Turns out Midtown isn’t as white as you may think it is

Some statistics from a community development meeting shed light on the area's demographics.

Admit it: The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Midtown Detroit is the young, lily-white urbanite, strolling (or maybe biking) through this rapidly changing enclave, perhaps stopping to either browse through expensive watches, chat with a friend in a dog park, or have a latte with their fellow white compatriots.

You wouldn’t be wrong for thinking this since it actually does happen. But are white Detroiters exclusively enjoying Midtown? (The contrasting image: The poor black Detroiter just a few blocks away in Cass Corridor. You wouldn’t be wrong for thinking this, either.) Maybe not so.

Midtown Detroit Inc., the driving force behind much of the recent development in the area, held its annual community development event this week. We didn’t attend (did any media attend? Was the media invited?), but we did get our hands on a copy of a briefing that was handed to attendees. Some of the statistics actually took us by surprise.

The biggest number we noticed was Midtown’s diversity index, a figure that measures, basically, how often you’d see a non-white person around the neighborhood. Midtown’s diversity index stands at 56 percent – or, in other words, you have a 56 percent chance of seeing someone who’s not white.

So is that good or bad? A cynic might argue that 44% of the time you’re in Midtown, you’re likely surrounded by white folks, but we’ll take the optimist route. Considering that Midtown includes Wayne State University and not just the bars and restaurants, 56 percent looks pretty good.

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Some other statistics that caught our eye: The area’s biggest attractions. It’s not a surprise that the Detroit Institute of Arts is Midtown’s biggest draw, clocking 677,496 visitors a year, according to Midtown Inc. The second-biggest draw is the Detroit Public Library’s main branch at 500,000. The stats don’t break down who’s visiting these institutions for what purpose, but let’s assume that if the library, which you’d need to be a Detroit resident to patronize, is one of the most-trafficked, then it’s most likely trafficked mainly by Detroit residents – of which nearly 80 percent of whom are black.

Behind the DIA and the library, though? The Wright Museum is Midtown’s third-biggest attraction with 265,000 annual visitors, just barely edging out the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with 250,000 visitors.  That’s good news for the Wright, of course.

And there’s even more on the diversity front. Midtown’s biggest annual event is Dlectricity, the annual art and light fest, which draws a crowd of 175,000, but its second-biggest draw is the African World Festival with 150,000. (By comparison, Noel Night draws 40,000. But maybe that’s because of the weather. We also noticed this briefing glaringly left out Dally in the Alley among Midtown's regular events, but that's another discussion.)

On the business side, of the 340 small businesses operating in Midtown (the vast majority of which are offices, which account for 129 small businesses in the area), 91 of those are woman or minority-owned. We knew this at BLAC, knowing that places like Thrift on the Avenue, AYV Midtown, Source Booksellers and Goodwells have noticeable presence in the area.

So what does this all mean? For starters, it shows that Midtown isn’t necessarily Downtown Birmingham 2.0. But now that we have hard stats on how much diversity is in the area, maybe media coverage of the area should reflect that? Just a thought.

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