WDET conducted a survey last month centered around the question, ‘What would it take you to move to the city of Detroit?’ The station’s analysis of the results of that survey have been out for several weeks now, so I figured it was well past time for me to post on them.
The response far exceeded the expectations of WDET’s staff:
We set a goal of 1,000 responses in seven days. We met that goal in 48 hours, over the course of a weekend. A total of 2,200 respondents were collected at the end of the week, making this the largest known data set of it’s kind.
It’s so rare to see quantitative data on people’s attitudes about moving to Detroit, which up til now have mostly been captured in a jumble of conflicting anecdote. As the introduction to the summary notes,
The latest iteration of the persistent “Detroit authenticity/Detroit love” battle shows little evidence of the participants actually engaging with the arguments/ ideas of the other side. Instead, there is a lot of interaction with existing beliefs, misremembered history, convenient reformulations of the past and a willful disregard for “live and let live” acceptance.
WDET wisely engaged the services of a social scientist, a PhD candidate at Brandeis named Sara Elliott, to help design the survey. The survey questions they developed were concrete and specific, and admirably, Elliott and her collaborators at the station steered clear of extrapolating too much from the results.
Still, when ‘84% of city residents said they would be unlikely to move to the suburbs in the future,’ I suggest we’re a bit closer to guessing why, in spite of the conventional wisdom that Detroit is a dying city, over 700,000 residents remain. Those who survived the exodus of the 2000s are a resilient bunch and have compelling reasons to stay.
Another interesting data point pertains to how Tree Towners and other Washtenaw residents view the city:
Paradoxically, a smaller percentage of survey takers were from Washtenaw County and this group comes to Detroit less frequently than those living in Wayne or Macomb counties, yet this group was the most likely to say they would be likely or very likely to move to the city in the future (50%). The next largest group of respondents who said they would be likely or very likely to move to the city in the future lived in a county other than Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne (outside Metro Detroit) (42%). Smaller percentages of survey takers from Wayne (35%) or Macomb (34%) counties and Oakland County (31%) said they would be likely or very likely to move to Detroit. The largest group of survey takers was from Oakland County, but they were least likely to say they would move to the city in the future.
Responses to the statement ‘I would support a friend or family member’s decision to move to the city of Detroit’ were more positive than I’d have expected:
There is data to back up an observation that I’ve seen made frequently (and have made myself), which is that younger people view the city in a more positive light than older generations:
Over half (55%) of those under 25 years of age said they would be “likely or very likely” to move to the city in the future, compared to one third (36%) of those 26-45 and one-quarter (24%) of those 45 and above. As age increases, likelihood of moving to the city decreases significantly.
And there are some clues for whoever ends up in charge of the city as to what priorities they should focus on:
A few factors stood out as mattering to more of the respondents who said they were likely or very likely to move to the city in the future…
- Better city services (57% of likely movers compared to 51% of unlikely movers)
- Better public transportation (60% of likely movers compared to 36% of unlikely movers; this factor rises past lower crime to the #1 issue among the very likely subset respondents)
- Increase walkability (53% of likely movers compared to 41% of unlikely movers)
Note the walkability figure; in spite of pockets like Greektown, Midtown, Corktown and Mexicantown (basically any neighborhood ending in ‘-town’), Detroit lags many of its suburbs in that respect. Also, the most likely recruits appear to be swayed more by service provision (including both schools and transit) than by “lower taxes” or “better jobs” which are way down the list.
Surprisingly, I haven’t seen reaction to the survey from Detroit’s other media outlets such as the Free Press or the Metro Times. Perhaps they were embarassed they didn’t think of it first.
For more, check out the summary of the survey results (PDF).