How the Car Drained Detroit

Among the theories about the cause of the demise of Detroit, this one’s one of my personal favorites.

According to this article published in The Pop Up City, auto culture, specifically sprawl, literally drained the life out of Detroit.


“The Detroit exodus began emerging right after the moment the car industry started to boom,” says writer Joop De Boer.

“Detroit’s population halved within 50 years, changing the city from a vibrant metropolis into an urban vacuum.”

“For years all over the world the economically strongest have chosen to leave the inner cities, and find themselves a house in the cultural desert of suburbia. However, over the last decade this situation seems to have changed slowly.

“The inner city has become a place for good living as well, preferable for an increasing amount of people. They are not suffering from the suffocating clouds of industrial poison any more. Cities have become talent magnets full of those who are unexplained in the social context of a village, and look for cultural and social tolerance. The modern city is occupied by those who look out for the city’s best quality… the city people.”



Filed under Featured, sprawl, U.S. Auto Industry

9 responses to “How the Car Drained Detroit

  1. Rob

    It’s a sad and twisted irony that the single thing that made Detroit so great eventually destroyed it from within.

  2. schmange

    Sprawl is the devil!
    That’s my take.

  3. YAY (not about Detroit, but that I could help contribute in a tiny way). Is there a better way to submit “news tips” than to email them to you, Angie?

  4. Sobac Retok

    Cities can be very attractive AFTER gentrification brings the comforts one had to flee the city to obtain.

  5. Sarah Hartley

    I still think many people choose the homes they buy based on the school systems both to educate their children and to assure resale value. So if inner city schools can compete with surburban schools, that would be a key in geeting people to buy downtown. The same could be said about crime rates, I think.

  6. Rob

    The schools issue always seems to be explained as a cut-and-dry phenomenon: suburban schools are good, urban schools are bad, therefore well-to-do people go to suburbs. But at the same time, there are a lot of respectable private schools throughout the rust belt cities, some of which are struggling even to stay open because of enrollment declines.

    Now consider that, in Cleveland anyway, the outer-ring suburbs with the so-called “best schools” also carry big home price premiums over the city and the inner-ring. Basically the exact opposite of the “drive ‘til you qualify” phenomenon that is often cited as a reason people go to suburbs. If you have one or two kids, send them to private school, and live in the city or the inner-ring, you might not necessarily come out behind.

  7. schmange

    I agree. You can easily pay $500 or $600 a month in property taxes in one of the suburbs with better schools. Meanwhile, you’ve got a higher house payment.

    People say, ‘Oh, the schools.’ Hey, with my house payment in the city of Cleveland, I will own the place outright before I have kids in middle school. What’s the cost of private school then?

    I’m so tired of hearing about the schools. If there were still middle-class people in the cities, schools wouldn’t even be a consideration.

  8. Schmange, I couldn’t agree with you more. Of course I’d like to see our school systems improve, but cities have to get past this assumption that schools are the saving grace of cities. The bottom line is, most big cities have shitty public school systems, but some cities manage to retain wealth better than those discussed on this blog. DC’s and Chicago’s school systems are every bit as rotten as CLeveland’s, Detroit’s and St. Louis’s, yet those cities somehow manage to escape the negative perceptions that blemish our cities.

    While improving our public schools should be a priority, I think we need to ditch the mentality that middle-class families are the saving grace of our inner cities. Instead, we should focus on more attainable goals such as making our cities welcoming places for other groups – gays and lesbians, childless couples, new immigrants, empty-nesters, young professionals. Cities, by their very nature, are in constant flux. The cycle of families moving to the suburbs will undoubtedly continue, but what’s important is making the city attractive for others to take their place. There are many types of people who prefer city living who don’t consider schools to be a priority.

  9. L

    I think the think about rust belt cities is the strength of the creative communities, its not just the despair thats under the microscope. After living in Detroit for over a year I think it is one of the places where risky things are able to happen within the art community, like MoCAD for instance which is featured in the above photo. Artists bring gentrification and often times instigate change and growth. Its a positive aspect of a dying city. I know this is a little off topic, but when I saw MoCAD back there I just had to comment. I guess on the topic, I’ve heard that property taxes in Pontiac, MI are through the roof, not the best way to gain inhabitants.

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