Princeton University Library Catalog

C’est quoi ce Bronx? Lessons from New York for Land-Use Planning in Detroit

Scheetz, Alexander [Browse]
Senior thesis
Isenberg, Alison [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
115 pages
Summary note:
Detroit has experienced the most severe and protracted decline of any city in modern American history, and the most prominent symptoms of Detroit’s failure are the same as those that were present in 1970s New York. As Detroit emerges from bankruptcy, it must quickly decide how it intends to repurpose vacant land and address residential abandonment, adapt its 139 square miles to accommodate a population less than half the size for which the city was designed, and address severe unemployment in the wake of the city’s rapid deindustrialization. In the mid-1970s, as New York teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, the federal government frantically began to construct “urban distress indices” in search of an answer to the question, “How many New Yorks?” With a growing population of 8.4 million, New York is now the largest city in the nation by a wide margin, and has a thriving and diverse global economy, an extremely tight housing market, and a dearth of undeveloped lots. Today, the question facing policymakers at the city, state, and federal levels is no longer, “How many New Yorks?” but rather, “How many Detroits?” Though the subject of inquiry has changed, the qualities and sources of urban decay largely remain the same. I identify three main priorities for land-use policies in distressed cities, which are addressed in the context of both New York and Detroit. First, cities must seek to prevent widespread residential abandonment. Abandoned properties rapidly deteriorate, driving down surrounding property values and shrinking the city’s tax base. Second, abandoned and vacant land and the distressed neighborhoods in which it is located must be redeveloped, and in some cases, repurposed to adapt to a reduced population. Third, the commercial development of the city center should seek to reverse the impacts of deindustrialization and replace lost manufacturing jobs. In New York, community advocacy organizations organized themselves in opposition to government inaction and indifference. They demanded New York’s support, and after a hard-fought battle, they achieved it. This is not the reality in Detroit. Detroit’s municipal government is less capable and more fiscally constrained. Detroit’s community organizations are smaller, less organized, less driven, and less politically astute. However, these disadvantages provide an even more compelling reason for Detroit’s city officials and community groups to engage with and support one another.