Week 3: How to Kill a City – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

Week 3: How to Kill a City

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.

3 thoughts on “Week 3: How to Kill a City”

  1. This was a very informational post to read! It is heartbreaking to see and I hope more people hear about this instead of avoiding the sad truth on the city. The work that we are doing is really impactful and important to Detroiters who live outside the “7.2 zone”. Reading this reminds me how weird I feel when I drive from home to Downtown. It is completely different. All Detroiters know that 8 mile and up are completely different to 7 mile and down. I live on 7 mile and Ryan so I always see the stark difference between my home and the neighborhoods past 8 mile. The drainage system was the biggest issue when we moved to 7 mile around 2010 when we finally had a stable footing after the 2008 crisis. We would have really bad basement floods from the slightest bit of rain. I lost all of my childhood toys from the floods. The worst flooding was when the water (including sewage) rose to only a few steps from our main floor, leaving our entire basement submerged. Everyone in our neighborhood has the issue and it took years for the city to do the bare minimum. We, our whole neighborhood, had to do most of the work ourselves to stop our basements from flooding. My neighbor across the street from us and my dad would take turns unclogging the drainage system along our roads during storms. Anyway, all this to say that we are the last to ever receive any services so I strongly sympathize with the testimonies from people who live in Detroit because our issues are placed to the side. I am glad we are working to help the community when the government will not.

  2. Hello,
    I really enjoyed your analysis of the book and how exclusionary the city of Detroit is when it comes to providing services. I especially like your last point about the cyclical nature of what is happening to Detroit. It’s really disheartening to see especially considering that most people have been forced out of that 7.2 area and are the ones who have been in the city through thick and thin.

  3. It’s interesting how you brought up the lack of officers being at your site. I remember going on a walk Downtown Detroit and being from Chicago I was shocked by how many police officers I walked past in five seconds on a regular day. It’s also upsetting that the government is putting more effort in building Downtown rather than these neighborhoods that actually need resources.

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