Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Well, its been another busy several weeks.  This fall, I'll be taking a leave of absence from the law school to serve as the City of Montgomery's inauguaral Director of Development.  If you're interested, you can read details here.

Then, for the Spring 2012 semester, I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as a Visiting Professor at the Stetson University School of Law where I'll teach first year Property and one other course.

That said, even with the leave and visitorship, I still plan to serve as the Land Use Prof blog's unofficial new urban commentator and advocate of nearly all things smart and sustainable growth.

Along those lines, consider this interesting article on my always favorite topic of Detroit and land use issues:

For three years, Jayesh Patel, an attorney, and his wife, Neethi, a pediatrician, were what he called “reverse commuters.” They worked in the suburbs and lived in the city of Detroit. Last July, the Patels moved out.

They joined 237,493 who left Detroit over the last decade, a 25 percent decline that left the city with 713,777, down from a peak of 1.85 million in 1950. The Patels abandoned their neighborhood of Victorian homes in the Corktown district, founded by Irish immigrants at the turn of the 20th Century, and moved to the affluent suburb of Birmingham in search of better schools for their two children.

“I was just shocked,” Kurt Metzger, director of Data Driven Detroit, which collects demographic information, said about the 2010 Census figures for the city. “Even in my wildest dreams, my most depressed nightmares, I wasn’t expecting this big of a decline.”

Detroit’s population fell from 951,270 in the previous decennial tally -- a loss of 65 residents per day since 2000 -- making it the lowest official count since 465,766 in 1910, according to U.S. Census data released yesterday. It joins St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati and other Midwestern cities unable to reverse a six-decade population loss.

While this decline is literally historic in nature, at least one commentator is suggesting that, rather than contract, Detroit

Super-sizing Detroit could also translate to better policy. When Indianapolis enacted a similar "Unigov" city-suburbs merger in the late Sixties (under Republican mayor Dick Lugar), the region experienced economic growth (and the benefits of economy of scale), AAA municipal bond-ratings and a broader, more stable tax base. The same could happen in metropolitan Detroit, which sorely needs to attract young people and entrepreneurs in order to fill the void left by the region's dwindling manufacturing base. Elastic cities are less segregated and have fewer of the problems associated with concentrated areas of poverty. And though sprawl wouldn't necessarily be reigned in, the region could finally adopt a sensible transportation policy to unite its businesses and residential areas. At the moment, suburban Detroit maintains its own bus system, separate from the city's, and a planned $150 million light rail project, slated to run from downtown Detroit up the main thoroughfare of Woodward Avenue, would nonsensically stop at 8 Mile Road, the suburban border. That's a formula to limit, not maximize, growth.

As you can see from reading the entire article, as much as I love my hometown, the problems are so endemic that one wonders whether Detroit may simply grind toward becoming the first nearly abandoned major American city.

At some point, land use law becomes almost irrelevant if the demand for land essentially disappears.

Chad Emerson

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Chad--that's fascinating news. Congrats!

Posted by: Matt Festa | Apr 1, 2011 6:47:57 AM