White Problems: The Uneven Revitalization of Detroit by the Numbers

How far have we come for racial equity in Detroit? Better yet, what is owed to Indigenous and Black Detroiters as the reparations task force begins meeting? Proposal R to form the reparations task force garnered the most votes from Detroiters (more votes than even Mayor Duggan received) during the 2021 election.

“Detroiters still see and experience racial inequity.”

Infrastructure for broadband internet and electricity distribution exacerbate spatial racism. The metro Detroit health care system was dubbed the “most racially segregated” in the country while nonprofit leadership in the city remains racially under-represented. Detroiters are furious that their own city government over-assessed them by $600 million in property taxes and are eager to see what a Reparations Task Force can achieve. Black developers continue to be overlooked for funding and whites continue to get over half of all mortgages in the city. In many cases, Black Detroiters continue to feel left out of the city’s rejuvenation, either by design or by de facto neglect.

Recently, Detroit has seen multiple racial equity reports released. A new effort, Detroit Equity Inc. with Wayne State University, recently released their Detroit Equity Report at the “Detroit Equity Symposium.” Detroit Future City hosted their third “Equity Forum” where their new Center for Equity, Engagement, and Research presented data from their Economic Equity Dashboard. New Detroit Inc. held their annual racial equity conference in October and publishes a semi-regular data report on racial disparities. Lastly, the City of Detroit convenes an internal Detroit Equity Council that publishes an annual report on city government activities. What data, whose report, and who is leading racial equity work in Detroit? We desperately need some shared measurements.

In 2014, I published an infographic and analysis that highlighted the inequity of resource access in the “revitalizing” city. Many residents noted it reflected what they experienced or had seen while many of the organizations and institutions [white-led] that I profiled pushed back against my analysis while still confirming the numbers were correct. In many cases, the fellowship organizations blamed their corporate partners who made final hiring decisions.

In Detroit, the leading “revitalization” programs still don’t represent the people impacted. The issue of structural racism is bigger than a handful of programs and fellowships, but these programs offer a critical reflection point. Many social problems function with a network effect and racial disparities in employment have been persistent. The fellowships reflected their corporate sponsors and foundation priorities similarly reflect their boards and leadership. Representation matters, but especially when those represented do not reflect the impacted community.

The 25% population loss between 2000 and 2010 was predominantly among Detroit Black middle-class households. On average, the city continues to lose around 5,000 Black Detroiters every year. The 2020 Census shows us that Detroit’s population continues to drop. In particular, Black residents have chosen to find opportunity elsewhere. These charts profiling various Detroit initiatives highlight Black representation specifically as Detroit’s largest racial demographic group at 77% (U.S. Census, American Community Survey, 2020).

Leaders of the Revitalization Narrative

The narrative of revitalization in Detroit is driven by foundations, fellowships, and funding.

Fellowships like Challenge Detroit and the Detroit Revitalization Fellows (DRF) expressly targeted young college graduates and mid-career professionals to come to Detroit. Both pushed back on my original analysis, but welcomed ideas to improve recruitment outreach. Challenge Detroit has been slowly improving representation among its classes of fellows, but dipped in 2022 to 25% representation. DRF saw positive change in one year before falling back to its old ways. The last DRF class was selected in 2017 and finished their fellowships in 2019. The DRF program is currently under-going major changes and updates.

Foundation leadership (specifically foundations that are Detroit-based or Detroit-centric in their work) saw a stagnation and no improvements in representation among senior leadership roles. This is notably different than nonprofits where representation is lacking, but Detroit nonprofits have better representation than foundation leaders.

The new addition in this category since 2014 is the Motor City Match (MCM) program, which was specifically designed to provide support for Detroiters in their neighborhoods. MCM supports both new and existing businesses. While the program came under scrutiny for its overspending on consultants, the representation among awardees was “above average” with a majority going to minority-owned businesses. The program halted operations during the investigation into its use of funds and has since restarted.

Ideas Creation

Idea generation comes from many corners, but speaker series’ and universities serve as hubs of new connections.

The TEDxDetroit speaker series is the most prominent and well attended of the various speaker series in the city. Over time the series has improved representation of speakers, but has had a hard time maintaining Black representation. The 2021 speakers fell to 30% Black representation and 2022 had 41% representation.

New Economy Initiative (NEI) Ideas bills itself on rewarding new ideas in business and entrepreneurship. NEI Ideas consistently supported Black-owned businesses in Detroit. Many NEI Ideas recipients get double-counted across programs like Challenge Detroit, MCM, and/or ProsperUS Detroit. To succeed in Detroit typically means tapping into multiple resources and programs all at once.

