Can hipsters save Detroit? Probably not, Sugrue says

March 25, 2014
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With the Midtown and Downtown areas becoming emerging cultural and commercial centers in recent years, it’s far from shocking that Detroit earned a spot on Fodor’s “2014 Go List.” Some of the attractions that Fodor’s cited were the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Heidelberg Project and the seemingly multiplying craft cocktail bars — essentially, Detroit is perceived as a good place to see art and get trashed. In the past few years, the city has seemingly become a destination for hipsters, which is one reason why words like “revitalization” and “gentrification” have been repeated ad nauseam. However, does the recent influx of hipsters help the city?

Thomas Sugrue, the Detroit-born scholar and urban theorist who wrote the book The Origins of the Urban Crisis, argues that while hipsters help some areas of the city, it really has no effect on the areas that have been overlooked. For example, opening a vegan dog salon in Midtown may benefit Midtown but it does not benefit the Littlefield neighborhood. Sugrue calls this phenomenon “trickle-down urbanism,” and he says does not work because of the limited range. Detroit remains the most segregated city in the country, which terribly impedes the recovery of neighborhoods that desperately need it. To put it bluntly, longtime residents who are living under the poverty line feel disrespected and the younger generation moving in feel unwelcome in certain neighborhoods.

Although the list of the city’s issues continues to lengthen, overhauling the Detroit Public School system and creating jobs for low income residents are some of the points that Sugrue suggests will help the city as a whole. These things are often overlooked by new residents who have yet to learn how the city operates. Also, Detroit is 83% black, which is why it is integral to focus on improving the wellbeing of working class African Americans. “The signs of a city’s success are people sitting in outdoor cafes. It’s beautifully landscaped streets. It’s new high rises going up. It’s restaurants,” claims Sugrue. Now the issue arises of spreading those efforts to surrounding areas that are struggling. Residents should be proud that Detroit is a cultural location, but you cannot revive a city with hipsters alone. 

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  • NiteGoat

    *Cass Corridor

  • nobsartist

    I remember only a short time ago before the mooching ilitches tore down the city when throngs of people would spend time in Detroit. Today, I only drive by on occasion and actually go out of my way to avoid it. It is a shit hole.

  • anatman29

    Detroit started out as a collection of villages. The nucleus of each one is still there. Start by restoring the villages. Make them walkable. Build parkways with trams to connect them. Build bike paths and lanes on the half-empty streets. Encourage urban farming and subsistence hunting and trapping (the voyageur roots of Detroit). The arts are important in Detroit – more important than the automobile. Build on that. Use the river and beautify the riverbank. It’s a beautiful location. Think big.

  • rick

    Trickle-down Urbanism isn’t about hipsters. in fact, I can say it’s not at all. It’s more about investing in downtown to make it attractive for the creative and professional class, and expecting that investment to have a significant reach to Detroit’s poor in the outer neighborhoods.

    This downtown investment indeed is happening; this is likewise an essential component to Detroit’s revival. No one is suggesting it’s the only thing needed however. Likewise, there is a trickle-down effect in regards to increase tax revenue. And there is a trickle-down effect in regards to job growth and new business incubation. These things also improve the city’s image which would help bring in further funding, as well as large-scale corporate jobs (including jobs for the poorer residents).

    However, I do want to mainly point out Sugrue’s article is not about hipsters…it’s about where we invest money. To that, I think it may be rational to put large investment in the core–where it’s easier and more straightforward, and requires primarily capital investment, as opposed to investments in people and labor (much harder to do). That’s how it works. Look to an increase in the service sector as a result, and if you’re a nonprofit job-training program, then focus on training Detroit’s residents to work in that field.

  • Steve

    Stop carjacking, stop making going to prison some sort of rite of passage. The government cannot create jobs, having a workforce with marketable skills creates jobs.
    The only reason Detroit isn’t “back” yet is the crime. There are so many nice places and things in the city thst no one will see because they don’t want to travel through war zones to see it.

  • Steve

    The Illitch family has brought literally hundreds of millions downtown, through jobs, investment, etc..which turns out to be about the same amount as Kwame stole from the city. Throngs of people only come to Detroit for events now because “hanging out” is dangerous.