Community Regeneration in Detroit, Michigan

Exhibit by: Saad Alnuwaif


Being a part of some of the first places to settle in the United States and claimed in 1701, Detroit’s population has seen many influences and changes over the course of its history. Once being named the fastest growing city in the United States and at the top of its market for many things, Detroit has a lot to show for its building years, triumphs, and successes. From kitchen ranges to automated coffee machines, cigars to freeways, and to the many advancements in the automobile industry, we see many developing ventures sweeping jobs and people into a new and developing Detroit. During some of its first 100 years as a city there has been more growth than any other city beginning in its time.

Aerial views of downtown Detroit August 12, 1935.

Being one of the first in its kind, Detroit has housed many firsts in the automobile industry. The picture above shows one of Detroit’s first – horse-drawn rail cars.

Being a growing success for the labors of some of the first in capitalism, we see Detroit set many high precedents for itself in its first and growing years. From the time of its true birth in the 1840s to its tripling growth in just over 100 years, Detroit’s population peaked at 1,849,568 in the 1950s. Through Detroit’s many successes it is hard not to recognize its struggles in the last 50 years, with a now estimated population of only 713,777.

Below is a chart to better visualize the rates of change within Detroit’s past and more current history.

Detroit's Population Over Time

Detroit’s Population from 1840 to 2012.


Creating a larger market for trading and opening the ports to access beyond the Eastern Seaboard, the Erie Canel built in 1825, opened Detroit to many more newcomers and traders alike. Creating a larger gateway into markets for trade and business, this event stands as one key point in Detroit’s growth in its history.

The dramatic increase of population and city growth can also largely be credited to Henry Ford and his advancements in the automotive industry. Being famous for the invention of the assembly line 1913, and by cutting man hours by over half, Ford has set a work mode in play for many different industries since. With this, Ford was able to offer high wages being the first in his kind to develop such work systems and in turn attracting now comers from Europe and from all other areas. Because of this quick growth and due to the nature of automobiles and their needs, Detroit was forced to continue the growth of its traffic systems, as well as expand living circumstances and areas as well. Accommodating new growth, meant a change for everyone involved and with it the need for many new expansions in learning and development.

1913: At the Highland Park Plant in 1913, Henry Ford introduced the first moving assembly line for cars. Within 18 months it took only 1.5 man-hours to build a Model T. The modern auto industry was born.

As we fast forward in time – once housing over 269,000 manufacturing jobs, Detroit now currently holds around 27,000 manufacturing jobs city wide.

This decline can be due to many causes, but is largely due to influential manufacturers moving business else where, outside of the state and even further out of country. Some reasons for this include cheaper wages to employees and as well as in cheaper manufacturing costs.

By cutting these costs, statics have shown their over all affects in Detroit’s economic growth, financial supports, and more importantly the jobs to thousands.

From this it may be easy to see this as the leading factor to such drastic transitions,  that are now also being seen through the city’s filed bankruptcy, populations decline, and the current trials being hard overlook. Examples are far and wide with current estimations 78,000 in structures and 66,000 in lots randomly abandoned and deteriorating around the city. These structures include schools, theaters, houses, as well as the many of the manufacturing plants discussed above.


Being a growing city in its time for many artistic and creative ventures as well, Detroit has introduced such famous names as Michael Jackson or the Motown music sounds in the 1960s. With this there have been many names in history that have passed through Detroit in one of its many Victorian and or modern day, designed theater halls.

Showing nothing short of this in current day events, we see many urban areas being overgrown with street art, through many styles in story telling, general tagging, political outcry, and more. Being similar in outlook we see many large examples of this placed around town and standing the test of time in many cases. Each piece of work or statue carries its own meaning, casting a progressive and humanitarian feel in all of the city’s large commissioned pieces. Because of this history, these statues still stand as reminders to the messages they had hoped to convey and teach in their beginnings.

Proving true for the same is “The Spirit of Detroit”.

Being commissioned to the city by Marshall Fredricks in 1955, this statues can hold a heavy message in Detroit’s current situations being a beacon for guidance in value and strength, and by taking on the role of the city’s logo and icon.

The Spirit of Detroit – an iconic statue featured in the center of downtown Detroit.

An accompanying message includes – “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

This statue offers a communal message including the inscription –  “The artist expresses the concept that God, through the spirit of man is manifested in the family, the noblest human relationship.”


Another piece that stands is as if a reminder to stay strong. This symbolic – “I See Detroit” statue sits in a frequented area among the city’s center encouraging new thought to anyone who may view it.

statue in detroit michigan


Now in severe urban decay, Detroit is welcoming many new ideas, looking for ways to transition from current issues with debt, crime, and loss of moral, into another era of substantial growth and urban renewal.

Proving that resources are a good market for the growth of Detroit, there are now large efforts being made in areas of now natural resources, targeting more sustainable, and environmentally friendly practices.

Many different groups, companies, people, and organizations are making efforts to move into declining areas in preparation for Detroit’s next turn of events offering time and money.

One movement example includes planting 15,000 trees in over 20 urban acres. This project is being sponsored by Hantz Farms and volunteer planters such as in the picture below are to thank for this project.

Another large project underway is within Wayne County and is The Seasonal High Tunnel Educational Initiative, building large greenhouses “measuring 30 by about 145 feet”. In doing so, this extends Detroit’s growing season and will allow volunteer opportunities, food and planting education, as well as fresh foods grown to provide over “two dozen varieties of herbs and vegetables for sale to local restaurants and markets”.

With many projects like this gaining momentum and spreading these ideas to like-minded individuals, it may not be long before we see Detroit’s regrowth  and rebuild.

With all of the growth, trials, and changes the city of Detroit has seen, we see even more that the citizens are looking for new ways to create change and regrowth. Through urban farming, localized business, and the carried intent of those holding true to its meaning, Detroit may survive to see another century but only at the strength and help of its people.

Below are a list of ways to get involved or how to find more on the movements and projects taking place.



Urban Farming Projects, Plans and References to Others:

A Better Understanding of Detroit’s History: