Detroit’s City Versus Suburb Divide

An abandoned home sits in an empty field in Brush Park, north of Detroit's downtown. The city is trying to recover from the largest municipal bankruptcy case in American history. Carlos Osorio / AP
An abandoned home sits in an empty field in Brush Park, north of Detroit’s downtown. The city is trying to recover from the largest municipal bankruptcy case in American history. Carlos Osorio / AP

On the No. 34 bus heading out to the suburbs of Detroit, most of the structures are abandoned. But there are people at every stop, still living in the neighborhoods and still trying to get on with their lives during the city’s financial troubles and recovery.

Lifelong Detroiter Fred Kidd, a rider on the No. 34, works at a car parts manufacturing plant in another one of Detroit’s suburbs. This bus does not make it all the way to the suburbs; it stops at the city line.

“They’re going to put us out when we get to the mall,” Kidd says. “We’re going to have to get on another bus.”

It’s hard to take one bus from Detroit to the suburbs. There is very limited bus service between the two, and there is no single regional bus system. Kidd says the current systems aren’t reliable.

“They don’t arrive when they’re supposed to, and when they’re late, people get upset,” he says. “It’s just a bad situation here.”

So there’s a frustrating, fairly broken bus system in Detroit, and then there’s a separate, better public transportation system in the suburbs. The city and suburban lines aren’t integrated, which says a lot about the dynamic between them. Macomb County and Oakland County are all communities just a couple miles outside Detroit, but in many ways a different world.

Willingness For Help

Mark Hackel is the county executive for Macomb County just northeast of Detroit. The county is doing well; businesses are moving in and there’s a solid tax base here because the population has grown while Detroit’s has been decimated. Hackel even has plans to fashion the riverfront near his office into a bustling boardwalk with condominiums and restaurants.

“They’re coming from the city for various reasons: affordable housing, better quality of life and safer neighborhoods and schools,” Hackel says.

Hackel says Macomb County needs a healthy Detroit, but there are limits to what he’s willing to invest to make that happen. Detroit’s emergency manager has floated a plan to regionalize the city’s water system, which already serves the roughly 4 million people in and around Detroit. The idea is to get the suburbs to pay millions of dollars to lease the water system, but Detroit gets to maintain ownership. Hackel says that’s a bad deal.

“I don’t understand why we would do that,” he says. “How do I explain that to the ratepayers? Ratepayers are going to say, ‘What do we get out of it?’ ”

Hackel says he’s all for regionalization, but his constituents are more concerned about fixing the public transportation system rather than bailing out Detroit.

“We’re not getting people to and from jobs,” he says. “I think regional transit is much more of a high-profile issue. It needs to be addressed, but again we’re setting it on the back burner because they’re going through a bankruptcy.”

Hackel says there needs to be willingness on the part of the city of Detroit to reach out to the suburbs, and to want that support and that help where it didn’t exist in the past.

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Source: WESA FM | NPR