Mapping The Strait
Exploring Detroit through maps and diagrams
Thursday, December 8, 2011
The High Cost of Free Walking
Monday, June 13, 2011
Ruminations on Rightsizing, Act I
My other concern with the Boston, Detroit, Manhattan and San Francisco map is that Detroit has always had less population density than these other three cities. This is not a new change. The Free Press could have made the same map in 1950, and it would still make Detroit look comparatively empty. Moreover, San Francisco, Manhattan, and Boston are three of the densest communities in the country. Healthy communities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Seattle look sparse in comparison. Even Indianapolis, a growing Midwestern city, looks empty when compared to Detroit, Baltimore, and Miami.
Urban observers who argue against Detroit’s rightsizing plans often use this high-density defense. This view, however, is also problematic, as noted in Rethink Detroit. This defense by density is misguided, because low population densities are only especially problematic – from a budget standpoint – when a city was built for a higher density. Jacksonville and Indianapolis look vacant in the density comparison maps because many areas of those cities remain undeveloped. The local governments haven’t installed infrastructure such as streets, streetlights, and sewers in these areas, so they’re inexpensive to maintain.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Most troubling, perhaps, is that in the rare instance that payday lenders face enforcement action, the penalties seem inconsequential. In the only instance of state officials shuttering an unlicensed payday lender listed on Lexis Nexis, the owner was fined $5,000. By contrast, failing to check ID while selling beer carries a prison term of more than 90 days. Clearly, the current penalties aren't a deterrence.
Given the Detroit City Council's willingness to standup to other harmful businesses, it's time to increase enforcement, if not regulation, of these lenders at the local level. As it stands, the residents who can least afford these punishing rates are the ones facing the consequences.
Special thanks to my colleague, Nick Kahn, for suggesting this topic.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
The Food Grasslands of Detroit
In many cases, this type of story is little more than a new form of “ruin porn." In one of my favorite examples of this trend, CNN reporter Poppy Harlow reported that there are "no places to get fresh fruit or vegetables" in the entire city, while standing only a few blocks from a large chain grocery store.
Although Model D’s Kelli Kavanaugh eloquently questioned this view in 2007, this predominant view persisted. More recently, Sweet Juniper’s James Griffioen wrote a similarly insightful piece for Urbanophile, aimed at “eliminating the gross generalization that there are no grocery stores in the city of Detroit.” Its success at combating a tidal wave of journalistic thought, however, remains to be seen.
Although Kavanaugh and Griffioen clearly disproved Good Magazine’s Richard C. Longworth’s argument that there are “no supermarkets in Detroit,” I think neither sought to answer the larger question of whether Detroit, on the whole, was a food desert. Moreover, if it is, how large is our caloric tundra?
To answer this question, I turned to government licensing data from the Michigan Department of Agriculture, which regulates food retailers in Michigan. Weeding through the 15,000 entries for Wayne County was taxing (I started working on this process in November), but worthwhile. Most of these entries are for gas stations, liquor stores, and vending machines.
According the State of Michigan, Detroit has 111 full-service grocery stores, 58 butchers/fish markets, 34 bakeries, 20 produce markets, and 35 specialty stores, given the following definitions:
• Full-service grocery stores: a store that sold fresh produce, dairy, fresh meat, and bread at the same location.
• Butcher/fish markets: a store selling only fresh meat or fish
• Bakeries: a store whose primary purpose was selling bread.
• Produce market: a store selling only fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Specialty stores are food retail stores that are beyond classification, such as Detroit’s three chitterlings stores, the sweet potato store, and the many spice stores. I don't include these beyond the first map.
Even with this large number and variety of stores, some areas of the city are without adequate access to grocery stores. Given the United States Department of Agriculture definition of a “food desert” – areas in which the nearest full-service grocery store is more than one mile away – some areas of Detroit are, in fact, food deserts. In total, about 13.5 square miles of the city, or about 10% of total area, fits this definition. About 90,000 people live in these areas. Another 60 square miles have average suburban-level accessibility, with a grocery store less than a mile, but more than a half-mile, away. I like to think of these areas as “food grasslands.”
The majority of Detroiters, however, seem to have relatively normal food accessibility levels. If you compare population density to the location of grocery stores, the highest density areas are usually well served.
The most glaring omission in this “food desert” discourse, however, is that Detroit has tremendous food accessibility in some areas. If we’re going to label parts of Detroit a “food desert,” we have to give it credit– a lot of Detroit is a “food grassland” and many areas of Detroit are “food jungles” and even perhaps “food rainforests.” Detroit’s Eastern Market area actually has the largest concentration of food retailers of any neighborhood in Wayne County. Ares in Midtown and Southwest Detroit are also well above the county average.
Ironically, the very reason many writers call it a food desert – the city’s lack of national large-scale chain stores – may be the very reason it does not have more of a food accessibility problem. Among Detroit’s 111 full-service grocery stores, only a handful are over 20,000 square feet, which is fairly small by industry standards. Because of their size, more of them are needed to meet demand of the city’s residents. As a result, they are, in many cases, closer to residents than a larger store would be.
