Tackling misconceptions about Detroit

Tackling misconceptions about Detroit

  • detroit
  • cities
  • myths
  • people
  • population

Several months ago, I had the idea of writing an article about the misconceptions and misinformation about the City of Detroit. Here's some of what I wrote and how it relates to the Go Detroit Challenge.


Detroit has just emerged from a complicated municipal bankruptcy. It was a monumental triumph of people, from all sectors, coming together for the greater good of an awe-inspiring city in relatively short period of time. Detroit is still not without it's problems but our city is in a much better position to tackle its challenges, and people within the city, and from far away, are beginning to see the light.

There are so many areas of misinformation, that it is difficult to focus on just one, so here are a few myths about Detroit that I'd like to start with.

Detroit is a place with no people

A typical internet search on Detroit would historically result in images of buildings in various states of disrepair; lost and abandoned. Known as “Ruin porn” - Detroit was rarely posted in a postive light. What’s interesting about many of the images of Detroit you'll find, particularly on the internet, is that they lack people. Showing all the despair and minus any people has a profound effect - it minimizes empathy. During the height of the Great Depression more than a third of Detroit’s labor force was unemployed. If you search for images of that era, you'll find photos with lots of people but not the vacant buildings. If you can identify with people captured in photos you can empathasize with them. Those faceless internet pictures just create indifference and even resentment about Detroit’s plight, they also give the impression the Detroit is a ghost town, so let's tacklet that next. 

Detroit is a Ghost Town

Let's talk about Detroit's population decline...What's interesting, is that when Detroit’s “unique” population loss is reported, it is often not reported how that fact relates to similar cities in America. When Detroit’s population loss problem is viewed in isolation, it becomes a harder problem to solve. People who visit Detroit are often surprised that city isn't a total ghost town. Detroit’s population is currently just below 700,000. To give you a comparison (which I love sharing as it often shocks people): San Francisco is roughly 865,00, Boston is 667,000 and Atlanta’s population is 420,000. Detroit still has density higher than Denver and Dallas but lacked the social and economic diversity to sustain any wealth and so the money moved to the suburbs.

Detroit is the crime capital

It has been well publicized that Detroit struggles with crime. Decades of severe loss of population, an under-performing public school system, an economy heavily dependent on just one industry, abandoned homes and deserted neighborhoods have fueled crime. Detroit has been wrongly badged the nation's crime and murder captial. But over the last 30 years, Washington DC has been listed with the highest number of murders eight times, while New Orleans has been listed 12 times. St Louis currently has the highest number. So Detroit is not the only city in transition, and while crime poses major challenges, there are also lots of law abiding citizens interested in improving the quality of living and the safety of people in the City. 

Detroit will never change

The need to reinvent is nothing new - change is a must and requires adaptation. Any plant or animal species that doesn’t adapt to change will become extinct - a law which also applies to people, nations, and even cities. Man has been moving since he has been on Earth. And, I believe, that’s what will happen in Detroit. People are already starting to chose Detroit for one significant sustainable reason: they love it.

The Go Detroit mission is to improve the way people move in and around Detroit. But if we are constantly told that this place has little value any positive change or improvements will be hampered. Detroit was, is, and will always be a great - so let's focus on that!


-- Doug

Doug Denard is a member of The Rider's License team and is a passionate local Detroiter. He will be writing a series of blog posts which further discuss the misconceptions of the city. Check out his original blog 'Where did everyone go?' which this was based on. 

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