Saturday, April 5, 2008

SHRINKING CITY

The Motor City is still shrinking. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments estimates that Detroit's population will fall to 705,000 by 2035, a loss of more than 20 percent of its current population and a drop of more than one million from the city's 1.85 million peak in 1950. My friend Kurt Metzger, a Detroit-based demographer doesn't believe it. "I'm perfectly happy to accept slow growth across the region," Metzger told the Detroit Free Press. "The economy is going to continue to drive people out, but I don't believe Detroit will empty out to this degree," he said. "They're still leading in building permits in the region. I suppose it could all fall apart, but the city is just on the precipice of moving forward."

Even if his metaphor is more than a little mixed, he might be right. Demographic projections are infamously inaccurate. Even if the prognosis for Detroit seems grim today, there's nothing inevitable about the trajectory of urban growth or depopulation. After all, in the early 1970s, a Brookings Institution study ranked Boston and Detroit as two of the nation's most distressed cities. Ten years later, they were only half right.

Detroit's hope might be in its bankable land. Much of Detroit has reverted to nature, but that means huge tracts of open land, ripe for the reuse.