Sprawl is still supreme and other takeaways from the Detroit Census estimate

Where's everybody going?
Where’s everybody going?

If it’s true that people across the country are once again embracing cities, then apparently the Detroit region missed the memo, as sprawl continues to reign supreme here.

That’s my take on the latest annual U.S. Census Bureau estimates, released last month (hey, I’ve been busy, OK?).

Most of the media coverage focused on Detroit’s loss of 3,107 residents, a drop of 0.5 percent between 2014 and 2015. That was either the smallest population drop in decades and reason for optimism, or the first time Detroit’s population has fallen from the top 20 U.S. cities since 1850, and the largest urban population decline in the nation.

Both, of course, are technically true. But to me, the numbers are once again all about the ‘burbs.

In the three-county Detroit region, far-flung exurbs and townships sucked up most of the growth. Here are the top four by resident gains:

  1. Macomb Township, land of 20-lane divided highways and zero walking amenities, up 1,366 residents or 1.6 percent
  2. Lyon Township (889, 5.2 percent)
  3. Shelby Township (643, 0.8 percent)
  4. Orion Township (472, 1.3 percent)

Why are so many people here still moving out to McMansionville?

Macomb TwpCertainly housing stock plays a role. Housing in Detroit and inner-ring suburbs tends to be nearly universally older and generally outdated for those who are able to upgrade their lifestyles. I get that. I’m at a point in life where, while I don’t want to move any further out than I already am, I’m already seeing the limitations of housing options for a family of four here in Ferndale. (I mean, all I want is a more workable, modern kitchen! Is that so hard?) People nowadays have different lifestyles and preferences than people did in the 1920s, when my home was built, or in the post-war years when suburban ranch homes proliferated in places like Warren or Livonia.

But so, undoubtedly, do factors including the quality of schools and racism. WDET’s Detroit Today talk show recently featured a fascinating and candid discussion with Chastity Pratt Dawsey from Bridge Magazine and Kurt Metzger, the Pleasant Ridge mayor and longtime demographer, about the flight of the black middle class from Detroit and the ramifications for schools in Detroit and the suburbs. Essentially, as black people move their kids from Detroit Public Schools into districts in southern Macomb County and place like Southfield and Ferndale, white people move their kids out. It’s like a big game of checkers with ugly overtones.

Plus, as I’ve written before, we’re firmly ensconced in car culture. People here love suburban sprawl.

A couple other takeaways from the Census data:

There is reason for optimism in Detroit

New Amsterdam LoftsMetzger was quoted in both Detroit dailies as saying the city will likely show its first population gain in the next estimate since the 1950s, which is huge, but like everything else in the city, a complicated story, likely driven by pockets of gentrification offsetting declines in black residents who can afford to move.

A coworker who saw Mike Duggan speak at a private speaking function recently told me that the mayor talked about the same phenomenon, explaining that he was privy to regular electricity shutoff and turn-on notices from DTE Energy for residential accounts. So that’s definitely something to watch.

OMG Wayne County!!!

Things don’t look so rosy for Detroit’s home county, which is also home to Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Just six of Wayne County’s 43 municipalities gained population, led by losses in Detroit, Westland (-291 residents or -0.4 percent) and Wyandotte (-129 or -0.5 percent). Even all 39 of the tony Grosse Pointes (don’t forget your Es!) posted modest but probably statistically insignificant losses.

View Census estimates for your favorite burg here.

Creative Commons photos via The_Bjbuttons and Patrick Hartford

One thought on “Sprawl is still supreme and other takeaways from the Detroit Census estimate

  1. We purchased a 1959 ranch in Warren despite the fact that I work in Romeo but would prefer to live in Ferndale or even downtown Detroit. With the housing bubble still fresh in our memories we wanted to buy a place we could grow into when we started a family as opposed to a starter home. My street is mostly white but our neighbor hood is mixed. There is are a few Middle Eastern grocers, restaurants, clothing shops as well as a two Buddhist temples nearby. We enjoy the variety of people and dining options. Not everyone does. From comments I’ve read on Facebook a lot of people north of M59 have given up on the cities to the south of Hall Road and wouldn’t think about moving to Clinton Township, Sterling Heights or Warren. These areas are getting too black or Muslim or Chaldean for them so they continue to move north. Un-platted, unplanned townships are eager for this upper/middle class money and allow farmland to be turned into new industrial parks, super grocery stores and pricey single family homes. This disproportionate isolation of income hurts schools and neighborhoods as the wealth continues to move further out. I’m not sure how to stop this trend other than changing laws to something more akin to Sarnia where farm land is farm land and you can only build houses, subdivisions, industrial and shopping within city limits.

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