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Newcomers, Gentrification and the Challenge of an Inclusive Future | The Kerner Report 50 Years Later

In the aftermath of political, social and economic turmoil of the past decades, Detroit is once again becoming a hub for investors and entrepreneurs. This trend has both benefits and serious consequences for the city. 

There are multiple effects of the investments and the increasing levels of outsiders’ money in Downtown and Midtown Detroit. While the immediate concern lies with the hiring of an overwhelming majority of newcomers, this influx directly affects all areas discussed in the previous chapters - education, employment, housing and policing, as well as transportation and entrepreneurship.

In light of these big changes, Detroiters have had mixed reactions. While some express their fear of an unwanted and imposed white gentrification excluding long standing communities, largely black Detroit communities, from this new prosperity, others see an opportunity for a diversified economy. How can a society fight for each member’s equitable share of the resources while overcoming the region’s racial and and socioeconomic divisions and tensions?

In her poem Just Say Hi! (The Gentrification Blues), the Detroit writer Marsha Music discusses gentrification and the changing demographics of the city.1 She acknowledges Detroit’s past and present, and emphasizes the importance of community and of recognizing its members. She does not decry the evident gentrification, but places it within the racial, social and economic context of Detroit.

               But yes, I am a celebrant of signs of new development
               And yes it’s true, that I’m in love with more new shops and shiny stores
               and watches too, and lovely styles in newfound shops and peacock aisles
               I just make sure I don’t forget, the ones who first did pay the debt

In order to move forward in a meaningful and inclusive way, outsiders bear the responsibility of acknowledging the racist and discriminatory past ingrained in the region and its present day legacy, as well as the privileges many of them carry in moving to Detroit and building lives, careers and businesses in the city. The newcomers cannot ignore their impact, visible or not, on communities. When working towards addressing this or any other issue of local interest, it is necessary that they involve these communities as equal partners in the decision-making process every step of the way.

Some would say that the inclusiveness of our society cannot be measured by the equitable sharing of our resources but by the equitable power relations between its members.2 In that sense, how could Detroiters hold newcomers accountable while being mindful of their opportunity to give them the benefit of the doubt? Should they? Moving toward living together in an inclusive and equitable society is probably not the most newsworthy narrative in the United States of America this present-day. What now remains to be addressed is how will Detroiters be able to balance decades of fights for their city and against its abandonment, while aiming for inclusivity and equitability amongst all its members, old as well as new.


1. Music, Marsha. "Just Say Hi! (The Gentrification Blues)." Marsha Music: A Grown Woman's Tales from Detroit. April 11, 2017. Accessed August 01, 2018. https://marshamusic.wordpress.com/just-say-hi-the-gentrification-blues/.

2. Zimmer, Tyler. “Gentrification as Injustice: A Relational Egalitarian Approach to Urban Housing Markets” Public Affairs Quarterly. January, 2017.


Gentrification: the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents (Merriam-Webster dictionary) 

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