Clearly, Detroit is not a food desert, although some areas do face serious food accessibility difficulties and these areas are home to tens of thousands of residents. That said, calling Detroit a food desert because it lacks major large-scale grocery stores is ironic. While I think every Detroiter would support seeing additional grocery options, we should celebrate the food gems - like Honeybee Market, Joe Randazzo's Produce, and Eastern Market - that call the city home already. They could use your support - most of America thinks they don't exist.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Although 1966 may have been a high-water mark for bowling in Detroit, it built upon a long history of bowling in the city. Thirty years earlier, the Stroh's Bohemian Beers Detroit team represented the United States at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, when bowling was a demonstration sport. (I’m proud to note that my great-great-uncle, Wally Reppenhagen, pictured at far right, was on that Stroh team.)
The post-war period saw a surge in interest in bowling. In the 1950's, ace bowler, and then-Detroit Mayor, Albert Cobo often decided city policy while bowling. He was such a fan of the game that he advocated for adding bowling alleys in public high schools while mayor. At the time, many of the city's churches had bowling alleys in the basement.
According to the 1966 Detroit Yellow Pages, Detroit was home to 47 bowling alleys in 1966, a period when bowling was at its height. Especially when comparing the city’s east and northwest sides, it’s clear that bowling alleys were highly concentrated in the city’s working class neighborhoods, especially in areas home to concentrations of German and Polish residents.
Unfortunately, with the tremendous loss of residents of German and Polish ancestry, bowling no longer enjoys its once-prominent role in city life. Today, most Detroiters aren’t bowling alone – they aren’t bowling at all. According to 2010 City of Detroit licensing data, the city has only two bowling alleys: The Garden Bowl and the Renaissance Bowling Center. This is a sad state for the once-proud sport in the city. Bowling alleys were centers for communities and anchors for neighborhoods.
On February 1st – the 209th anniversary of Detroit’s incorporation as a city – celebrate the city’s past and preserve a Detroit tradition: go bowling. Visit one of Detroit's fine bowling alleys:
- The Garden Bowl is located at 4120 Woodward Ave.
- Renaissance Bowling Center is located at 19600 Woodward Ave.
See you on the lanes.
*Special thanks to Detroit legend Bill McGraw for cluing me into the yellow pages as a source for historical data. You will notice it again in next week's post questioning the "food desert" label.*
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Grease and desist
Every company has a presence in the city. Contrary to my own expectations, Subway is actually the chain with the largest presence in the city, with 52 locations.
As the map indicates, fast food restaurants are distributed evenly across the city – no area has been spared from a fast food restaurant. (Although it does look like the west side has a bigger grease tooth than the east side.)
In fact, if you are in Detroit, you’re never more than about a 5-minute drive – 1.5 miles – from a fast food restaurant, unless you are on the southeast corner of Belle Isle.
Unfortunately, however, this problem extends far beyond Detroit’s boarders. I tracked the same restaurants in a diverse mix of eight Detroit suburbs and the City of Grand Rapids. Shockingly, Detroit is the second-most under-served municipality. I calculated the number of fast food restaurants per 5,000 residents in each city, based 2005-2009 ACS population data.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
City records suggest that Detroit’s first transit planning effort began in 1914, with a proposal by the long-defunct Board of Street Railway Commissioners for a subway along Woodward between Jefferson and Milwaukee. Subsequent Detroit transportation authorities – primarily the Rapid Transit Commission – have produced more than 20 wide-ranging plans that evolved with the city, transit technology, and public opinion. Among these plans is one of my favorites, the Miriani-era 1958 Rapid Transit System And Plan Recommended For Detroit And The Metropolitan Area.
At its core, Rapid Transit Commission’s space-age 1958 plan called for the city to construct an elaborate network of elevated, suspended “duorail” lines along the city’s arterial roadways, with spur lines along some of the outlying major east/west and north/south roadways. This system was to be built upon 28’ tall, concrete and steel “T” and inverted “L” shaped pylons that would support tracks for the large, 58’ long boat-shaped cars. As this artist’s rendering shows, the cars were to hang from the tracks, 18’ feet off the ground. Although cars were supposed to have an average speed of 40 mph along busy routes, the cars were to exceed 70 mph in outlying areas.
The plan identifies seven reasons why Detroit and its suburbs need a unified transit system, including current concerns such as reducing congestion, increasing accessibility, and encouraging compact commercial development. It’s greatest concern, however, was that the CBD was beginning to decline. As the plan notes, “…downtown valuations [assessed value] decreased by 38.5% between 1930 and 1953, and citywide valuations had no change. What is indisputably evident here is the definite and gradual decline of the property valuations not only in the central business district but also along the major commercial thoroughfares in the city.” The commission strongly believed that these space-age trains would draw people to arterial commercial zones and the CBD, and reinvigorate these areas.
This artist’s rendering is supposed to illustrate the benefits of overhead transit to the Book Cadillac area of downtown. (Please ignore the potentially illicit transaction occurring in the lower right-hand corner.)
But just how would this look for the city and the region? Based on the lists of routes and stops provided (no map was included, oddly) I’ve mapped out the system, in the London-subway-map style.
The plan does not outline the exact routes beyond the city’s boundaries, so I’ve just indicated their final destinations. What is most interesting about this plan, perhaps, is the distribution of service - the areas east of Woodward have a far greater concentration given the area's relative size and population, compared to the west side. The choices for suburban terminuses - Mt. Clemens, Pontiac, Farmington, Ypsilanti, Grosse Pointe and Rockwood - illustrate the evolution of the suburbs; today, only two of these - Mt. Clemens and Pontiac - are commonly discussed as possible transit destinations.
Today, as much as in 1958, the City of Detroit needs more transit options. Hopefully, by evaluating our past we can better plan our future.