person's skin color is when looking at Detroit's history."
"This is always a thread that runs through town," Mr. Killeen said.
He and others point to the federal interstate highway system created in the 1950s by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as Detroit's turning point. The multiple expressways, as well as several wide, multilaned thoroughfares, enabled those with affluence to easily relocate in the suburbs.
"There's so much concrete to get out of the city," Mr. Metzger said.
One of the stories in Detroit that has gotten little attention has been the number of African-Americans that have fled the city in recent years.
According to the 2011 Census estimate Detroit is 82 percent African-American and 10 percent white, the opposite of what it was in 1950, when fewer than one of every five residents was black.
Between 1990 and 2000, Detroit lost 2,500 African-Americans. That was the first time it had a decline in that demographic.
Between 2000 and 2010, the decline was much more dramatic. The city lost 185,000 more African-Americans, which Mr. Metzger noted was about 25 percent of the city's population.
Those between the ages of 5 and 9 decreased 47 percent that decade, he said.
"For a city's future, that's a very ominous trend," said Ms. Cockrel, the widow of a prominent African-American politician, Ken Cockrel, Sr.
"When the children leave, what happens?"
Decreased housing prices in the suburbs, coupled with record-low interest rates, encouraged those with enough means to get out, Mr. Metzger said.
"It's not white flight," said Jeff Counts, author of an explorer's guide to the Detroit-Ann Arbor area published in 2011. "It's middle-class flight."
The widening gap between the haves and have-nots raised serious questions about Detroit's future.
"The city I came to know is quite different. But to be fair, the country is different," said Osama Siblani, publisher of the Dearborn-based Arab-American News.
Campbell Ewald's recent announcement that it will move its 600-employee advertising agency from Warren, Mich., into Detroit created a new buzz. Some wonder if Detroit, with its low land prices, could compete against the suburbs for business.
This summer, construction is expected to begin on M-1 Rail, a light rail/streetcar along Woodward Avenue designed to make travel easier between downtown and businesses near Wayne State. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced a $25 million grant for the project in January.
To Mr. Killeen, Detroit's always been a tough town.
It revolutionized the world when Henry Ford invented the assembly line technique of mass automobile production, a symbol of American innovation and a hallmark of the industrial revolution.
It's been at the heart of labor movement struggles, such as when former United Auto Workers President Walter P. Reuther survived beatings and assassination attempts.
It stepped up when America needed factories to produce more armaments for troops during World War II.
"If it wasn't for Detroit, you'd be speaking German today," Mr. Killeen said.
He agrees the city's soul will be its savior.
"There's too much of a lack of belief among residents in this town that you can control your own destiny," Mr. Killeen said.
"But given all of that, I am optimistic. It's a matter of knitting the community back together again."
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