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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Heather Dillaway



Interviews with Practitioners of Economic Development in Detroit:

1974 through 2013



December 2019

Advisor: Dr. Heather Dillaway, PhD.

Major: Sociology

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

This study is exploratory research utilizing qualitative mixed methods associated with a series of economic and social changes that created winners and losers in metropolitan areas including Detroit, Michigan. Detroit, a city of immigrants, has had strong leadership from various ethnic groups including Germans, French, Greek, Irish and later, African Americans. Each ethnic group organized political and economic powers necessary to imprint their cultural stamp in developmental terms on the city. All the groups except for African Americans inhabited cities during the high growth of the capitalist economy. Paradoxically, African American control of city resources came during a period of economic decline characterized by the deindustrialization of American cities, sharp transitions in the labor market resulting in extra-normal levels of unemployment, racial tension and violence.

In the various criticisms of Black leadership little attention has been paid to the structural arrangements of local city economies like Detroit. The operating assumption was that the individual charisma or agency of elite leaders including Black mayors would somehow mystically harness enough resources to turn decaying cities around. More inquiries into the experiences of Black mayors in Detroit suggest several key factors influencing Detroit Development. Among the most important of influences was the rigidity of the American capitalistic system. Black mayors operated under a neocolonialistic style of government wherein the influence of white economic and corporate control was masked by Black stewardship. This study also underscores the underdevelopment of the Black community and suggests that because of its precarious economic status stemming from exploitative and discriminatory racial practices, Blacks lack discretionary income and wealth to make the investments as other ethnic groups had in the past. Black mayors had to navigate with limited portfolios oftentimes dictated by or in reaction to the dictates of elite and corporate stakeholders.

One approach to revitalizing cities was to engage in economic development strategies to rebuild public and private structures in cities. Over this period the city has sponsored and/or developed hundreds of projects. In Detroit, beginning in 1974 through 2014, Black minority leadership influenced the directions of financial, political and social resources. This research project is exclusively concerned with their selection of economic models during their reign as stewards of public trust. To what extent did they consider collectivized or communal models for redevelopment of Detroit as opposed to traditional highly leveraged public-private ventures backed by municipal bonds and tax shifts from commercial and industrial payers to increased burdens to residents? To answer this question, this study interviewed economic development practitioners during the time of Black political hegemony in Detroit.

This study’s findings suggest structural economic conditions trump charismatic economic policy. The study also suggests in the case of Detroit Black mayors operated with a narrow philosophical view of development and did not fully explore regenerative programs that were cooperative in nature or programs that sought to maximize mutual or self-deterministic approaches to governance. Black mayors in Detroit utilized traditional approaches to government far narrower than the history of collective resource development used historically in the Black community. These findings are pulled from face to-face interviews with economic development practitioners in Detroit between the years of 1974 to 2014. The study also suggests that more research into understanding the options available and used by Black mayors can become a valuable resource in developing programs for urban revitalization.

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