Two Speed Recovery: Detroit and Beyond

The New York Times published a piece investigating the recovery of Detroit, outlining the two distinct worlds the city’s recovery has created and exacerbated. But this story isn’t exclusive to Detroit. As American cities bounce back from the recession, two very separate worlds are taking hold in cities all across the nation. Whether you’re in Washington, DC, San Francisco, or Columbus, Ohio it is clear that not everyone in our recovering cities are actually recovering.

One can easily read the following passage, replacing their local neighborhoods with Detroit’s and see how familiar this two speed recovery really is:

There is a building boom, bustling sports stadiums and upscale signifiers like the Whole Foods Market or the Shake Shack opening soon that are transforming the areas in and around Detroit’s once desolate downtown. Hipster outposts in Midtown and Corktown are drawing young people from the suburbs and afar. The swift exit in 2014 from the city’s traumatic bankruptcy has been followed, almost everyone agrees, by significant progress on improving city services long deemed hopeless.

But what that means for the rest of the city and who is benefiting have set in motion a layered conversation about development, equity, race and class. It is playing out with particular force here in what was once the nation’s fourth-largest city and is now a place at once grappling with poverty, crime and failing schools, but also still animated by the bones of its former glory.


It’s important for leadership to consider this when crafting policies, and incentivizing development. For us, here at Root + Branch, with our interest (some might say obsession)  in inclusivity and equitable development, found Detroit resident, James Feagin’s point especially interesting:  Detroit “was once a great city that fostered an enormous black middle class, most of whom have stuck around through the bad times and expect to be part of Detroit’s next act.”

Any recovery or revitalization that leaves out long term residents, who have weathered the storm, who have made the neighborhoods interesting and attractive, isn’t real recovery. We can’t leave our own out of these 2nd acts.


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