Detroit, not only in the US but across the globe, has become the poster child for urban decay. The city lost 25% of its population between 2000- 2010, and over half its population since 1950. Over 90,000 houses stand empty, and many neighbourhoods have been completely abandoned.
The burden of maintaining infrastructure and law enforcement in a city with an eroding tax base and sparse population has lead to attempts to “shrink” the city. This means bulldozing several areas of the city, and relocating existing residents. Current Mayor Dave Bing realizes this, and has pledged to knock down a staggering 10,000 structures during his first term. In the past such slum clearances lead to vigorous opposition from urbanists like Jane Jacobs, who argued that top down approaches to urban redevelopment would cause a great deal of pain, for little to no benefit. Yet despite the fact that Jacobs is widely admired by planners, the plan to shrink the city has met with little opposition in Detroit. Frankly, unless Detroit sees a major population surge, shrinking the city may sadly be necessary.
Recently, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, and at one point mused about using immigration policy to repopulate the city. Bloomberg didn’t offer a substantive policy proposal, but the premise makes perfect sense. Most of Detroit’s problems stem from the fact that fewer and fewer people are working and paying taxes in the city. There is more infrastructure than people need or the city can afford.
Ultimately the issue then is getting people to live in Detroit. But the biggest problem, even with a mild resurgence in the auto sector, is that Americans, and even most Michiganders, don’t want to live in Detroit, even with jobs.
But for many immigrants, Detroit would seem like a major upgrade over their current living situation. This is not as far-fetched a notion as some may believe. Here’s a proposal for Detroit based on an unlikely Canadian immigration success story: Winnipeg.
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