Once proud and often eloquent sentinels of economic prosperity, Detroit, Michigan has deteriorated right before our eyes. In the past three hundred years Detroit has gone through many transformations. These are the events that built Detroit from the ground up and the circumstances that decayed a great American city.
Detroit Population 1,500
Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac establishes a trading post on the Detroit River under orders from the French King Louis XIV. They name it Fort Pontchartrain du DĂŠtroit at the present site of Detroit, in homage to the Count of Pontchartrain, the Royal Minister of Marine.
The British gained control of the area in 1760 and thwarted an Indian attack three years later during Pontiacâ€™s Rebellion. In 1796 Detroit and its surrounding areas passed to the United States.
Detroit Population 9,000
Detroitâ€™s initial growth came from its economic base in flour milling and as a result, workshops and repair shops were heavily developed to support the flour milling industry. This development included shipyards.
Detroitâ€™s shipyards were not only building and repairing ships for the Great Lakes trade but also building ocean-going cargo ships. Detroit shipyards were among the first in the world to build steam ships, which lead to the development of an industry for the manufacture of marine steam engines.
Detroit Population 45,000
1846 Large deposits of iron and copper were discovered near the present-day city of Negaunee located in Michiganâ€™s Upper Peninsula. The deposits found there started becoming a large export of Detroit.
Marine steam engines were a major export from Detroit. The industry there supported suppliers, such as specialized engine parts, tool-makers and metal suppliers.
Detroit Population 275,000
The most important parts of the metal trade for Detroit were the refiners and smelters for local copper ores. This industry grew beyond supplying the Detroit market and became an export industry. Copper and iron alloys became Detroitâ€™s largest export industry and around 1880 the local deposits of copper ore were used up.
Automobiles were invented and fitted with internal combustion engines. The internal combustion engine was first developed for boats and since the Great Lakes area was a major market for such smaller vessels an indus-try for manufacturing boat engines emerged in Detroit.
Detroit Population 1,500,000
4% African American
A thriving carriage trade in Michigan setup both William Durant and Henry Ford to convert their carriage companies into automobile companies. Ford’s manufacturing innovations solidified Detroit’s status as the world’s car capital, and the industry spurred the city’s spectacular growth. The rich offering of Detroit industry enabled entrepreneurial automakers to put together their first models from off-the-shelf parts.
The development of the automobile industry led to a massive increase in demand for labor, which was filled by huge numbers of newcomers from Europe and American South. The city took on a more blue-collar appearance as its river-front became lined with factories and grain silos.
Detroit Population 1,750,000
The city was a magnet for workers coming from other parts of the country. AfricanAmericans had been pretty much closed out of the industries that provided skilled jobs, but that pretty much ended during World War II.
A race riot, spurred by competition among black and white residents for wartime factory jobs, resulted in 34 deaths.
Detroit Population 1,800,000
15% of Detroitâ€™s autoworkers were black compared to only 3% in 1940. Detroit, then, became a magnet for black migrants who heard about these great opportunities.
Through federal policies the government made it harder for blacks to own or buy homes in Detroit and prohibited making loans to risky properties. Real estate investors reinforced these invisible racial lines by steering black home buyers to certain neighborhoods and white home buyers to certain other neighbor-hoods, and stirring up racial anxiety when neighborhoods were along that invisible boundary.
Deindustrialization began. Jobs began to move out of Detroit to low-wage, rural regions of the United States and eventually the world. Detroit also saw laborsaving technology within the factories emerge and a decline in the number of manufacturing jobs. Manufacturing employment declined by 134,000 yet the cityâ€™s population expanded. African Americans were the last to benefit from the increase in jobs caused by World War II and were the first to lose their jobs simply because whites were working longer. Invisible lines were segregating whites and blacks throughout Detroit.
Race riots struck the city. After 5 days, 43 people lay dead, 1189 injured, 1,400 buildings burned and over 7000 people were arrested. This event accelerated â€œwhite flightâ€? from the city leaving many homes and building abandoned for years. The riot had lasting effects on the entire metro region and is usually cited as one of the reasons the Detroit area is among the most segregated areas in the United States.
Detroit Population 1,300,000
Coleman Young is elected Detroit’s first black mayor, a position he would hold for 20 years. Young’s style during his record four terms in office was not well received by many white Detroiters.
Foreign competition grew, hitting the city’s home-grown industry. As jobs vanished and the black population passed 50%, whites fled in droves–a phenomenon known as “white flight”. The city became pervaded by nostalgia for its prosperous past. Vain efforts were made to attract the factories back; in 1976 Henry Ford II opened the Renaissance Center complex to try to revitalise the city’s economy.
Detroit Population 1,150,000
Detroit had the largest percentage of single-family homes in the US. The city lost 1% of its housing stock each year to arson. In response, the city spent $25 million on the removal of abandoned houses and other structures.
The city spent $250 million on the removal of toxic waste on property the city was donating to Chrysler Corporation for the construction of a new Jeep factory.
Detroit Population 1,100,000
Detroit was the 11th largest city in the US. 79% of the population in Detroit was African American while 78% of the population in the surrounding suburbs was White. The average income in the city was 47% of what it was in those surrounding suburbs.
A state referendum paved the way for three Detroit casinosâ€”MGM Grand Detroit, Motor City Casino and Greektown Casinoâ€”with the goal of increasing tourism and stemming the flow of gambling dollars to nearby Windsor, Ontario.
Detroit Population 1,000,000
Only 9000 building permits were issued for new homes in Detroit, while over 108,000 demolition permits were issued and during the entire year of 1988, no building construction permits were issued in Detroit.
Comerica Park replaced historic Tiger Stadium as the new home of the Detroit Tigers and in 2002 Ford Field replaced the suburban located Pontiac Silverdome as the home of the Detroit Lions.
In Febuary Detroit hosted Superbowl XL at Ford Field. More than $1 billion was spent on new buildings, stadiums, an ice rink and snow park, and on restoring and cleaning facades in downtown Detroit. Sixty new retailers have opened their doors downtown in anticipation of crowds lured by the game. Around the gleaming new landmarks, including Ford Field, Comerica Park and the Compuware Center, the old city–and problems–remain. Ford Automotive announced it’s plan to cut 30,000 auto jobs and cost the region another plant. The city government was close to bankruptcy and laid off hundreds of workers last year. The population is down to 900,000 and is still shrinking. Critics ask who will support the new retailers once the Super Bowl crowds have gone.
In spite of Detroit’s recent downtown revitalization, leaders have failed to deal with the deeply rooted problems of job flight, racial segregation and discrimination. People look at the wasted landscape and ask: ‘Do you see ruins, or empty space? A past that is gone, or the landscape of some different kind of future?’