Google Earth Exercise: Chapter 13

Examining Housing and Urban Poverty in Detroit

Detroit is an example of city experiencing industrial decline, urban blight, and depopulation. The city’s population peaked at 1.8 million in the 1950s but today, after decades of decline in manufacturing jobs and flight of residents to the suburbs, it has approximately 700,000 residents. While the metropolitan area is affluent, downtown Detroit continues to struggle to maintain its infrastructure, deal with crime, and cope with property foreclosure and abandonment.

The task: Using data overlays in Google Earth, examine the City of Detroit to understand the relationship between the various socio-economic indicators and the built environment.

Step 1: Open the chapter13.kmz file. Enable the borders and labels layer, the roads layer and the Rail Network.

Step 2: Begin by examining the lower west side of the city—the area bordered by John Kronk Street and the railroad tracks to the north and the St Clair River to the south. Click through the data layers as you view this area.

Question 1: Examining both the data layers and the satellite view, what spatial patterns can you identify?

Question 2: How has the built landscape contribute to these spatial patterns?

Question 3: How are the neighbourhoods adjacent to the St. Clair River different from the surrounding neighbours?

Question 4: Where are the high income neighbourhoods located?

When you have answered the four questions above, scroll to the bottom of the page to check your answers.


Question 1: The area defined as the Delray neighbourhood has several unique characteristics. It has the highest foreign-born population in Detroit. Despite the low housing value and low levels of post secondary education, poverty and unemployment levels are low and there is a lower reliance on social assistance.

Question 2:

The neighbourhood is bisected by railway lines and highways and contains a high proportion of industrial land use. These all contribute to lower neighbourhood desirability. The loss of connectivity is especially evident in the southernmost section of Delray, encircled by rail lines and cut off from the northern neighbourhoods by Interstate 75. This section has many empty lots where houses have been abandoned and demolished. The area has a different demographic as it has more American-born residents than the surrounding area and is more dependent on various forms of social assistance.

Question 3: There is an apparent trend of gentrification in the downtown core. The area is characterized by lower rates of poverty, higher rates of foreign born residents and low unemployment. The area immediately adjacent to the St Clair River is defined by a strip of high-income census tracts in an otherwise poor area.

Question 4: The higher income and land value areas tend to be located away from centres of industry and major transportation routes. There are no older, entrenched high-income census tracts in the central downtown core.