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Detroit's Historic Wards (Map)


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*Repost from another board*

Doing some general surfing of the City of Detroit's website, I was able to find the historic wards map of Detroit:


According to Citizens Research Council of Michigan report on Detroit's historic city charter revision (1918) the city had a total of 21 wards* each electing 2 members to the 42-seat Common Council, from 1917 to the passing of the charter revision the next year in 1918 (the city had had wards since 1857, and wards were added as the city grew in land and population). The two council persons from each ward were elected on a partisan basis. This was changed to 9 council persons elected at large. You can see how much the historic ribbon farms influenced the layout of the wards.

*I'm not sure what's up with Ward 22, as I think that piece of land was annexed after sometime in the mid-20's, so it technically wouldn't have been a ward.

Looking at recent attempts at dividing the city back up into wards, I've found that it hasn't been lack of interest that has killed the drive, but in 2002 the ballot initiative was blocked by the Michigan Supreme Court due to a technicality in the wording of the initiative.

Here's the wording:


Here's why it was rejected (I'm still not sure I understand, why):


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I don't like that downtown was divided into 4 wards if you look at the map. Downtown, Midtown, New Center, Corktown, Mexicantown, Indian Village, Boston-Edison, East Riverfront, Woodbridge, Palmer Park, etc., should all be divided into their own wards instead of each being cut into seperate wards. That is if the wards thing were to come back into play.

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It seems to me, that if they were to try to divide the city into wards again, the most reasonable way to do that would be to use neighborhoods as a base, combining some neighborhoods that may be too small to constitute a ward, but making the greatest effort to keep them in tact. This makes the most sense from an urban planning standpoint, centralizing initiatives for each neighborhood without creating divisions and ultimately impasses.

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There is no way that the city could even be reorganized into these historic wards if it wanted to be. To give approximate equal representation, all districts must be generally the same population give or take a few thousand residents, and with the huge redistribution of population, the wards would look have to look significantly different if Detroiter's ever decided to bring back this type of civic administration. Wards aren't just something you can arbitrarily draw, or simply divide along neighborhood lines.

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Hi folks. A new member here. I'd like to address as many questions as I noticed come up in this thread, so if you're interested in wards & how they originated, bear with me. This is a lot of info.


Yes, the wards were originally defined along ribbon farm boundary lines. The outer boundaries of wards 1 and 3 were the original city limits along Randolph and Cass, extended inland and later varied some to accommodate large developments that would have crossed ward lines.

As they went outward, they used ribbon farm property lines for that portion of the city subdivided from ribbon farms and from the 10,000 acre tract that covers from New Center to Highland Park, Livernois to Hamtramck. Outside of that, they used township section boundaries and major roads.

I think by the time they got to wards 21 & 22, they were finding them cumbersome to define, assign property numbers within, etc, so they just gave the rest of the city to those two on the east and west sides. (Notice that all the west side wards are even numbers and the east are the odds.)

If you see an annexation map of Detroit, you'll notice that portions of ward 22 (esp. it and 21) were annexed at different times, not all at once, though primarily in the early-mid 1920s. All of 22 was annexed after the 1918 City Charter amendment that changed Detroit from Council members by ward to at-large elections. That's why CRC's analysis only shows 21 wards in the city at that point. Detroit's last annexation was in 1926 and we've stayed the same 139 square miles since then.

Also, there's a phantom ward 23 'overlay' that covers condominium parcels. If you live in a condo, no matter what geographic ward you live in, you live in a ward 23 property.


They used to be used for things like Common Council representation districts but now are simply for property identification. Detroit residents, look at your City water bills or property tax assessments some time and you'll see Ward:Item numbers that are unique to your address.

In terms of making wards useful today, I think the single best thing Kwame's done as mayor (which he'll never get credit for because it's way too arcane and under the radar for the average citizen & media) was to start using the ten "clusters" defined by the 1997 Community Reinvestment Strategy. Those boundaries, along 1990 census tract lines created ten areas of roughly equal population, each large enough to include both high and low income neighborhoods with unique AND typical assets and issues.

The CRS was done under Archer, but sat for a few years before anyone knew what to do with it. But then under Kwame, City departments were rearranged so that new teams of colleagues were given clusters for which they were responsible, making services more efficient and workers more accountable. For example, Planning & Development formed cluster teams to oversee projects & planning efforts in their clusters. Rec created cluster teams for park issues in each cluster and environmental concerns in any cluster would be handled by that cluster team in the Dept of Env Affairs. Garbage pickup was rearranged to cover two clusters a day, etc.


What I personally think needs to happen today is to divide Council elections partly by clusters and partly at large. That would quiet critics on both sides of that debate. If you elect five members from two-cluster combinations and four members at large, then you have the benefit of a majority of members accountable to certain residents and the four remaining at large members to advocate for City-wide issues, or perhaps be assigned committee responsibilities by topic instead of geography. Candidates would have to commit to running for one of the cluster or at large positions only. The Council President could still be the one with the most votes.

Here is the cluster map, since I haven't figured out how to post it:


Them's my two cents. Let me know what you think!

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Motorville, concerning your paragraph about council by words, I completely agree.

My city of Lansing has a mixed system, as well, that works excellently. The council contains 4 representatives elected from the city's 4 wards, and 4 councilpersons elected at large, and it works great. The at large seats work particularly well in wards divided pretty evenly, but sharply, by things like race, ethnicity, income, etc...because the winner of that ward seat usually only ends up representing that one side of his or her ward that helped them win, sometimes ignoring the other half of their ward. What the at-large seats do is give the disenfranchized voters of that ward an additional shot at electing someone that may represent their interests better than their own ward councilor if even only at large having to serve the rest of the city, so it's kind of like a compromise. It works as a good balance.

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Here's an interesting map Lowell, creator of the Fab Ruins site, made showing the influence of the French ribbon farm system on the layout of early Detroit:

There's a very interesting discussion going on there concerning the farms called "Ribbon farm appreciation thread" for more information.

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