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Governmental Fragmentation In Detroit Essay

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McNair Scholars Research Journal
Volume 4 | Issue 1

Article 4


Governmental Fragmentation in Metropolitan
Kristal D. Davis
Eastern Michigan University, [email protected]

Follow this and additional works at: Recommended Citation
Davis, Kristal D. (2012) "Governmental Fragmentation in Metropolitan Detroit," McNair Scholars Research Journal: Vol. 4: Iss. 1, Article 4.
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Davis: Governmental Fragmentation in Detroit

Kristal Davis
Dr. Joseph Ohren, Mentor
At its population peak in the 1950’s, Detroit, Michigan was inhabited by almost two million residents and served as the car capital of the country. Today, however, the population has dropped by more than fifty percent. With the loss of Detroit residents to surrounding cities and counties, the wedge between Detroit and the suburbs has grown wider. Detroit, once considered the crown jewel of the state of Michigan, is now treated as an immovable stain by its surrounding municipalities. What this means for the metro Detroit area is a high level of governmental fragmentation, preventing economic opportunities for both the city and its suburbs. This is especially unfortunate for the economy of the metro Detroit area because of the current economic crisis in the state of Michigan. With the state’s long tradition of home rule and pride in autonomous, municipal decision-making, municipalities in the metro Detroit area might better realize economic opportunities and the relief they can bring to their own local economies by not only collaborating with the city of Detroit, but with neighboring cities as well.

The metropolitan Detroit area is compromised of seven counties—Wayne, Livingston, Washtenaw, Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair, and Monroe—with 238 municipalities, and is defined for census purposes as the Detroit-Warren-Livonia statistical area. The metro Detroit area has a population of about 4.8 million residents and an area of 4,598.1 square miles (SEMCOG, 2011).

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McNair Scholars Research Journal, Vol. 4 [2012], Iss. 1, Art. 4

As defined by the U.S. Census Bureau (2011), a metropolitan area is considered to be “a large population nucleus, together with adjacent communities having a high degree of social and economic integration with that core.” The incongruity between this definition and the present condition of the metro Detroit area is that, despite a high level of economic interaction between municipalities, there is also a lack of social interaction, which contributes to governmental fragmentation. Detroit has become a nuisance and an eyesore to some nearby suburbs, with citizens only visiting the city for sports or concert events. Although Detroit has prime waterfront property and is only minutes from Windsor, Ontario, many people choose to live, work, and enjoy entertainment outside the city. Most leisure attractions can be found within the suburbs of the metro Detroit area, where citizens over four decades have created their own isolated communities to avoid going to Detroit.

If citizens in the metro Detroit area do not want to visit the city of Detroit, then why would someone who lives outside Michigan ever want to visit the city? Detroit still has a population of over 700,000 people, but it has no major retail or food districts. Businesses still in operation are scattered about the city among vacant buildings. Furthermore, people do not have the convenience of visiting the city without driving a car, because no system of mass transportation links Detroit to other municipalities besides the Smart Bus system. However, that system sees minimal use because of the considerable influence of the automotive industry on economic and transportation development in metro Detroit. The only significant form of economic interaction the city of Detroit has with other municipalities is the contract to receive water from Detroit. Yet that may soon change as cities look to obtain a piece of ownership of the water plant as well. Suburban cities within the metro Detroit area have attempted to create communities that are socially and economically independent from the city of Detroit. For the city


Davis: Governmental Fragmentation in Detroit

of Detroit and suburban municipalities to experience growth, a first step is to pursue intergovernmental cooperation to create economic growth for the region as a whole.

The history of Detroit plays an important role in the formation of communities in the metro Detroit region. In the early to mid-twentieth century, thousands of people, both white and black, flocked to Detroit for auto-plant assembly jobs that offered average, unskilled workers a salary sufficient to attain a middle-class lifestyle. However, the desire to buy a nice home and earn a decent living was not a strong enough motive to end segregation in the city of Detroit. Although there were plenty of jobs in the city, African Americans were denied employment because of their race. Some manufacturing plants were known to have no African Americans employees. Often managers and supervisors discriminated against African Americans because they believed hiring an African American into an all-white plant would create discord among the workers (Sugrue, 1998, 92-93). When African Americans were hired into theses plants, they were given the lowest-paying and most dangerous jobs. Often the only positions available to African Americans were custodial or car painting, which subjected workers to harsh chemicals. Furthermore, the decentralization of auto plants and gradual decline of manufacturing jobs played a pivotal role in the way the metro Detroit area looks today. Once the promise of manufacturing jobs began to decline, so did the reason for living in the city. In the later years of the twentieth century, economic growth in the city of Detroit severely lagged when compared to its neighboring suburbs. As the population of African American migrants in the city increased, the number of white residents decreased. By the 1980’s, foreign automakers dominated the U.S. car market and U.S. automobile companies began to decline in

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