, 2018 at 5:46 PM ^

Basically all of the top public schools in Illinois that are not New Trier or Evanston High School are in CPS. Rich people in Chicago do send their kids to public school because the nature/nurture paradigm ensures that a kid living in a new-build 3000 sq ft palace in Ravenswood will get into a magnet school of their choice. 


December 10th, 2018 at 2:18 PM ^

It will continue to expand to other areas, as these neighborhoods get filled.  I mean look at the area between Indian/West VIllage and downtown.  Five years ago, those were pretty bad areas.  Now more people are buying up properties and moving in.  Same thing with Southwest, Milwaukee Junction, the North End, East English Village, Boston Edison, and other neighborhoods that were not high on people's list of places to live five years ago. 

Schools will never be great, but I think private schools will start opening up down here.  This is not too far from what parents have to deal with in NY, Chicago, LA, SF, Oakland, Denver, etc.


December 10th, 2018 at 3:20 PM ^

The schools are a major issue that are going to take herculean efforts to overcome.

That said, the neighborhoods are seeing the effects of the comeback.  Just the unemployment rate alone tells a major story.  Nine years ago it was 28%.  Now it's around 5%.  You can't tell me that's confined to a three square mile area.

There is new development in Rivertown, Lafayette, West Village, Woodbridge.  Grand Boulevard near the New Center.  Corktown was a dead zone ten, fifteen years ago.  The Avenue of Fashion is coming back.  Hamtramck is more vibrant than it was ten, fifteen years ago.  (That might as well be Detroit too.)

Yes, a lot of these areas are tangential to downtown.  But some are not.  And it's only natural for downtown development to start spilling outwards to its closest areas first.  It's also not realistic to expect a Dan Gilbert to start plowing billions into 7 and Gratiot.

The problem with abandoning large swaths of the city should be obvious: people still live there and you can't just throw them out.  And nobody wants to take over the governance of areas you abandon anyway.


December 10th, 2018 at 4:07 PM ^

In my travels doing design work (again, as I went back to my old job a few months ago), I spend quite a bit of time on the west / northwest side and it is actually pretty active over there. People are moving into and starting businesses along corridors that were largely vacant not that long ago, even in Brightmoor. It's actually really nice to see the slow rebuild in some areas. 

Honk if Ufer M…

December 11th, 2018 at 8:09 PM ^

Do you seriously believe that the unemployment rate in Detroit is only 5%???????? 

To even consider such an obscenely absurd statistic meas that in addition to being an enthusiastic snake oil swallower you must also be a subscriber to the Reagan/Shrub magical unrealism theory that the longer you're unemployed the better life is, and that no money transforms into a blessing for the destitute.... Therefore once you've been unemployed.... "too long"? "long enough"? not sure how nonsense should actually read, then you're magically no longer counted as unemployed and all is well!

No longer unemployed, just "out of the workforce"!!!!! Well thank god the ol' Gipper thought of such a great way to "solve" the problem & Shrubya cut the time period in half b4 the magic happens, and that oBomBa Sgt. Schultzed it into unquestioned permanence like he did with almost every fascist and extreme right wing garbage bag left burning on the White House doorstep, especially the obviously illegal ones!



December 10th, 2018 at 1:23 PM ^

The only issue that's up for reasonable debate is the extent of Detroit's improvements, and the capacity for future growth. That is tied to broader economic forces that are out of the control of Detroit's leaders. 


December 10th, 2018 at 4:26 PM ^

Detroit's leaders have the ability to do a lot of good. Of course there are forces beyond their control, but that is true of all cities. As long as corruption is allowed, Detroit will have a tough go. 

There are countless stories of heartbreaking decisions made by Detroit politicians - Leaders can and should do more for their city. Neither Oakland County, Lansing, nor Washington can help if the help is wanted...

Go Blue!


December 10th, 2018 at 1:23 PM ^

it'll never get to the level of chicago unless they build an underground mass transit system.  and get people to live downtown and on periphery is if they have real schools, staffed by merit.



December 10th, 2018 at 1:23 PM ^

If my kids had $1500 to spend a month on housing I'd tell them get a nice house in a nice 'burb around GR and not worry about over crowded places like Detroit or Chicago.