It’s fun to say things like “Detroit is the New Brooklyn,” or Berlin, or Los Angeles or Pittsburgh or even Cleveland. It’s true that many of these places have transformed in a way similar to the way some would like to see Detroit transform. However, it’s fairly uncritical to assume that Detroit is “just like” Brooklyn was in the 90’s, or just like Berlin was in the 80’s. It’s like comparing an apple to a potato.

I do believe Detroit will transform, but also believe that Detroit is Detroit. There is our own unique history to draw upon, our own unique set of trials and tribulations, and Detroit has the opportunity to set a precedent with how they are overcome. Detroit has it’s own recipe for a comeback that you won’t easily find replicated in any other place.

Here’s a list of 5 simple reasons that Detroit is not the new Brooklyn.

Brooklyn vs. Detroit size comparison

1. Brooklyn’s population is far higher … and much more dense than the City of Detroit

Breaking down the data in the infographic above, basically you need to move almost all of Oakland and Macomb counties into an area two-thirds the size of the City of Detroit (as well as keep all the residents in Detroit) in order to equal the amount of population density in Brooklyn (technically, King’s County).

Brooklyn Bridge. Detroit is the new Brooklyn
Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Patrick McNamara

2. Detroit is nowhere near as ethnically diverse as Brooklyn

Brooklyn represents a true melting pot, whereas regionally Metro Detroit’s population is a majority of minorities. The suburbs in turn are disproportionately white.

In Brooklyn, no one group is more than 50% of the population:

  • 42.8% are White
  • 34.3% are Black or African-American
  • 10.5% are Asian
  • 19.8 percent of the total population identifies as Hispanic or Latino
  • 12.4% are is everybody else.

In contrast, the City of Detroit is much less diverse:

  • 82.7% of the city is Black
  • 10.6% of the city is white
  • 6.8 percent of the total population identifies as Hispanic or Latino
  • 6.7% is everything else, with barely a trace of an Asian population.

View of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge Photo: Patrick McNamara

3. Brooklyn is part of New York, which is a global city … and Detroit currently is not

Brooklyn is part of New York City, and NYC is a global city or “alpha city” just like London or Tokyo. Detroit is not home to global financial markets such as stock exchange, does not carry the economic clout which sways the the nation (with Detroit’s power declining as it has been tied to one industry alone), and does not have a multi-functional infrastructure with the best transportation, legal, medical, and entertainment services in the country. While Detroit was once a global city in our yesteryear and is home to the American auto industry, New York has always been a global city and has a very diverse economic base. Detroit isn’t there yet.

Elevated transit in Brooklyn. Photo: Patrick McNamara
Elevated transit in Brooklyn. Photo: Patrick McNamara

4. There is virtually no public transportation in Detroit compared to what is offered in Brooklyn

To put it mildly, Detroit has a dysfunctional bus system. In a city built to be dominated by the automobile, the bus system is primarily used by the city’s carless and is known for being unreliable throughout the region. Cabs are sparse, and car services like Uber only help reduce the problem for a small segment of the population, mostly centered around the greater downtown area.

New York city has a multi-layered public transit system with a regional train system, elaborate subway system, fully functional bus system, and plenty of cabs and car services that make getting to work and going out and about easy for everybody in the city and surrounding areas.

Population of Detroit vs. Brooklyn

5. Detroit has been through more economic troubles than Brooklyn has ever had

There are multiple ideas to back this idea up. The population in Detroit took a gigantic nosedive (see graph above), while Brooklyn remained about constant. You can also look at economic factors as well, such as household income over time.

In conclusion, it’s not about saying Detroit doesn’t have opportunity or doesn’t have potential … or doesn’t have some amazing assets. Detroit has all of those things. But it’s a disservice to ourselves if we’re not also very real about what we’re dealing with, and pie-in-the-sky flyover journalistic comments do no favors. We need to be clear about the journey ahead of us. Detroit should be uniquely, creatively, successfully … Detroit.

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