The Shrinking City as a Growth Machine: Detroit’s Reinvention of Growth through Triage, Foundation Work and Talent Attraction


Despite Detroit’s reputation for social and financial crisis, developers and investors have successfully pursued growth and land‐use intensification in recent years. However, in Molotch’s initial conception of the growth machine, environments of extreme decline go under analyzed. While scholars have investigated the role of growth in Detroit, they have narrowly focused on a single document: the Detroit Future City framework. This work looks more holistically at the development networks leveraged to pursue growth through a discourse analysis of a broader set of development documents and interviews with development professionals, uncovering ways the growth machine adapts to this unlikely environment for growth. Rather than proposing an alternative to growth for a shrinking city, growth elites (led by philanthropic foundations) propose development scenarios leveraging triage to channel diminished amounts of development resources. In doing this, Greater Downtown, with its investment potential, is polarized from other areas of the city seen as risky investments. In addition to focusing growth in investment‐friendly areas, growth coalitions pursue incentives and branding campaigns to attract talent and affluence. These dynamics are a divergence from the growth machine model that supports the narrative that growth benefits all residents in favor of a narrative of triage.