November 17, 2013 at 1:00 am

Finley: Will downtown Detroit be a white enclave?

Shirley Stancato, Pres/CEO New Detroit (David Coates / The Detroit News)

The divide around here once was between Detroit and the suburbs. Now, in the words of race warrior Shirley Stancato, it�s becoming between �downtown and those other people.�

The other people the New Detroit head is talking about live in Detroit�s rapidly disintegrating neighborhoods. They�re largely African-American, and a high percentage are poor. Downtown, meanwhile, is a magnet for creative and upwardly mobile young people of both races, but the tilt is heavily toward whites.

�It�s an issue,� says Stancato, whose organization is dedicated to closing the racial divide.

�It�s a symptom of concerns that are just underneath the surface.�

The resentment broke through during the recent Detroit mayoral campaign. The downtown vs. neighborhoods conflict became a sub-theme that both candidates had to address on the campaign trail.

How could it not? Downtown seems immune to Detroit�s broken finances. It�s booming thanks to private investments and its sudden emergence as a cool city for young people to live and work in.

Private dollars take care of everything from street clean-up to security within the downtown and Midtown zones.

It�s a different story in the neighborhoods, where the city�s inability to fund basic services is evident on nearly every block.

Something else is bubbling, too. A lot of nights you can stand in downtown Detroit and think you were in Minneapolis instead of at the core of the blackest city in America.

With a few exceptions, the new hip hotspots have an overwhelmingly white clientele. Often, the downtown crowd is an almost exact reversal of the city�s 80 percent black, 20 percent white and others racial makeup.

I talked with several downtown denizens over the past few weeks, and all seem to have noticed the same thing, but they can�t say for sure why it�s happening. Most say diversity is one of the things that draws them to Detroit.

A few offered that its a natural reflection of the influx of new downtown residents and workers, who are predominately white.

But there are still more than 600,000 African-Americans living in the city. And yet you can often find more diversity in the bars and restaurants of Birmingham than in the ones downtown.

Stancato says it�s not something we can shrug off. �The response has to be intentional,� she says. �Are we focused on this and are we willing to have a conversation about it?�

New Detroit is working on programs to help white and black young people, particularly those living in Detroit, get comfortable with each other.

Over my nearly four decades of working downtown, there are few subjects I�ve become more weary of than the racial divide. Even so, I can recognize that no good can come of making the central city a white enclave.

Stancato is right. This merits an intentional response, and a lot more talk.

nfinley@detroitnews.com
(313)222-2064
Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.