Dumas: We can’t ignore impact of gentrification

Detroit is a place of extremes.

Take Midtown, where theaters, lofts, restaurants and hospitals are cropping up. Driven predominately by young, educated, white people, Midtown and much of downtown are bursting with development.

Then there’s the rest of Detroit – clusters of neighborhoods, many marred by crime and abandonment, losing residents every day.

Too often, when we talk about Detroit, we either say it’s on the verge of a renaissance or it’s a hopeless disaster.

What politicians, critics and city boosters won’t acknowledge is the gap between many lifelong Detroiters and younger, newer residents.

“The challenge is balancing the needs of those who have stayed with the wants of those who are arriving,” Karen Dumas, a communications expert and former spokeswoman of Mayor Dave Bing, said in a column for the Detroit News today.

I happen to be one of those white, young Detroiters living in a loft in Midtown. Among the top concerns of my neighbors – bike lanes, coffee shops and art studios.

Walk a few blocks away, and homeless people are begging for change, houses are vacant and drunks are passed out on a curb.

In the city’s neighborhoods, families are struggling with substandard housing, crime and failing schools – all the result of decades of inequality.

“Change is necessary for Detroit to truly reach its potential,” Dumas wrote. “But it is important to remember that there was a population that existed here long before the new discovery or rediscovery of this urban explorer’s gem. There must be a place for native Detroiters too, the majority of whom continue to work hard and unselfishly to create a respectable quality of life despite limited resources and support. They cannot and should not be treated like unwelcome visitors.”

As Bing continues to demolish houses, improve neighborhoods and attract growth to Midtown and downtown, now is the time to talk about the two very different Detroits.

Unfortunately Dumas isn’t working for Bing anymore because she was run out of city hall last summer by a vicious media that became obsessed with a lawsuit that essentially alleged she was a tough boss.

Dumas was a bright light in Bing’s administration, tackling unpopular issues, challenging the status quo and showing no tolerance for mismanagement or complacency. Missing since her departure has been a public dialogue about the impact of gentrification.

Black or white, young or old, we all want a better life in Detroit. Let’s talk about that together.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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  • “There must be a place for native Detroiters too, the majority of whom continue to work hard and unselfishly to create a respectable quality of life despite limited resources and support. They cannot and should not be treated like unwelcome visitors.”

    I agree with this and think about it all the time. My only issue is that I don’t believe it’s right to make this statement without making the opposite one simultaneously: “Native Detroiters should welcome — no, invite and encourage — a young, educated, and affluent population to the city…even if it means their own displacement.


    Because the young, educated, and affluent are mobile and bring economic power. They could choose to go anywhere. The sheer majority…easily 75% or more simply choose to leave the state, many to Chicago.

    Without this new energy, money, consumer spending, and access to capital, Detroit will die. And, frankly, the “old Detroit” is dead. It’s already dead. So now the choices for those who are old natives are either a bad choice or a worse choice. I agree with Dumas that we need to have dialogue to ensure that the needs of all are being taken into consideration. But we also have to remember, if we have to choose between 3 homeless living in an abandoned building vs. redeveloping that building and filling it with 80 rent payers and the tax revenue and jobs that will create…

    We HAVE to choose the redevelopment. Otherwise things will only get worse.

    • bebow

      So, it’s a question of choosing to service hipsters or homeless squatters? You know nothing about residents living in the neighborhoods, and therefore, assuming we are all worthless, deciding to deny us the service we’re paying to receive to enhance your own service is an easy call to make, isn’t it?

      • You think I know nothing about residents living in the neighborhoods? I’m curious how you arrived at that conclusion. I spent 18 years on the eastside, in 48205 and 48224. You and I both are arriving at the same conclusion: to leave the neighborhood. The only difference is that I’m choosing to stay in the City while paying way more in taxes than I would in any other suburb. You want to head out for the “most remote suburban location available, never to set foot in Detroit again.”

        Your anger is totally understandable. 
        At the end of the day, money is the crucial factor in all of our issues. We are running out money and can not afford to service our citizens.Net revenue should drive all decisions. If that means we lose a household paying $2,000 per year in taxes in exchange for a household that’s paying $4,000 per year in taxes, then we’re moving in the right direction. Admittedly, that’s gonna piss people off, and I understand that. But understand that it’s not because I think that anyone is “worthless”. It’s because the city needs money to run, and right now we don’t have enough.

        • bebow

          Now, you’re assuming someone with deep pockets will replace each of us who leave.

          You’re dreaming.

          We’re paying far more than $2,000 in taxes, not that it matters.

          We’ll pay less in suburbia and won’t miss the complimentary third world treatment.

          As a parting gift, we’ll leave you the murderous dopeman so you won’t feel lonely after we’re gone.

  • bebow

    Hmmm, this is such a tough call.
    Should we address “needs” or “wants” on our limited budget?
    The neighborhoods are destroyed, because Detroit’s ruling elite decided to decommission them on the sneak to address its own “wants” several years ago.
    What happened here is no mystery to those of us who experienced it firsthand.
    Like Jacqueline Hughes-Ross, I will probably be leaving.
    I won’t reward the city for what it has done by relocating in downtown or midtown.
    Instead, I’ll be heading for the most remote suburban location available, never to set foot in Detroit again.
    When I go, the city will have another vacant, stripped, wide open to trespass property in its inventory.

  • A very thought provoking article. I was born and raise in Detroit. I earned three degrees from U of D and Wayne State U. I married, raised my own children in Detroit as I worked as an Area Sales Manager at J. L. Hudson, and later as a teacher/ administrator at Detroit Public Schools.
    I am now retired, living in one of the better neighborhoods, slowly watching blight, decay and crime inch its way to where I live.
    Every day I am moving closer to making the decision to move out of my beloved city! I am waiting for the day for my husband to retire. If Detroit has not truly begun to do something about its. neighborhoods, and consider its residents who have remained loyal to Detroit… we will move away, like so many others.
    There has to be a place where seniors can live outside of this community’s self-imprisoned state.

  • I recall that population that existed here long before…. They finished school, worked hard, got married, bought a house, raised kids (in that order), obeyed the law, paid taxes and built thriving neighborhoods. Unfortunately, about a million of them moved out of Detroit. “Native Detroiters”, what the hell kind of racist code word is that?