Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Detroit now America's poorest city

31. August 2005 • Murph
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As a reprieve from depressing news from down south, here’s some depressing news closer to home:

Detroit has risen to the top of the list of the country’s most impoverished metropolises, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

The data released Tuesday shows that 33.6 percent of Detroit residents live in poverty.

Detroit topped El Paso, Texas; Miami; Newark, N.J.; Atlanta and Long Beach, Calif., in the rankings.

In a half-century, Detroit has lost about half its population and is now the country’s 11th largest city with just over 900,000 residents.

Cleveland, which had been the nation’s poorest big city, fell from No. 1 to No. 12 on the list, Census Bureau researchers said. The report said the percentage of Cleveland residents living in poverty fell to 23.2 percent from 31.3 percent in last year’s report.

Detroit is beating out second place El Paso by a safe margin of 5%. Meanwhile, Michigan’s median household income has dropped 3% in the past year, while gasoline prices in the area have hit $3 in a region that doesn’t offer much choice other than driving.



  1. Detroit has never had a major natural disaster, but has seen a social disaster go untreated for 50 years. I suggest we abandon New Orleans as not worth rebuilding where it is, and make that disaster relief money do double-duty: give people money to rebuild, but forbid them from doing it in New Orleans – require that they use it to build in Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinatti, or any of the other cities that could use the reinvestment.
       —Murph    Aug. 31 '05 - 12:23PM    #
  2. Wow, that is a disaster. But it’s not very dramatic looking, and most people can just turn their backs. No gripping video, no heartbreaking anecdotes of flood.

    I don’t know whether to start thinking of solutions, or just put my house on the market and get out of here.
       —JennyD    Aug. 31 '05 - 02:13PM    #
  3. It certainly is dramatic looking, if you spend some time wandering Detroit! The problem is not that it’s easy for people to turn their backs, but that they already have…
       —Murph    Aug. 31 '05 - 02:31PM    #
  4. Here’s an idea: how about we rebuild
    Detroit….instead of New Orleans? No hurricane worries, etc.
       —JennyD    Aug. 31 '05 - 02:47PM    #
  5. New Orleans is an important port because of the Mississippi and the intercoastal waterway, possibly the only real reason to rebuild anything there. Otherwise, this is yet another lesson for the Army Corps of Engineers: you can’t beat nature.
       —Dale    Aug. 31 '05 - 03:26PM    #
  6. The Army Corps of Engineers only inherited this particular “dare ya to try and beat nature” problem from the British, who got it from the French. So blame Andy Jackson, or better yet, blame the Frogs.

    Frogs are fond of low, damp areas, see….

    And is it a coincidence that they also founded Detroit? How many disasters do they have to precipitate in a single week before the Ann Arbor City Council divests from France?
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Aug. 31 '05 - 03:36PM    #
  7. More than 50 years, Murph.
    http://info.detnews.com/history/story/index.cfm?id=185&category=events
    I think pretty much as soon as people bought a car, they fled for the suburbs.

    During the Bosnian/Serbian war, refugees came to Hamtramck through a temporary shelter at the abandoned Greater Detroit Hospital.

    Many of my Bosnian neighbors are talking about moving to Sterling Heights now, just as the Polish and Ukrainians did before them.
       —Hillary    Aug. 31 '05 - 03:57PM    #
  8. Yeah, but you don’t need to rebuild the whole city back underwater (well, under sea and river level and occasionally underwater) in order to have a port there. If the port has to be at a point that’s unsafe to build a city, well, Jane Jacobs would be unhappy, but that’s one of those times that it’s appropriate to have the port and nothing else there. You don’t need a city of a million people right there (how close is the city to the port, anyhow?) to run a port, and those that you do need at the port, you can run a high-speed commuter line for.
       —Murph    Aug. 31 '05 - 04:15PM    #
  9. The people who are going to be hurt the worst in NO are the poor African American city residents who lived in the lowest areas. When people blame NO residents for their plight after the hurricane, they trule reveal a lack of understanding about the situation in the city. As for Detroit, maybe people should stop trying silly “cool cities” style solutions, and simply do some massive wealth redistribution carried out through a gargantuan city hiring program. It worked during WW2, and it would work again today.
       —Angry Detroiter    Aug. 31 '05 - 05:30PM    #
  10. Hey, Detroiter. I agree with you on both of your other points, but civil works projects? In my mind, the “cool cities” program is based on the CWA idea and flawed for the same reasons. I believe the CWA projects in Detroit were part of the New Deal. The program only lasted a few months in the 30’s because it was so incredibly expensive.

