The Guardian gets Detroit right again



You can already hear the groaning, the complaints that a recent batch of articles in the British paper The Guardian simply don't get Detroit right. And, given the quarters they're emanating from, you can be all too certain that the spunky paper has again touched a nerve. 

The latest story is a piece by Brian Doucet, a Dutch academic who visits Detroit regularly as part of his work in urban geography. He accurately discusses the problems facing the city, the region, and the world as a whole in a brief piece contrasting the growth of downtown Detroit with the situation in the city's neighborhoods.

The individual pieces of that story should be nothing new to anybody who watches or reads the mainstream news from the city's major outlets: By now we're all used to glowing stories about downtown Detroit and horrifying crime reports from the hundred-plus square miles where poverty prevails.

What's different about the reporting in the Guardian, however, is the way it puts those two different worlds together, seeing them as part and parcel of the growing inequality facing cities all over the world. By speaking with local scholars such as Wayne State University's George Galster, a picture begins to emerge of how policy decisions deepen and exacerbate differences in wealth — all without solving any of the underlying problems.

Of course, conventional wisdom is that investment in downtown will naturally benefit the rest of the city. As downtown grows, the benefits of that will "trickle down" to the rest of the city in the form of improved public services, such as improved police response times, functioning streetlights, quality schools, and well-groomed city parks.

The problem is that there's not a lot of evidence that this is what happens. In fact, there's abundant evidence that the rising fortunes of one neighborhood do little to aid other neighborhoods — in the absence of strong policies to ensure that it happens.

Or so says another excellent recent piece in the Guardian by Peter Moskowitz. The article, entitled "The two Detroits: a city both collapsing and gentrifying at the same time," discusses how even New York City, with its skyrocketing Manhattan real estate values, is still a city in which "nearly half the city’s residents live near the poverty line."

It's strong, excellent journalism that puts together the facts and assembles a story that shows who stands to win, who stands to lose, and what's responsible. 

And it's becoming increasingly clear that if anybody wants to really understand Detroit, there's only one good, old-fashioned broadsheet that will give it to them. And it isn't located here.

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