It’s Time For The Narrative Of “Two Detroits” To Die

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There is a lot of talk about the concept of “Two Detroits,” and has been for awhile.

For some, it’s about the haves and have nots. Or black or white. Some might extend to suburb and city. Downtown vs. neighborhoods. There are a million ways you could cut a dividing line, if you so chose.

Here’s the thing. “Two Detroits” is such a horribly oversimplified narrative that it should be done. Fin. Over. Dead.

There are, as of last estimation, 677,116 people in this city, and to each one of those people, they’re going to have a different view of what’s going on. Are there 677,116 Detroits?


Should we go from an oversimplified narrative to actually respecting and understanding people’s situations, and then developing solutions that actually work?


Hot takes and angry Facebook statuses about a very popular video produced by Bedrock and then a LinkedIn post by a passionate Detroiter seem to want to pit folks against each other.

Conflict gets clicks, and the media makes money off of your attention. The more clicks and views and eyeballs, the more money you make. That’s how the circus runs.

But it’s important to know that history tells us that this is not a new discussion, and this circus has come through town before.

We were talking lofts and walkable convenience 32 years ago.
We were talking lofts and walkable convenience more than three decades ago.

If you go to the Detroit Public Library and hit up their archive files of newspapers and magazines, you in relatively short order will be able to find stories from decades past that talk about “Downtown is coming back!” along with think pieces on “Don’t leave the neighborhoods out!”

From pretty much every angle, it’s a fact that we as a community – in the city and the millions who live in the suburbs, by far the majority of our regional population now – have been talking about the same stuff for years.

It just feels new this time, because enough people who are doing it now don’t remember it the last time.

It’s said that doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results is the definition of insanity – and there’s a level of insanity in what’s been happening here.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t real work to do. A well-functioning future Detroit should have on-ramps for people needing to get education in the workforce and a tourist trap neighborhood or two. It should have independent finds and yes, it’s going to have some chains. It can have people who just commute to work and see ballgames and empty their wallets at bars, and others who never leave. It can have artists and businessmen.

On Newport and Vernor in Detroit.
On Newport and Vernor in Detroit.

Cities, at least the successful ones, are hubs. They’re many things at once. They’re places to bring people together, and that proximity is part of what makes a city special. Where you can experience different thoughts, different cultures, and find unique opportunities or a new start. The joy of people, if you will.

We need to move from a place where we’re counting who’s out and eventually get to a point where we can count everyone in.

The question of if Detroit’s current comeback run is going to actually stick this time comes down to this: Will we be able to find a way to work together, across neighborhood lines, socioeconomic lines, city lines, and racial lines – or are we going to continue to tear ourselves apart, focused on the idea of us vs. them?

If we choose poorly, we’ll look back more than 30 years from now and see the same headlines as 1984 all over again.

  • I agree that we should all work together, but in doing so we should not ignore reality.
    I live in the Morningside neighborhood. Out my back window are five boarded-up houses and one vacant lot. A couple more in front, and the blocks on either side are two-thirds vacant. It doesn’t feel like Midtown or Corktown. It feels, excuse me, like another Detroit.
    I have a car and can get anywhere in the city for work in a few minutes. Yet there are many who rely on buses to get to minimum-wage jobs — or who can’t get the jobs because there is no good transportation to suburban locations were the jobs are. There are two Detroits here, and this time I’m on the better-off side.
    We could go on about schools, water, crime, race, and lots of other things.
    Of course, saying “two Detroits” is over-simplified. But ignoring the reality of two Detroits is much worse.

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