    In Hamtramck, Mayor Zak hired men to sweep the streets and paved all the alleys. Unfortunately, he paid for them with the city pension fund, and went to federal prison. It didn’t hurt his popularity. He was re-elected as Mayor after his release.
       —Hillary    Aug. 31 '05 - 08:39PM    #
  11. New Orleans will be rebuilt and that is good, because it is one of America’s great old cities in addition to being a key port and transportation hub. However (and this is a big however), it needs to be rebuilt in a way that is less disaster prone. This does not mean building bigger levees and more pumping stations, but rethinking how a city in that region can exist together with a lot of water and large tropical storms. Maybe New Orleans will be a smaller city that is centered farther away from flood-prone areas, maybe some parts will have to be wet (like Venice), maybe any new buildings will all have to be on stilts. It is an opportunity to look at building and infrastructure in these areas and see what we can come up with that makes sense given what we now know. Rebuilding all the same structures in the same way is foolhardy at best and could quite possibly ruin this country economically as soon as the next hurricane hits.

    As a country, we also have to take a long hard look at what “highest and best” use of land is. The current thought is that highest and best use of land is whatever can make the most money, but we are learning the hard way that sometimes highest and best use is to put nothing there. Barrier islands, marshes, swamps, fens, floodways, and other natural features often provide invaluable protection for other areas where we can build safely. The whole country needs to take a lesson from this and stop building in areas prone to flooding. We all criticize New Orleans for building a city in an obviously flood-prone area but then build as much as we can get away with in our own flood-prone areas (the new Y, proposing parking at First and William).

    It is harder for me to envision what could fix Detroit. It is such a big city and 70 years of decline is much harder to fight than one storm. Most people now don’t ever remember a time when Detroit was a thriving city.
       —Juliew    Sep. 1 '05 - 09:45AM    #
  12. “New Orleans will be rebuilt and that is good, because it is one of America’s great old cities in addition to being a key port and transportation hub.”

    I would like to believe that this is true but I think we’re really looking at the possibility that New Orleans will never be rebuilt in any significant way. It’s looking more likely that the entire city will remain inundated with water for weeks. If that’s the case, most of the infrastructure and buildings will effectively be destroyed even if they are still physically standing. The cost to rebuild are staggering – studies that predicted this very outcome have pegged the cost at 100 billion dollars. And that’s just for New Orleans alone. From what I’ve read, everything south and east of the City has been obliterated.

    http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/o/nov04/nov04c.html

    and

    http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/wetlands/hurricane_print.html

    and whole areas of the Miss. Gulf coast are gone:

    http://www.sunherald.com/mld/sunherald/12532430.htm

    We also have to keep in mind that New Orleans has been slowly been sinking due to the levees built to stop the flooding from the Mississippi. Without the annual replenishment of silt, the City has been gradually sinking into the Delta. The highest point in the City is only 6 feet above sea level. That means most of the City is below sea level and as we are seeing, significantly so. How high are you going to build to be safe? And as you go up, how do you keep those buildings safe from the other effects of the next storm?

    If that wasn’t enough, the effects of the levees, storm controls, canals, etc. have largely destroyed the natural protections for the City. The loss of the marshlands to the south of the City have meant that the hurricane impacts can more easily reach the City and with more impact. If you’ve seen some of the aerials showing the loss of these marshlands in just the last 50 years, it’s been amazing. To rebuild those areas will take decades, billions of dollars, and a change in how the whole economy works (taking on pertoleum interests, etc.) But without those areas, N.O. gets more vulnerable every year.

    It’s a very bleak picture.
       —John Q    Sep. 1 '05 - 11:03AM    #
  13. And this:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/31/AR2005083102758.html
       —John Q    Sep. 1 '05 - 01:08PM    #
  14. While I’m not serious in suggesting that New Orleans ought to be airlifted wholesale into Detroit, I’m perfectly serious in suggesting that offering people assistance in finding new homes, not in NOLA, should be as least as important a part of the recovery process as helping them “go home”.

    Twelve to sixteen weeks before people can return home? To homes and businesses that spent weeks under stagnant water (yum, mold!) and probably have to be torn down, even in the remote chance they’re still structurally sound? So that they can rebuild a sinking ship city behind slightly stronger walls? Yeah, I’d say that sounds like the best plan for “recovery”. Absolutely.

    (I also think that a lot of people will probably not want to go home, or will have, by the time they’re allowed to go home, have found other options – a significant part of this evacuation is going to be permanent.)
       —Murph.    Sep. 1 '05 - 01:16PM    #
  15. New Orleans WAS one of America’s great old cities in addition to HAVING BEEN an important port and transportation hub.

    I can support the rebuilding of the port and whatever services might support it because the geography remains. NOLA is a thing of the past (at least as we might recognize it). I think the important thing now is to raze liberally and rebuild whatever is minimally necessary in a way that minimizes the possibility of this kind of disaster in the future. Though the insurance industry may make rebuilding an unlikely scenario anyway, seeing how risky these areas really are.

