Detroit: City on the Move

A 1965 promotional film for Detroit reminds us how far the city fell behind

Read a certain set of news stories about the current state of metropolitan Detroit, and it's a lot of doom and gloom. The population of the city itself has declined to its lowest point in 100 years, according to early 2010 Census estimates (that figure, 713,777, remains under dispute while Mayor Dave Bing seeks a recount. You'll notice that our Detroit page currently lists the much higher, and in all likelihood wildly inaccurate, 2009 estimate while we wait for 2010 numbers to be finalized).

Read another set of stories, and the picture becomes much brighter. Young creative types are steadily moving into the downtown area, and hip local businesses are opening up to cater to them. Residents from all walks of life are coming together to remake vacant lots into bountiful community gardens.

In the spirit of this Detroit-related dichotomy, we offer up the above excerpt of 1965's Detroit: City on the Move, courtesy the Prelinger Archives. Then-mayor Jerry Cavanagh serves as narrator to this archival film, which was produced as part of Detroit's (unsuccessful) bid to host the 1972 Summer Olympics. Planning nerds will appreciate several shots of earnest city employees gathered around what appears to be a zoning map, while Cavanagh intones that they are "Detroiters who welcome and respond to challenges."

And below, a quick snapshot of the changing population in both the City of Detroit and the larger metro area since 1920. Note that we've gone ahead and included the early 2010 estimate in this graph, so we can get a picture of the worst-case scenario.

About the Author

  • Sommer Mathis is editor of CityLab. Previously she spent five years editing and reporting on the D.C. metro area at DCist.com and TBD.com.