Detroit Mayor Vows To Challenge Population Tally
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
The city of Detroit is moving back in time. Census figures show its population continues dropping - now just 714,000 residents. That's the lowest level in almost a century. You would have to go back to the early days of the auto industry to find Detroit this small. In the '50s, it was around two million.
A smaller population means less federal funding, which explains why the city's mayor, Dave Bing, is vowing to challenge this count. And we're going to talk about this with NPR's Alex Kellogg. He's in our studios.
ALEX KELLOGG: Good morning. How are you doing?
INSKEEP: You - I'm doing fine. Thanks very much.
You reported from Detroit for many years. What does a shrinking city look like when you move around it?
KELLOGG: Well, there's a lot of empty space and a lot more empty space than most people might anticipate. Detroit is really a city that looks incredibly unique. You will not find many cities in the U.S. or many parts of the world that look like Detroit - vast amounts of empty space.
INSKEEP: Houses have disappeared. I mean, they've crumbled to nothing or been torn down. There's vacant lots and so forth.
KELLOGG: Absolutely right. And the city literally has enough empty space to fill some other city. Some other major cities could fit in Detroit and there would be nothing but empty space.
INSKEEP: Wow. Well, what is the mayor, Dave Bing saying about all this?
KELLOGG: well, Dave Bing is saying that he doesn't believe the census numbers. But at the same time, I think he's looking at it as a sobering moment. He's going to use is probably as an opportunity to say, hey, look, we've got to shrink; we've got to right-size - is one word that they've used; we've got to reshape; we've got to reconfigure; we've got to become a different type of city.
At the same time, he's losing money. Each person needs more money and, you know, the fact that they've lost people is unfortunate.
But we've got some tape here of him talking about it.
DAVE BING: Personally I don't believe the number is accurate, and I don't believe it will stand up. The Census has a history of undercounting residents in urban cities like Detroit.
INSKEEP: Can I understand this a little better? How would the Census screw up? I mean, that leaves his hypothesis, his theory of why the census would be undercounting people in Detroit.
KELLOGG: Well, urban areas in general are very difficult to count. There's a lot of people who don't want to be counted; people with criminal records; people who may be in the country undocumented or illegally. There's folks who are skeptical historically in the African-American population. There are people who are skeptical of any sort of government questioning of why they are there.
INSKEEP: And we're talking about an overwhelmingly black city here.
KELLOGG: Overwhelmingly black city and a city that has in the past taken issue with issues with census counts, because it's been shrinking for some time, shrinking a lot faster than a lot of other cities. There's many other cities that have shrunk - Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati. Many cities are smaller. New Orleans is far smaller than it used to be. But Detroit is literally shrinking at a rate that is highly unusual.
So they've challenge the census in the past and there to do it again.
INSKEEP: Have they succeeded in the past?
KELLOGG: In the past they have, but they've also had much more outreach under Coleman Young and Dennis Archer...
INSKEEP: Former mayors.
KELLOGG: Former mayors. They have said, hey, we are going to challenge his count. And they've got tens of thousands of more people, which has meant literally millions of dollars for the city. This time around, it's difficult to say how many more people they may find.
INSKEEP: Alex Kellogg, you've mentioned a couple of times the fact that a smaller census count means fewer federal dollars. What other problems, if any, are there with being a smaller city?
KELLOGG: I mean, mostly it's a monetary issue. It also kind of changes the significance of what Detroit is and that's something that the city Council President Charles Pugh talked about.
CHARLES PUGH: We're no longer a big city. You know? That's just the reality. You know, are we as close to 700,000? I hope that we are closer to 750. But, you know, we've just got to get it in our heads, we're no longer a big city.
INSKEEP: My, even the hope they are: I hope were up around 750. That just is not - it would not place it among the largest cities in America, anywhere near it anymore.
KELLOGG: That's right, it would not. This is a city that was in the top five in the '50s in its heyday when it was a boomtown. Detroit is no longer a boomtown. I don't think anybody would question that.
INSKEEP: Got a few seconds here. I'm curious if there are any signs of progress in Detroit. After all, the auto industry around there is reviving.
KELLOGG: Well, they've done a lot to revitalize the downtown. There's a section of the city called the Woodward Corridor, which cuts through the middle. And there's a part of the city known as Midtown. There are signs of progress and growth there. But in the neighborhood there is severe decay. This is something that Bing is very aware of and he wants to change. And he wants to arguably potentially move people to new areas so that they can be in more densely populated area. He may use the census numbers as a way of making an argument that this has to happen in the future.
INSKEEP: Alex, thanks very much.
KELLOGG: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Alex Kellogg this morning.
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