Monday, July 29, 2013

city vs. suburbs


bloomberg | Walking to meet friends for a drink at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in bustling downtown Birmingham, Michigan, Cindy Boudreau said she never goes into Detroit except for an occasional Red Wings hockey game. She doesn’t see the point, especially now that the city is bankrupt. 

“We would rather stay in the suburbs,” Boudreau, a 66-year-old retired real-estate manager, said in an interview about a block from a park where children played on an Astroturf-covered mound. “We’ve got all we want here.” 

Boudreau’s view exemplifies a generations-long divide between Detroit, where the per-capita income is $15,261, and suburbs such as Birmingham, where it’s $67,580. Detroit’s record $18 billion bankruptcy case raises questions about how affluence can co-exist with poverty, and whether urban areas with hollow cores can thrive. 

Cities in Oakland County, which abuts Detroit, constitute what amounts to a parallel community that is whiter, richer and more Republican. L. Brooks Patterson, the county executive for 20 years, argues that Oakland can function apart from a failed Detroit -- that Michigan’s prosperity no longer depends on its largest city. Republican Governor Rick Snyder says the entire state’s future is bound together.

Urban Island
“That’s the debate that we really need,” said Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, an Ann Arbor nonprofit working to improve the economy. “What’s Detroit going to be? Is it going to be connected to the region or not? Is it going to be vibrant, and if it is, what’s the role of the suburbs?” 

Detroit became the fourth-largest U.S. city by 1950 with the growth of the auto industry, as what are now General Motors Co. (GM), Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC churned out cars. Since then, 1 million have left for places such as Oakland County, whose population more than tripled to 1.2 million. 

The county is the state’s wealthiest, according to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics. Cities such Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, where auto executives and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lived, are only a few miles from Detroit’s vast tracts of decay.