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Detroit Rankings in 2003

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DETROIT RANKINGS IN 2003: Surveys show city's strong, weak points

December 22, 2003



The numbers say Detroit is the most dangerous city in the United States, soon will tumble from the list of the 10 most-populated American cities (Do you know the way to San Jose?) and ranks No. 1 in pedestrian deaths.

But our grittiness has its good side.

Detroit is the most charitable city in America, serves the best public school lunches and ranks No. 1 when it comes to friskiness -- in bed.


Some of the numbers behind the findings are hard science. Some stem from whimsical, creative marketing.

But the nation gets a picture of southeastern Michigan from the results of various surveys in 2003, as city and suburbs fuse into one image when nonnatives think about Detroit.

Our civic self-esteem puffed up a little in 2003 from surveys boasting that Detroiters give a higher percentage of their incomes to charity than other big-city inhabitants and got bruised when major league ballplayers called Detroit the town they least like to visit.

The saddest municipal character trait: Even as Detroit may record its lowest number of annual homicides since 1968, a nationally recognized survey of FBI crime stats ranks the city as the country's most dangerous.

Detroit ranked 350th out of 350 cities, based on FBI compilations of 2002 crime data for murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and stolen vehicles. The same survey by Morgan Quitno, a Kansas research and publishing company, rated Farmington Hills the 11th-safest city in the country; Troy, 12th; Sterling Heights, 15th; Canton, 16th; Clinton Township, 62nd; Livonia, 74th; Westland, 90th; Warren, 178th, and Dearborn, 200th.

Still, Detroit looked better and felt safer this year to 742 out-of-town visitors polled for the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. That was an improvement from marks a similar survey got three years ago, but those same folks rated the city a little less inviting than Cleveland and St. Louis.

Detroit is losing its grip on the last spot in the list of America's 10 biggest cities. The San Jose Mercury News trumpeted "We're nearly No. 10!" in a headline recently, reporting that leaders in the California city were bragging about census trends forecasting Detroit's drop to No. 11 sometime in mid-2004.

"It is inevitable that San Jose is expected to pass Detroit and become the 10th-largest city," said Tom Manheim, a San Jose city spokesman.

Detroit's population registered at 925,051 in a 2002 census estimate; San Jose's was pegged at 900,443.

Ken Darga, the State of Michigan demographer, said Detroit's population decline has slowed compared with the monstrous losses of decades past. Detroit was the fifth-largest U.S. city in 1970, the sixth in 1980 and the seventh in 1990. It fell to 10th with the 2000 census.

If Detroit drops out of the top 10 when 2004 census estimates come out in July, Darga said, "it will be because other cities are growing more rapidly, rather than that we are in severe decline."

Detroit leaders aren't ready to concede to San Jose. Detroit's population has stabilized, they say, and may be growing because of immigration from places such as Mexico, the Middle East and Asia.

But falling off the list of 10 biggest cities has real as well as psychological impact. Some businesses, for example, automatically consider locating only in top-10 locales.

"This isn't quite like Casey Kasem's top-10 music countdown . . . but there are cities sneaking into the top 10 that some Americans haven't even heard of," said Michael Bernacchi, a University of Detroit-Mercy marketing professor.

But Detroiters still carry a lot of weight, for example. Unfortunately, it's on the bathroom scale. We're the third-fattest city in America, behind Houston and Chicago, according to Men's Fitness magazine.

Yet Detroit ranks seventh among 317 U.S. cities in the number of workers in health care, a growing industry. And when it comes to mobile yakking, metro Detroiters are No. 2 in cell phone usage -- 74 percent own one, second only to Atlanta with 75 percent.

"It's always with me," said Warren Alilain, a graduate student at Wayne State University, speaking of his cell phone.

It replaced his land line -- for cost and convenience, he said. As for Detroit's ranking, he said, "people are in their cars all the time."

Here are some measurements pollsters, surveyors and demographers released in 2003 about Detroit.

The cafeteria line

A lot of bad things are said about Detroit Public Schools, but its lunch menu got a solid A from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The school district got an F for its cafeteria-line food in 2002. The district has spent more than $10 million to renovate school kitchens and upgrade menus, including more ethnic food and nonmeat and vegetarian choices. The new worst lunch line: Washington, D.C.

Rah! Hah!

OK, so we had no world champs in 2003, but we still had spirit. The Sporting News ranked Detroit among the Top 10 Sports Cities in America, putting it at No. 9 even while lamenting the losing records of the Tigers and Lions. Major League Baseball players, however, ranked Detroit as the city they least like to visit, according to a Sports Illustrated survey. There were no breakout data about whether Detroit Tigers like to visit Detroit.

Spontaneous relations

Asked, "Where are you the most spontaneous?" more metro Detroiters chose "in bed" than respondents in glamour hot spots such as Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco, not to mention Dallas, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Only eight percent nationally picked the bedroom as their prime showcase for spontaneity as opposed to 12 percent of Detroiters. Other choices included at work, at home, at play and on vacation. The survey was commissioned by camera company Polaroid, pushing those spontaneous, instant photos.

In a related area, Detroit is no longer No. 1 in the nation for primary and secondary infectious syphilis cases, as the city was in 2001. It's now No. 2, according to a survey released in November by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. San Francisco vaulted from No. 6 to No. 1 as the city with the highest per-capita rate of syphilis, based on 2002 data.

Open hearts, open pocketbooks

Detroiters give away 12.1 percent of their discretionary income annually to charity -- ahead of New York City and Ft. Worth, Texas, whose residents forked over a mere 10.9 percent. That's according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which found that cities with large black populations or strong religious identifications were more generous than others.

Road of shame

Detroit is the most dangerous city for pedestrians among large U.S. cities, a federal government survey revealed. Detroit recorded a pedestrian death rate of 5.05 deaths per 100,000 residents, two times higher than New York City's.

And metro Detroiters get a bumpy, expensive ride on area roadways, according to a Washington nonprofit organization that monitors road wear and tear. According to the Road Information Program, Detroit ranks fifth in the nation because its drivers spend an estimated $621 million annually to fix cars banged up by roads.

Motor city manners

While our motoring habits aren't saintly, we aren't as likely to flip a finger at passing motorists as they are in New York City, Miami, Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Philly, San Francisco and Houston. That makes us the ninth-rudest drivers in America. But while New York City, Miami and Boston drivers earn F's for their rudeness -- meaning they are most likely to make rude gestures while tailgating, for example -- Detroit drivers get a C, according to the Nerves of Steel survey commissioned by TheSteelAlliance.

Contact PATRICIA MONTEMURRI at 313-223-4538 or [email protected] Free Press staff writers Kathleen Gray, Kim Norris, Jocelyn Parker, Tom Walsh and Wendy Wendland-Bowyer contributed to this report.

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