Evaluation of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Teams Pilot: Final Report. A3.1 Context


From the early 1900s, Detroit was poised to secure its reputation as a titan in the automotive manufacturing industry. The sector grew rapidly in Detroit, bringing with it many economic opportunities and advancements, along with a surge in population. The city enjoyed several decades of prosperity until broad trends influencing the decline of American manufacturing reached the Motor City in the 1970s, setting off a long-term depression. Racial tensions and outright riots preceded vast white flight from Detroit, exacerbating population decline. This depression accelerated from 2000 to 2010, when the city population declined by 25 percent to reach a low of 713,777.

At the time of the SC2 assessment, Detroit was experiencing high vacancy rates, low educational achievement, and high unemployment. Detroit also faced the challenge of a shrinking city and tax base, and the looming threat of bankruptcy or the appointment of an emergency financial manager to take over power from the city.

Detroit’s abundant challenges meant that the federal attention showered on the city was also abundant. Public leaders attempted to reverse the economic decline of Detroit through many investments and incentives, including some from the Kresge and Ford foundations. Quicken Loans has made significant investments in downtown, over $1 billion in three years, including moving their offices and 7,000 employees to downtown from the suburbs in 2010. The company has invested in an incubator for technology start-ups and fronted funding for a light-rail line through the center of Detroit. Other signs point to a new vitality in midtown, including the city’s first Whole Foods, a high-end grocery store.

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