Has anyone really ever wondered this? Most people wonder the opposite. Why does anybody stay in Detroit? Or move to Detroit?
Starting in the early 1960s, the suburbanization of Detroit left a large part of the city empty and the sprawling suburbs became the ideal. Less than ideal? The empty buildings, houses and jobs were left in the city limits. Ever since then, the central force of the region is the suburbs. The suburbs are where people want their businesses, their big houses and their yards. No one wants to downsize into a vacant building or to reinhabit a city with no core. The resources are angled toward the outside. The planning ignores a city once famous for its purely urban culture from Motown to 8 Mile.
So, the music is gone. In the mid-1900s, people flocked to Detroit for the auto industry, the millions of jobs. Now, where do they go? The few that still remain employed by the auto industry can’t even afford to own a car with their decreased and then frozen salaries. Why move out now? Because the cars and the jobs are gone and if you have a car in Detroit, it’s much safer in the suburbs.
Now, what do you get when you add unemployed and underpaid people, and empty decrepit space? It sure isn’t a thriving city. And it definitely isn’t wealth or safety. It’s the place that for a large part of the last 50 years has had one of the highest murder rates in the country. At times it reached the highest per capita murder rate in the world including third world and war torn countries. Thankfully Darfur, Afghanistan and Iraq have helped out in that respect and made Detroit look a little safer. So, all it takes is civil war, abject poverty, a little genocide or guerilla warfare and Detroit starts looking pretty good. So why move out of Detroit? Because you value your life and your belongings.
Don’t forget though, for the older generation, CNN named downtown Detroit in the top 20 places to retire. Places, meaning cities. More like out of the largest metro areas. So, do not move out of Detroit if you have a fondness for early bird specials. But if you want a young, cutting edge hip culture? You move out of Detroit.
In 2009, vacancy was at over 28%. So, people do not move out for overcrowding purposes or lack of real estate. Every fourth or fifth house is bound to be empty and likely to be abandoned. A huge reason to move out of the city is the empty space. Nothing good ever happens in an abandoned house. People, animals, trash are sure to follow once the people move out. That leaves an interesting choice for the neighbors as all the excrement, literal and figurative is bound to cross property lines.
Just this year, the city started using federal stimulus funds to demolish 10,000 empty houses. Again, it takes years before anything positive will happen to those lots. In the meantime, the neighbors might be happy in theory about getting rid of the big empty rat trap; the reality is they have another thing coming. Well, a lot of other things coming. The rats and mice (maybe possums!) need a new place to call home and they certainly aren’t headed to the suburbs where it’s clean and nice. The dust and dirt will be coating all the local windows. The crews, well they might just be from some of the city’s largest group of arrivals lately. In the past few years, Detroit has become home to thousands of immigrants and the new Mexicantown International Welcome Center. So, expect very low paid construction crews to arrive for demolition and stay for 8-12 hours with their wrecking balls, jackhammers and the radios to drown it all out. They will leave at night, but most likely their trash won’t. And they will work 7 days a week from dawn until dusk. Suddenly a year into the project, as long as they keep funding, the neighbors will be longing for the empty shell and its relatively quiet resident drug addicts.
Eventually, all of this can be too much to bear. The choices are live next to a hole, a construction nightmare, or the new residents with their brand new house and car. They are in your neighborhood, but with a house that dwarfs yours in size, and was cheaper to build.
So, it’s poverty and crime or newcomers and development. It’s an entire city in the midst of inescapable emptiness or overwhelming gentrification. Who wants to stay and represent the old neighborhood when you are getting mugged or robbed by the people you are trying to unify? Who wants to deal with the growing pains of rebuilding the old haunts when all of the old people are gone and the new people don’t respect any of it anyway? Or when your favorite diner is the newest Starbucks? You can get a latte or a great new age CD, but not that neighborhood cooking served up by a lady whose mother and grandmother waited on you over the years. Why do these people move out of Detroit? The neighborhood they once knew and loved is gone and the new people are flipping houses and businesses and running them from the suburbs. It’s not their neighborhood without their neighbors and neighborhood businesses.
One main reason to move out of Detroit is because everyone else is doing it.