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.