Black representation among Detroit-based university leaders dipped in 2016 and never improved. The majority of the city’s university leaders don’t look like the students in Detroit. DRF is also run by Wayne State University along with programs like the Detroit Equity Action Lab (DEAL) that brings together regional leaders with the goal of advancing racial equity. The program had a short funding gap, but came back with larger fellowship cohorts.

Startup Incubation

Detroit is not Silicon Valley. Programs like MCM or NEI Ideas could fit under this heading as well, but this will include some of the more traditional startup and tech support style programs – but not all are technology focused.

Detroit Venture Partners (DVP) is the most widely known venture capital investment group in Detroit. The firm, by its own stats, shows it has funded just one women-owned business and no minority-owned startups. In Detroit, one could assume there would be more diverse opportunities, but the long-running diversity issue in venture capital is not new. Google has set up shop in Detroit with plans to offer tech training programs in the renovated Michigan Central [Station]. The Apple Developer Academy also launched in Detroit with support from MSU.

Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) existed for a brief period and faced similar issue with difficulty supporting a diverse group of creative businesses in Detroit. The program closed and pivoted to a wholly different program called Detroit Design Core, based at the College for Creative Studies, that leads on Detroit’s UNESCO City of Design designation and the “Month of Design” series of events.

The BUILD Institute has been a standout series of programs that truly served Detroiters and diverse businesses and entrepreneurs. The program regularly had high Black representation until it also took a break and moved into a new space called “The Corner” at the old Tigers Stadium site. Hopefully their full programming will return.

An addition since the 2014 analysis is the ProsperUS Detroit training program. The program is a powerhouse of being place-based, neighborhood focused, and supportive of Black, Latino, and multi-racial entrepreneurs. Since launching in 2012, 98% of program participants have been entrepreneurs of color. No other program in Detroit comes close to this level of representation for Detroiters.

Conclusions

Detroit has a long way to go when the city administration has regularly been hostile to community voices and concerns. The first white Mayor since before 1974 has toyed with discussions on race, but in turn contributed to mass disenfranchisement of Black residents. Task forces rarely have significant impacts on cities and people, but hopefully the Reparations Task Force can at least keep pushing the conversation and influence local foundations, nonprofits, and other programs to adopt an equity strategy in their efforts.

The overall trend of improving Black representation in revitalization focused programs and leadership roles has dipped again in 2022 with two large programs (Challenge Detroit and TEDxDetroit) lacking the gains in representation seen in past years. It is concerning that many of these programs have been unable to maintain consistency in their outreach efforts. It is surprising still that the city has yet to move the needle on offering opportunities for every neighbor to take part in the revitalization of the city. White people in positions of leadership and those who have benefited from these Detroit programs must do more to shift the city towards greater racial equity.

Map: Detroit’s Black-owned Food System

DETROITography

The repeated and compound impact of structural racism on Detroit’s food system couldn’t be more obvious than the need for a Black Farmer Land Fund, a Black Restaurant Week, and crowd-funding efforts for Black-owned grocery stores in the Blackest city in the US. These are just a few recent concerted efforts to change the status quo, but its important to note that this is NOT everything that is Black-owned in Detroit’s food system. The additional gray dots are food businesses catalogued by The Black Bottom Archives (add any missing businesses to their directory).

The Black Farmer Land Fund launched to address the racial disparity of land access in urban agriculture in Detroit. The cumbersome process of working with the Land Bank was limiting the number of Black participants that could access land for agricultural uses. D-Town Farm run by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) and Oakland Avenue…

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Map: Great Grocer Project launch with top 25 Detroit grocery stores

DETROITography

Early this month, the Detroit Food Policy Council and partners on their Detroit Grocery Coalition launched the Great Grocer Project to highlight and support improvements in Detroit’s local grocery landscape. The effort was awarded a 3-year USDA grant through partners at Wayne State University and is a culmination of nearly a decade of grocery work by the Detroit Food Map Initiative.

This map is for the top 25 independent grocery stores (excluding Meijer, Whole Foods, Save-a-Lot, and Aldi), but all 68 stores in Detroit were scored. Harper Food Center was one of the top 25 stores before it burned down in late February.

Learn more about the scoring and future efforts HERE!

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Detroit: Who Plans and Maps Your Neighborhood?

DETROITography

Planning a city is a big job, but is it too much to ask for a coordinated effort?

The number of disparate boundaries in Detroit is both fascinating and befuddling: police scout car areas, curbside trash pickup zones, fire hydrant company areas, and on and on.

