Journalists - and particularly out-of-town journalists - seem obsessed with the life of the city's most isolated residents. A typical news story about the city's developing right-sizing plan almost always begins by interviewing an isolated resident whose house is the last one on the block. In a standard article, this homeowner usually bemoans their isolated location, but insists that they will never leave. These stories usually cite these residents as both a reason for, and an obstacle to, efforts to right-size the city.
NPR, The Huffington Post, Time Magazine, Lost Magazine, The Metro Times, Harper's Magazine, Fox 2 News, Forbes, and Architect Magazine all subscribe to this narrative. In fact, almost every national or local paper - except for the Detroit Free Press and Model D - has run at least one article on the city featuring an interview with one of these "last house on the block" (LHB) residents. NewsBank and Lexis Nexis return stories from more than 30 newspapers featuring an LHB resident. This resident on St. Aubin, for example, was interviewed earlier this year.
But just how common are these rural Detroiters? Does the size of the city's LHB population warrant the attention? Using Detroit Residential Parcel Survey and City of Detroit data, I tried to measure this phenomenon. I used the radius of a short block, 300 feet, as my threshold for isolation - if a resident's nearest neighbor was more than 300' away, I included them as a LHB.
Perhaps Detroit is not home to enough rural residents to warrant the attention. In total, only 134 occupied homes in the city were more than 300' from the nearest occupied home in 2009.