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New report shows Detroit diversifying, but anxieties around race remain

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No U.S. city grew more in diversity than Detroit over the last decade

A big gathering at a downtown park. People stand or sit in foldable chairs around a metal statue. Tall buildings surround the mass of people. Photo by Michelle Gerard

Detroit’s population loss has slowed to a trickle or halted completely. But that reversal is having effects on the city’s racial demographics and people’s perceptions of those changes.

U.S. News & World Report recently updated its “diversity index” and found that cities across America have become a lot more diverse. Of the 66 cities with populations over 300,000 analyzed for the report, 46 (about 70 percent) became more diverse between 2010 and 2018.

No city’s score changed more than Detroit’s, which saw “the biggest gain in diversity” in the country over the last decade. In 2010, 85 percent of the city’s population was black and 10 percent was white. By 2018, Detroit became 80 percent black and 15 percent white.

These shifts were caused not just by white residents moving into the city, but also black residents moving to the suburbs. According to the report, “Cities in the Midwest as well as the Northeast are losing black residents to the suburbs, enough that the ‘black suburbanization movement’ could be considered a national trend.”

A city’s diversity score is calculated by how likely it is that two people chosen at random will be of a different race. Between 2010 and 2018, the probability in Detroit grew by 21 percent. Other cities that saw a significant gain in their diversity score include Colorado Springs, Cleveland, Columbus, Seattle, and Boston.

But a broader analysis of Detroit by U.S. News & World Report found that many African Americans in the city feel a sense of anxiety and skepticism about the changes. Detroit is gentrifying and attracting new residents, but are those new amenities and businesses accessible to older residents?

While renaissance Detroit downtown is booming with retro diners, electric rideshare scooters and a streetcar line partially funded by billionaire Dan Gilbert, the other Detroit’s close-knit neighborhoods of tidy brick homes rub shoulders with blocks of abandoned houses and vacant lots—part of an estimated 20 square miles of empty land within city limits. Residents here cope with blight, broken schools, a poverty rate several times the national average and a slow-moving middle-class exodus.

Other lifelong Detroiters featured in the piece describe feeling alienated by new development.

It’s another way to frame the “Two Detroits” narrative that has vexed the city for years. Unless more inclusive, accessible spaces are built, it will likely vex the city for many more.