This post will focus on the various planning boundaries and what they mean for you. The boundaries will be discussed in chronological order, but all of these boundaries are actively used to plan the city’s future.

Master Plan Neighborhoods, 2004: These boundaries are the legacy of the United Community Services/United Way Community Services “subcommunities” first developed in 1951 and drawn along Census Tract boundaries so that Census data could be used to compare areas. These 54 areas have been the official “neighborhoods” since that time and remain so since the City’s Master Plan has not been updated since 2004.

Planning Clusters, 2007:…

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Map: Detroit Protests 2020

DETROITography

Detroit-Protests-2020-061220AH

Over the last 14 days, protestors in Detroit have marched a collective 74 miles through Corktown, Southwest, Downtown, Midtown, Virginia Park, New Center, Islandview, and deep into the Eastside.

Protestors are demanding justice for George Floyd and the numerous other Black Americans who have died or faced brutality at the hands of police. The structural violence of expanded video surveillance, rampant foreclosures, unfettered evictions, and broad disinvestment in Black neighborhoods has also been a focal point of protestors demands delivered to the Mayor.

In the early days, marches were met with an intense and often brutal police response with full riot gear and tear gas. Clashes have been driven by police responding to the defined curfew which led to mass arrests until the Police Chief declared he would no longer enforce the curfew. Marches following this declaration saw no clashes and always ended peacefully. Marches have pulled…

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Map: Chain Supermarkets in Metro Detroit 2020

DETROITography

I’ve mapped the empty business rings of Detroit before, but my personal interest and research is in food access. While chain supermarkets are not the shining beacon of hope, they are the preferred food shopping location for the majority of Detroit residents even with almost 70 independent local grocers.

Kroger and Walmart are the leading locations to buy groceries by Detroiters, but none are located within the city limits. The Walmart bus shuttles seniors from every corner of the city on a weekly basis.

I was interviewed for this CNN piece on the topic. Read more: How the rise of supermarkets left out black America

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Map: Detroit’s Pizza Place Geography

DETROITography

Detroit-pizza-geography-map

This map idea has been sitting in the back of my head ever since Nathan Yau of FlowingData analyzed the pizza place geography of the United States. The map is based on which pizza place is nearest to particular areas of the city broken down into a grid (microhoods actually – shout out to Motor City Mapping project).

Numerous recent news reports highlight the hoarding of frozen pizza, the rallying of pizza chain stock prices, and the overall growth of pizza chains during the coronavirus pandemic. Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and Domino’s all reported plans to hire more workers to meet the demand. Where might those people be in Detroit?

Detroit-pizza-geography-multiples

Detroit is home to the headquarters or birthplace of multiple pizza chains including: Little Caesar’s (HQ, founded in Garden City), Buddy’s (claim to the “Detroit-style”), Happy’s (founded 1994), and the specialty pizza spots only found in Detroit including…

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Map: Detroit’s Altered Grocery Landscape 2020

DETROITography

DFM-covid-grocery-050820Food isn’t the same in Detroit anymore. All independent grocers have reduced their operating hours – many have reduced staff as workers stopped showing up for fear of exposure. Restaurants are becoming small grocers, “groceries” are distributed in drive-thru lines, and emergency food providers have become a lifeline as unemployment has skyrocketed.

Retailers are now mandated to limit the number of people inside their stores, require all employees (and customers) wear masks, and offer special hours to vulnerable populations.

As part of the Detroit Grocery Coalition, convened by the Detroit Food Policy Council, I’ve been tracking changes along with colleagues at the City of Detroit. Independent grocers are holding steady in the neighborhoods although at reduced staffING, hours, and sometimes supply chain – but the landscape of support during COVID-19 shows specific food access opportunity patterns across Detroit.

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Map: Arsenal of Health in Detroit 2020

DETROITography

arsenal-of-health

During both World War efforts, Detroit’s factories and their manufacturing might was flipped from automobile production to support for the war effort. During World War II, at least 110 factories in Detroit retooled to produce parts for aircraft, tanks, and weapons.

arsenal-of-democracy

Recently, the news media (Crains, Free Press, Detroit News) have reached back into history in an attempt to compare the Coronavirus global pandemic to a war effort. There are serious issues with comparing a public health response to a war, but today is all about the geography.

Detroit no longer has an arsenal from which to pull. There are no longer over 100 factories within the city limits. The auto industry’s operations are no longer are located in Detroit. The reverse prohibition trend in Detroit has led to the city’s strongest response as Detroit-based breweries and distilleries have started mass producing hand sanitizer rather than beer or spirits. Detroit’s…

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