Now that we’ve read the Detroit Section of How to Kill a City, I want to talk about how it has influenced my understanding of some of the work that my site does. The story that How to Kill a City describes, of purposeful gentrification of a small portion of the city while the rest of the neighborhoods loose funding and fall apart, is something that I’ve seen every day since this program began. When we drive from Midtown out to my site, I watch as the city seems to degrade around me. On my second day working, I attended a city council meeting with my site manager and heard the testimonies of a dozen different people evicted from their homes. I listen as the people at my site bemoan the lack of police presence (while in midtown, it feels as though you see a cop car every time you turn a corner). Abandoned buildings and land bank properties are everywhere. Schools downsize. Business close, and industrial sites replace them.
What I’ve found really interesting is the way that the city seems to almost take advantage of the lack of funding extended to neighborhoods outside “the 7.2”. Instead of just funneling money into downtown and tax breaks for billionaires while letting the other neighborhoods fall apart, in my site’s neighborhood, it feels as though the city is waiting for this area, already ravaged by Detroit’s selective gentrification, to finish falling apart so that it can become an industrial district for the city. As people and businesses move due to lack of funding in the area, land plots all over this once-thriving residential district with strong business corridors are now being re-zoned as heavy industrial land. Industrial sites are built, producing waste, bad smells, and all other forms of blight. That reduces the quality of life in the neighborhood, so more people leave when they can afford it, and, when residents die, their relatives sell their properties instead of choosing to deal with the area. This leads to fewer businesses, schools, and other infrastructure. More land is empty, so industrial operations swoop in and take more land. It, in and of itself, is like gentrification, but less pretty.