Stark divisions found between Detroit and its suburbs

By Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2010; 5:42 PM

The new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll of Detroit area residents finds stark divisions between the city and suburbs. Those living inside the city limits differ broadly from suburbanites in the way they experience their community and their outlook on the region's future.

The poll (a new analysis of which was released by the Kaiser Family Foundation today) included residents of Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties, which encompasses the city of Detroit and its closest surrounding counties, yet 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 said the city's future matters a lot to their own neighborhoods.

Vastly different experiences with local services and quality of life typify the divisions between city and suburb. More than four in 10 city residents (42 percent) said the quality of life in their neighborhood has gotten worse in the past five years, double the share saying so in the suburbs (21 percent). City residents are also more apt to say they're seriously considering leaving the region (35 percent vs. 23 percent in the suburbs).

The poll finds those on both sides of the line are spending less time across the border now than they were a few years ago.

More than a third of city residents said they are traveling to the suburbs less often, though most said they head outside of the city at least once a week (28 percent said they never travel outside the city limits). For many city dwellers making less frequent trips, lack of means is the primary culprit, with smaller shares citing no reason to go or no interest.

Suburbanites are far less apt to head into the city -- nearly half said they never do -- and about four in 10 said they're crossing the city line less often. A plurality who've cut back on their trips said they have no reason to go and about three in 10 said they just don't find it appealing.

Safety is a frequently cited concern: 15 percent said too much crime and unsafe conditions are the main reasons they're avoiding the city now and overall, 36 percent of suburbanites said they feel "not too safe" or "not safe at all" when they're in the city; just 11 percent of city-dwellers feel that way on the other side of the line.

Suburbanites' concerns about safety in the city are mirrored by city residents' harsh ratings of their police protection (a mere 15 percent call it "excellent" or "very good"), and few Detroiters give high marks to their schools (8 percent) or hospitals and health agencies (39 percent). In the suburbs, all three merit strongly positive ratings from a majority of residents.

Perhaps because of their different starting places, city residents are more optimistic than suburban dwellers in general about the future of the region (79 percent vs. 59 percent), and are more apt to say their schools will improve in the next few years (51 percent vs. 20 percent) and crime will dissipate (34 percent vs. 8 percent).

One other key difference exists between city and suburb: City residents are predominantly African American (83 percent according to the latest Census figures) while those in the suburbs are just as heavily white (82 percent).

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