Infographic of the Day: Are U.S. Cities Like Detroit Really Dying?


Flight to the suburbs, urban decay, ruin porn — we’ve all become yawningly familiar with these tropes of modern migration. But a set of fascinating new maps based on data from the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census shows that, if you look really closely, those ho-hum trends aren’t as simple as they seem. Would you believe that buried in the downtown heart of supposedly dead Detroit, there’s actually been an influx of residents? Well, here’s the proof in black and white — or rather, blue and red (the blue areas have seen population growth over the past decade; red areas have declined):


You practically need a microscope to notice, but as DataPointed points out, you can clearly see a “speckled blue island surrounded by a sea of red” right smack in the city center. What that means is that while Detroit’s population bled out by 25% over the past ten years — see all that red on the map? — the undeniable truth is that “downtown is flashing the signs of a comeback.” Granted, the overall trend of Detroit’s population loss persists, but the full story is a complex interplay of people moving around the area — both inside and outside its borders — as issues of cultural values, macro economics, and personal economics play themselves out.

DataPointed calls this phenomenon “growth rings” — a clear ring of new suburbs circling the outskirts of the city, with declining areas inside it, and then a pulsing core of resurgent growth at the center. You can see Houston up top. Here’s Las Vegas:


San Francisco:


And New York:



But the most tragic map is, of course, reserved for New Orleans, whose population base was devastated by Katrina:

These are the best kinds of data visualizations: they offer a fractal-like wealth of zoomable detail, but they also tell a compelling narrative. Let’s face it, census data maps — even pretty ones — are narcoleptically boring, most of the time. But these ones, with their jewels of surprising optimism buried in a sea of blah, definitely deserve our attention — especially when we’re used to taking our talking points about places like Detroit from condescending hipster stunts. Look closer, people.

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About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets