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The Return Flight?

According to new studies, white people are moving back into Detroit proper in increasing numbers for the first time in nearly 60 years.

The survey, more estimate than precise numbers, shows that the percentage of white, non-Hispanic Detroiters rose from 8.4% of the city's population in 2008 to 13.3% last year.

Much of the rise can be pegged to younger white people -- along with some empty nesters -- moving to the city, even as African Americans continue to leave for the suburbs.

Apparently, the city is "cool" again.

I'm sure the report will inspire any number of cynical sentiments, from the fear by blacks that whites are "taking back" the city to befuddlement by whites about why anyone (especially any white family) would want to move to Detroit. Me, I'm not sure what the real implications of the study are, if there are any at all. (I certainly don't mean to turn a statistical molehill into some grand philosophical mountain.) Hell, it's probably just reflective of how many more young white people realize how soul-draining suburbia can be — and just how broke many of these small municipalities are going.

But I do know that racial isolation and antipathy have done more to hamstring this region's progress than all of our failed public policies put together. It is at the root of our uneasiness about everything from a refurbished Cobo Hall to an authentic, big-city public transit system. Sure, we give a lot of lip service to working across the lines that divide us, especially race, but concrete investments like relocating to the city or buying a home here put teeth behind those lips.

In explaining white flight from Detroit, Coleman Young once said, "White people find it extremely hard to live in an environment they don't control." And I think he was right, too. But despite what others may believe, blips like these don't suggest that hard-fought black political power in Detroit is in jeopardy (unless it's from the black political power brokers who so easily sell out the city's best interests). Further, with declining population and tattered tax rolls, Detroit is fast slipping from anyone's control.

Given this, there's one word that immediately comes to mind as an adequate response to the reports that, even in the face of our festering problems, a few more folks of any stripe are embracing life in the city.


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