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What does “gentrification” mean in Detroit?

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Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

Welcome to Friday Open Threads, wherein we'll pass the mic to readers to speak up about topics of interest, distress, enthusiasm, horror, and more. Have something you want discussed? Let us know. This week’s loaded topic: gentrification.

The catch-all term “gentrification” has multiple meanings, depending on who you’re talking to, and it’s certainly a word that’s thrown around here in Detroit a lot. Recently, we’ve been seeing it more and more, as Detroit attracts more out-of-towners and housing prices continue to climb. Bridge Magazine profiled two experts who study gentrification around the country: One contends it’s displacing long-time citizens; the other says higher-income residents are needed in the city to continue growth.

While Detroit is certainly not New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles—large portions of the city remain in dire shape—development is booming around downtown, Midtown, and the rest of the 7.2.

Has displacement happened? Yes. Are all parts of the city treated equal? No. So when people talk about “gentrification” in Detroit, what are we talking about?

  • Does it mean young generations of local families can no longer afford rent in their neighborhood when they decide to move out of their homes?
  • Does it mean tax incentives are given to billionaires to aid their development projects, while neighborhoods are left as they have been for decades?
  • Does it mean we’re celebrating a 3.3 mile streetcar system that runs down one main road when we really need a stronger bus and/or rail system throughout the region?
  • Does it mean there’s still an increasingly white narrative in a city with a majority black population?
  • Does it mean that many people feel left out of the decision-making process in their rapidly-changing city?

On the flip side, what are the positive effects of development? Does so-called “gentrification” always skew negative? How is development we’re seeing in the downtown core spurring more positive development throughout Detroit?

We want to hear what you think, Curbed readers. When you hear people talking about gentrification in Detroit, what does it mean to you?