    The book Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson (author of Devil in the White City), is a terrific history (on the pop side) of the demise of Galveston at the hands of a turn-of-the-century hurricane. Quite a parallel.
       —Dale    Sep. 1 '05 - 04:19PM    #
  16. Of course some people will leave the region and never return, just as they do along the Mississippi when it floods, from California after earthquakes, from Florida after hurricanes. But there are also many who can’t leave, and others who are 3rd, 4th, 5th generation inhabitants who won’t leave. It is easy for us to say that we should raze their city and not let anyone back in, but I don’t see that happening. There is nothing that will bring back New Orleans to the way it was, but I think there will still be a New Orleans. Just the sheer work of demolishing New Orleans would create enough jobs and require enough workers that a city would spring up around it. I’m not advocating this, I just think that New Orleans in some form, will remain.

    And Galveston is still a city of 60,000 inhabitants. Different, but not gone.
       —Juliew    Sep. 1 '05 - 04:35PM    #
  17. An informant from Memphis says that the city is out of gasoline because they were so dependent upon Gulf coast refineries. How far and how significantly will this reverberate?
       —Dale    Sep. 1 '05 - 05:12PM    #
  18. That seems a little panicky. I should say gas stations throughout the city were out of gas due to shortages and dependence on Gulf coast refineries, but not all stations.
       —Dale    Sep. 1 '05 - 05:20PM    #
  19. Huge impact. Check out the Port of New Orleans web site (obviously not updated since Katrina). From the Facts page: “the Port of New Orleans is at the center of the world’s busiest port complex — Louisiana’s Lower Mississippi River. Its proximity to the American Midwest via a 14,500-mile inland waterway system makes New Orleans the port of choice for the movement of cargoes such as steel, grain, containers and manufactured goods. The Port of New Orleans is the only deepwater port in the United States served by six class one railroads. This gives port users direct and economical rail service to or from anywhere in the country. New Orleans is one of America’s leading general cargo ports. A productive and efficient private maritime industry has help produce impressive results, including the USA’s top market share for import steel, natural rubber, plywood and coffee.”
    Also, from CNN about the effect on airlines: “Daily jet fuel production nationwide has been cut 13 percent because of damage from the hurricane to Gulf Coast refineries, according to Jack Evans of the Air Transport Association. “What it means is there is less fuel essentially,” Evans said Wednesday. “Carriers are having to take measures to conserve fuel at airports where they are low and tanker in fuel when serving some destinations on the East Coast.””

    I heard that some shippers have already started the move to rail within the US.
       —Juliew    Sep. 1 '05 - 05:32PM    #
  20. Certainly the gas and diesel issue will impact prices and availability of goods. I wonder if we’ll start to see actual shortages of goods because flow through this major port has been significantly interrupted.
       —Dale    Sep. 1 '05 - 05:48PM    #
  21. I read that all shipping traffic on the southern half of the Mississippi River is at a standstill.
       —John Q    Sep. 1 '05 - 10:05PM    #
  22. import steel, natural rubber, plywood and coffee.

    Well, it’s a good thing it hasn’t affected shipping of anything important…

    I hadn’t realized New Orleans was so important – San Diego, Seattle, and Newark/Elizabeth are the megaports that get the most airtime. I suppose South American shipping has to get here somehow, though.
       —Murph.    Sep. 2 '05 - 10:59AM    #
  23. One of the things that hasn’t really been discussed in the media (yet) re: rebuilding New Orleans…..I think that we will see a catastrophic change in the racial makeup of the city. I think that there are going to be some really, really angry people when construction begins, and everyone begins to see who had insurance and who didn’t.

    Sad.
       —todd    Sep. 2 '05 - 01:07PM    #
  24. Well, I suspect they’re going to be a lot of the same people as are still in the city right now because they couldn’t get out. Who are, it might be noted, already a little peeved. (And with good reason.)
       —Murph.    Sep. 2 '05 - 03:00PM    #
  25. So Kilpatrick is offering Detroit as a new home for the evacuees, and the school district is ready to put N.O. kids into the empty seats in classrooms.

    That’s a weird way to repopulate a city.
       —JennyD    Sep. 2 '05 - 07:57PM    #
  26. Another good article on the scope of the problems that led to this situation:

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&articleID=00060286-CB58-1315-8B5883414B7F0000&pageNumber=1&catID=2
       —John Q.    Sep. 2 '05 - 10:38PM    #
  27. Yesterday morning, the gas station across from my bus stop in Pittsburgh had regular unleaded at 3.10. By the end of the day, it was already up to 3.20.
       —[libcat]    Sep. 3 '05 - 09:51AM    #
  28. I HATE DETTROIT! Yes, I live here but AS SOON AS I CAN, I am LEAVING THIS GHETTO Garbage Dump!


       —KenPort    Jan. 9 '07 - 10:32PM    #
  29. KenPort,
    As someone who was born in raised in Detroit and has family that still resides there, how sir can I assist you in expediting your departure? Would you like me to show you where 8mile is sir? God forbid you stay longer than you need to.


       —annarbor1us    Jan. 10 '07 - 01:30AM    #