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Burying the Lede on Detroit

A few weeks ago, I noted that the cause of regionalism seemed to be on the rise in Detroit, because newly-elected Detroit council members seemed interested in reaching across the city border and making common cause with their suburban neighborhoods.

Some new polling by the Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University, suggests that there is even more reason for optimism on this front, although you wouldn’t know it from the dreary headline in the Post: “Stark Divisions Found Between Detroit and its Suburbs.” The paper thinks it’s glum news that “one in five poll respondents overall and one in four in the suburbs said they do not consider themselves part of ‘Detroit,’ and only about half of suburbanites in the counties that include and closely surround the city said the city’s future matters a lot to their own neighborhoods.” 

But that means that 80 percent of respondents, and a staggering 75 percent of close-in suburbanites DO consider themselves part of “Detroit,” and a 52 percent of suburbanites believe that what happens in Detroit is extremely very or important to the future of their community. The share of suburbanites who feel that their future is tied to Detroit’s could be larger than that. The report on the poll doesn’t say what percentage of non-city dwellers feel the city’s future is “somewhat” important to the place that they live. The fact that a majority of suburbanites recognize that they can’t turn their backs on the city and expect to flourish while the city falters is shockingly good news. It means that elected officials’ efforts to reach out may have some traction in the suburbs.

Another buried treasure in the story: Substantial majorities feel optimistic about the future of the region, including 79 percent of city dwellers (nowhere to go but up!), and 59 percent of suburbanites.

The divisions that seem to drive the gloom and doom angle come from the analysis of how people feel about the services that their local government provides. Not surprisingly, city residents feel their services are poor and quality of life is declining, while suburbanites are much more content. 

The recognition of metropolitan connectedness won’t solve all of the region’s or city’s problems – particularly the appalling quality the city’s public schools. But it can advance regional competitiveness and may create the conditions for addressing the stark racial divisions between city and suburbs. Ignore the headline--this is cause for celebration.