Detroit and Post-Industrial Spatial Economy

My research has focused on the nature of the post-industrial economy and its affects on the spatial environments of cities, specifically Detroit.  I focus on the history and recent developments of the nature of the economic forces that shape the physical and cultural geography of the city. Detroit was one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States from 1920 to 1950 It held the honor of the fourth largest city, due in part to the rapid expansion of the automobile industry, which was headquarters for the three biggest auto manufacturers in the world. This source of industry initially sparked major growth of the city, and it quickly became a bustling center for commerce and economic opportunity. Ford invented the assembly line, which slashed costs of production, allowing his workers to own their own product. This created a mobile and consuming work force of unskilled workers who could attain a middle-class lifestyle in an American good. The American Midwest cities had the asset of being regional transportation and communication hub, which attracted individuals due to its size and opportunities for employment. Its troubles have stemmed from their lack of industrial diversification, which has not been able to adapt to changing economic forces.  For continually successful cities like Chicago, their economic status has relied on their ability to draw in and keep a number of young professionals and entrepreneurs.  “Negative clusters” of industry act as deterrents to new residents, who are put off by the remaining symbols of past glories that now seem antiquated or obscene. As new industries become overshadowed as the years go by, cities which base their growth off the success of a specialized industry find themselves in difficult positions as technology advances. The automobile industry was the main driver of the U.S. economy as a whole, and the only driver in Detroit, which cannot compete for new residents in a high-tech economy. The coasts of the country have experienced a post-industrial spurt of growth, whereas the American Rust Belt maintained its solitary specialization of manufacturing trades. 

Detroit’s beginnings as such a car-oriented city is interesting to compare to the new idea of the city, which is quickly transforming into a beacon of inspiration for how other cities can develop and maintain their significance in a sustainable and progressive way. As the city continues to lose residents, it needs to become the leader in new ways of imagining the city and provide a template for smart growth to cities around the world. The vast housing stock should not just be demolished to pave the way for new development, but retrofitting these buildings for new purposes to increase biodiversity in urban ecosystems, provide clean energy, and bring people closer to their food. 

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