A Greater Detroit

If Ecorse, Hamtramck, and Highland Park approach the brink of insolvency in the future, the State should consider responding not by canceling local democracy, but by requiring that a vote be held on dissolution and consolidation into Detroit.

Iconic Spirit of Detroit statue.

In his article, "Downsizing Cities" that appeared in the October 1995 issue of The Atlantic, Witold Rybczynski remarked that "Downsizing has affected private institutions, public agencies, and the military, as well as businesses," and asked, "Why not cities?" The article, much like most of the research on urban policy, focused on major cities—Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis. But what about the far more numerous cities that border those urban centers and deteriorate year after year unnoticed?

There is Ferguson near St. Louis, East Cleveland next to Cleveland, and three small cities in and around Detroit: Ecorse, Hamtramck and Highland Park. "A Greater Detroit" is an answer to Mr. Rybczynski's question, "Why not cities?" The essay advocates that Ecorse, Hamtramck and Highland Park dissolve and consolidate into Detroit. Each small city on its own has a shrunken population, moribund economy and is in or has recently been in dire financial straits. Combined with the City of Detroit these small cities would be more politically powerful, more attractive to businesses and more responsive to citizens.

Excerpt from A Greater Detroit: If Ecorse, Hamtramck, and Highland Park dissolved and consolidated into Detroit, the residents of these cities might understandably fear that their voices would be drowned out by the 670,031 citizens currently living in Detroit. However, while these citizens would lose political power (or at least lessen its potency), they would obtain access to more substantial resources. In 2019, Detroit collected $1.1 billion in General Fund revenue. On a per capita basis, Detroit received $1,672 from each of its residents. For demonstrative purposes, assume those revenues were expended equally across the citizenry. If Ecorse ($1,434 in revenue collected per capita), Hamtramck ($779 in revenue collected per capita) and Highland Park ($988 in revenue collected per capita) were dissolved and consolidated into Detroit, those small cities would add 41,944 people to Detroit’s population, and still, if you held the amount of revenue collected by Detroit constant, citizens in those three small cities would have access to more substantial resources ($1,574 in revenue collected per capita).

Losses in political power are not absolute either. Currently, Ecorse, Hamtramck, and Highland Park collectively send three state Representatives and two state Senators to the state Legislature. Detroit sends 10 state Representatives and five state Senators to the state Legislature. The residents of Ecorse, Hamtramck, and Highland Park would have a better chance to have their concerns on state matters (and likely federal matters too) heard and answered were they to join the Detroit bloc.

For this reason, Detroit should happily welcome the citizens of Ecorse, Hamtramck, and Highland Park to its ranks. If Ecorse, Hamtramck, and Highland Park dissolved and consolidated into Detroit, the city’s population would increase by approximately 41,944 and its political power (power often distributed in the U.S. based on population) would increase too. Of the 314 cities with populations above 100,000, Detroit is ranked 23rd—with the population boost from Ecorse, Hamtramck and Highland Park, the city would move from 23rd to 20th, past El Paso, Texas, Boston, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. Federal and state aid is also often distributed based on population.

James L. Tatum III is an expert in municipal finance. He is a consultant, lecturer at Eastern Michigan University and employee of the City of Detroit's Office of the Chief Financial Officer, Forecasting and Economic Analysis Division. The views represented here and in the essay are his and do not represent those of the City of Detroit.

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