After three years in a suburban house, Nathaniel Wallace bought a loft in Detroit’s midtown, where major crime has dropped 38 percent in three years.
The 32-year-old computer contractor paid less than $200,000 for the restored three-level building with stainless-steel appliances and a rooftop view of the Comerica Park baseball stadium.
“People see Detroit as the cool place to be,” he said.
Six miles north, state Representative Jimmy Womack, 58, was robbed at gunpoint July 8 near his Detroit home. He said three men stole $300 from his pocket after he refused to give them his 2011 Cadillac SRX, then laughed as they walked away.
“We’re falling apart as a community,” said Womack.
As small, safe enclaves attract residents — midtown’s population grew 33 percent in 10 years as Detroit as a whole lost 25 percent — cuts in police protection threaten to unleash more crime in outer neighborhoods that already lead the nation in violence. Spreading the core’s vitality may decide the fate of the near-bankrupt city.
Last year, Detroit’s 2,137 violent crimes per 100,000 people, including 344 homicides, led U.S. cities with populations of 300,000 or more, according to an FBI report. St. Louis was second, with 1,857 crimes per 100,000.
Nine large employers — including two hospitals and closely held Quicken Loans Inc. — pledged $2 million a year for four years to pay employees to move in and around downtown. About 380 have done so, according to Midtown Detroit.
Young inhabitants enliven Corktown, a square mile near downtown named for immigrants from Ireland in the 1800s.
“I feel very safe,” said resident Liz Alvarez, 32, as she pushed a stroller with her 2-month-old son, Call, on the street where she and her husband, Joe Klecha, 33, moved nine months ago from Novi, eight miles west of Detroit. They paid $132,000 for a 3,100-square-foot, renovated 1890s-era house and cut their commute downtown to five minutes from 45.
“It’s a great neighborhood with wonderful neighbors and everybody’s on the lookout,” Alvarez said.
Wallace said that when it comes to crime, “there are two Detroits.”
“The feeling in downtown Detroit is that we’ve gotten to the other side, we’ve gotten past a lot of the stuff that plagued us for a long time,” Wallace said.
The pay cut was dispiriting for officers Carl Mack and Everett Richardson as they patrolled the east side one recent afternoon.
“You want me to stay upbeat and deal with the most violent crimes here?” said Mack, 48, shaking his head.
Mack, a 13-year veteran, said break-ins, shootings and domestic assaults increased as the economy worsened. Thieves strip homes of copper pipes, furnaces, hot-water heaters and aluminum siding to sell for scrap, Mack said.
Police and neighborhood-watch groups say empty homes are havens for drug trafficking and other crimes. Detroit in 2009 had 125,015 vacant residential lots or vacant houses — about one-quarter of all residential parcels, according to Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit regional data-analysis firm.
Three miles west of midtown, on a street where no street lights function, Shellee Brooks, 34, is working to revive the neighborhood where she grew up. Brooks has overseen a $1.6 million rehab of three homes for multifamily use, using federal funds.
She’d like to live in a house she owns on her childhood street — she spent a day planting flowers there — but said she fears she’ll be targeted for robbery or worse, adding,“I can’t live here and not have a gun.”
Brooks lives in a downtown loft instead.
“My friends tell me I’m crazy,” Brooks said. “I believe God watches over me. I refuse to walk around in fear every day.”
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