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Retooling the Motor City: Can Detroit save itself?

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No matter how the budget issues are resolved, the census figures are forcing city leaders to realize that something must be done to address the stark imbalance of its footprint versus its current density. Detroit was designed to accommodate 2.5 million people, three times its population today. As for sheer land size, Manhattan, San Francisco, and Boston all could fit comfortably within the 139 square miles inside its borders.

Yet in those dense urban areas where extra land can be an asset, in Detroit it represents a liability.

Bing believes that the city's rebirth is only possible if residents choose to live closer together in neighborhoods central to downtown.

'BRUTAL TRUTH': COZY IS LESS COSTLY

The central controversy in an act of such social engineering is the sense of coercion or even racial prejudice, because many of the marginal neighborhoods that would be eliminated are black. But convincing residents that denser neighborhoods are better relies on this financial certainty: If you live in a thinly populated neighborhood, your trash will pile up for two weeks instead of one before being collected, your streets will be low on the list for repair, and emergency response calls will take longer than in more dense neighborhoods where police and fire stations are around the corner.

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