Detroit is changing. Downtown mega-developments are underway, new businesses are opening up all over the urban core, and, perhaps most importantly to people’s lived experience, neighborhoods are seeing new residents.
This recent influx is largely the result of white suburbanites and out-of-towners moving into communities that are composed primarily of people of color. That has the potential to cause tension in neighborhoods that experienced decades of disinvestment and white flight.
To help newcomers approach their moves with more care, we spoke with Orlando Bailey, chief development officer at Eastside Community Network, a nonprofit developer that focuses on resident engagement to foster sustainable neighborhood growth. Bailey, who is a native Detroiter with years of experience in community engagement, provided some helpful things to consider when moving to a Detroit neighborhood.
Find out how your neighborhood self-identifies
Aside from a few historic Detroit neighborhoods like Indian Village or Palmer Woods, many neighborhood names are fairly recent inventions, used to market the areas to potential homebuyers. Instead, many longtime Detroiters say that they’re simply from either the east or west side.
When moving to a new place, don’t just assume the name you’re aware of is what the actual residents call the neighborhood. It’s a simple matter, but an important one. “New folks moving often come with information, but it might not be what residents subscribe to,” Bailey says.
Don’t try to change a culture that already exists
“Recognize that the community you are moving into has probably been predominantly black for a long time,” says Bailey, who is black. “Because of that, there is a certain culture, a certain way of life, a certain camaraderie that may make folks not of that culture uncomfortable.”
This way of life sometimes makes newcomers uneasy. If that’s you, consider investigating your own biases and internalized narratives about the city.
“One main misconception is around black people who chose to stay here,” Bailey says. “They were the backbone of this city’s dwindling tax base, who kept paying taxes in a city that did not have the capacity to deliver basic city services, but who were blamed for the deterioration and decline of Detroit.”
And always be mindful of calling the police. Many communities of color consider the police a threat, and there have been far too many instances of white people calling the police on black people engaged in mundane activities.
See what resources are already available
Some people who move into a new neighborhood come with a savior complex, believing that they have the capacity to “fix” local issues.
This mentality is problematic for many reasons. It assumes that a neighborhood is broken and needs fixing. It also suggests that there aren’t already local groups or block clubs working to improve the neighborhood. More likely than not, these neighborhood associations have been around for years.
“You probably shouldn’t start an organization when you first move into a place,” Bailey says. “Whatever ideas you have to support or implement in your new neighborhood, make sure it’s not already happening. There’s a level of research that has to take place before offering solutions.”
It’s easy to find out if an active community group exists in your neighborhood. See if there’s one on the interactive map and directory of community-based organizations compiled by Community Development Advocates of Detroit. Check in with your district managers, who are generally very responsive to resident questions. But the easiest and most obvious way to find out what’s happening is through your neighbors themselves.
Invest in and advocate for your neighborhood
As already mentioned, when new people move into a neighborhood, existing residents may have concerns about how the neighborhood will change. But there are ways that newcomers can mitigate the negative impacts of that change.
One easy way is to support and spend money at long-standing businesses. Higher property values mean higher rents, which also means those spots will need more business, including yours.
If you’re buying and investing in a home, you also likely have access to resources—whether that’s through your own money or your knowledge of the programs that are available to help people get credit and grants.
“Being a good neighbor means sharing information that may be helpful to your neighbor,” Bailey says.
Use those resources, thoughtfully, in support of your neighbors. Once you’ve gotten to know the community, see if you have experiences or skills—in navigating local bureaucracy, applying for grants, or accessing financial resources—that you can share. Those resources may ultimately help people stay rooted in place, and keep your neighborhood stable.