Detroit's plan to shrink the city

Detroit plans to downsize by consolidating neighborhoods to make the city use resources more efficiently. But will it work?
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor on

It's an unusual role for urban planners: shrinking a city. But it just might help revitalize Detroit.

The city once had a population as high as 1.85 million, but the latest census numbers show that the population hit a 100-year low, bottoming out at around 713,000.

The New York Times talked with Marja Winters, deputy director of Detroit's planning and development department, who is working to downsize the city by consolidating neighborhoods. At the end of the year, Detroit plans to release their controversial plan to remake the city. But it hasn't been an easy process for city officials like Winters:

The losses have been spread around the city, meaning that vacant, dilapidated homes and empty lots speckle Detroit’s neighborhoods, rather than cropping up in consolidated, convenient chunks on the city edges, leaving a more vibrant core. In fact, some of the city’s best-kept neighborhoods are on its outer edges, while the troubled spots are closer to downtown.

And so, a contingent of private consultants and city officials like Ms. Winters have taken part in one of the deepest mile-by-mile analyses of Detroit in memory, tracking population densities, foreclosed homes, disease, parks, roads, water lines, sewer lines, bus routes, publicly owned lands, and on and on.


The goal is to identify the strongest, most viable neighborhoods, which would receive extra attention and help from the city. The residents of some of the weakest, emptiest neighborhoods would be encouraged to move into them.

Winters says that power won't be shut off in the struggling neighborhoods; the process will be more gradual. But the city's investments will shift away from those neighborhoods.

It's certainly a humble move for a city that was once the fourth largest in the U.S., but it's a necessary move for a cash-strapped city that needs to use its thinly-stretched resources more efficiently.

However, it will be interesting to see how the implementation of these plans will affect the city's poorest residents, who can't afford to move to higher-priced neighborhoods. Will the revitalization of the Detroit come at their expense?

And what would happen to the neighborhoods that are deemed unworthy of investment. The Times continues:

The ultimate plan for those neighborhoods — and the ultimate cost of consolidating them — is uncertain; some might become home to new industry, and some might be used to fill temporary needs, or for urban gardens and green space.


What exactly would become of the neighborhoods with diminished services, likely to be places already plagued in some cases by what residents described as new, audacious brands of crimes? (Stores in some neighborhoods here have taken to placing cement blocks outside their glass entryways, residents said, to prevent thieves from crashing their cars through the doors for break-ins.)

At this point, Detroit's city planners still have questions that must but addressed, but what's certain is that the status quo won't cut it.

Photo: Trey_Campbell/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards