by Gregory Parrish – Technical Manager at D3
Contributing D3 Team: Louis Bach, Drew Gordon, Kat Hartman, Rob Linn, Clay Martin & Kurt Metzger
Historically, Detroit’s nine City Council members have been elected at-large; that is, each of them represents the city as a whole rather than a particular district. However, Detroit’s new City Charter, which took effect on January 1, 2012, changes the way that Council members are elected. Under the new Charter, only two members are elected at-large, and seven members are elected by district. Council members are required to live within the district that they represent.
Interactive District Options Map:
The new Charter directs City Council to establish those districts’ boundaries. On January 20th, the City Planning Commission released four map options to the Council. That day, Rochelle Riley at the Free Press published the maps, accompanied by comments from Charles Pugh. On January 23rd, the maps were presented to City Council by City Planning Commission staff, the City Clerk and Department of Elections, and Research and Analysis Division staff. On February 3rd, we released the D3 proposed Option 5 District Plan.
The initial 4 proposed district boundary plans were drafted based on simple legal requirements outlined in the Charter: districts must be contiguous, compact, and of roughly equal population. They must also avoid splitting minorities, according to the federal Voting Rights Act.
Those criteria are necessary to satisfy a legal challenge, but they are not sufficient to ensure that the district boundaries will not harm neighborhoods or local communities. They offer no answer to important questions, including:
1. Are any neighborhoods or historic areas split between two or more districts? If so, residents and community organizations must rely on multiple Council members to represent their neighborhood. That makes it more difficult to hold any single member responsible for that neighborhood issues.
2. Are any neighborhoods grouped into districts with distant or dissimilar neighborhoods? If so, the focus of that district’s Council member will be divided between neighborhoods with significantly different interests and concerns.
3. Are any place-based long-term public or private investment areas split between two or more districts?If so, businesses, investors, and government programs must rely on multiple Council members to support their interests. Splitting investment areas makes impact more complex, difficult, and harder to demonstrate.
The Process and Problems Behind the Planning Commission’s Four Options
The methods used to create the proposed district boundaries did not address any of those potential problems. Indeed, the Research and Analysis Division stated in a memo that they deliberately chose not to consider neighborhoods when creating district boundaries:
Pursuant to the [Home Rule City] Act, the apportionment plan must provide for districts that “are nearly of equal population as is practicable and contiguous and compact.” In drawing the district maps these were the only criteria utilized. [Emphasis added.]
The City Planning Commission methodology for developing its four options featured the following:
- Legal guidance from the Research and Analysis Division
- The choice to draw districts whose boundaries conform to those of election precincts (as established by the Department of Elections)
- The use of “neighborhoods” from the city’s Master Plan as a proxy for neighborhood boundaries
- The use of dot-density maps of ethnic minority populations, in order to avoid splitting minorities.
- “Horizontal” districts (whose boundaries run primarily east-west) in Option 1; “Vertical” districts (whose boundaries run primarily north-south) in Option 2; and “hybrid” districts in Options 3 and 4.
The Planning Commission’s choice to draw district boundaries along the boundaries of election precincts is not based on any legal requirement, and it carries several significant disadvantages:
- It has a significant negative impact on the compactness of proposed districts. The Commission’s four options have boundaries that “zig-zag” and appear jagged.
- It has a significant negative impact on the evenness of districts’ population apportionment. Districts’ populations tend to deviate more than necessary (see the Population Matrix.) While the four options still fall within the legal range of total deviation (11.9%), substantial deviations are at odds with the principle of representational balance: “one person, one vote.”
- Precincts are administrative areas whose boundaries bear little relation to neighborhood boundaries. Any proposal whose district boundaries conform to precincts is virtually guaranteed to split neighborhoods between multiple districts.
There is a viable alternative to using election precincts in this way. Census blocks are finer-grained than precincts, both in terms of population and in terms of geographic size. The average population in Detroit for a precinct is 1468 people while a block is 44 people. That means that they can be used to produce districts whose populations are more evenly distributed and whose boundaries are less jagged. They have the additional advantage of conforming more readily to major “breaks” in our city: freeways, major streets, and rail lines.
Furthermore, the “neighborhoods” in the city’s Master Plan are, like the precincts drawn by the Department of Elections, administrative in nature; they are only vaguely related to what most Detroiters would identify as neighborhoods. Lastly, the Commission’s choice to draw districts that are arbitrarily “horizontal” or “vertical” limits those districts’ compactness.
As a result, all of the four districting options currently on the table suffer from at least one instance of the three critical flaws listed above. Here are a few of the most visible:
Option 1 puts a district border along Michigan Avenue, splitting the Corktown neighborhood. It also combines Downtown and the Lower Eastside into one district, throwing together radically different parts of the city.
Option 2 splits the Warrendale neighborhood, splits the Grandmont-Rosedale neighborhood, and splits the Corktown neighborhood. It divides the East Jefferson Corridor investment area and splits the Lower Eastside Action Plan area. Finally, it includes a district that runs from 8 Mile Road to the Detroit River, throwing together neighborhoods on opposite ends of the city.
Option 3 splits the Russell Woods neighborhood. It splits the twin neighborhoods of Indian Village and West Village, making it more difficult for them to collaborate. It divides the East Jefferson Corridor investment area and splits the Lower Eastside Action Plan area. Finally, it splits Downtown along Brush Street, forcing residents of both the Southwest side and the Near Eastside to share their respective Council members with Downtown interests.
Option 4 splits Downtown along Brush Street, forcing residents of both the Southwest side and the Lower Eastside to share their respective Council members with Downtown interests.
D3’s goal is not to simply enumerate the problems with each option. Instead, we’ve set out to draw an alternative district map, one that respects the boundaries of all of Detroit’s neighborhoods and investment areas.
Building a Better District Map
D3 has developed a different district map, Option 5, using the following methodology:
- We divided districts only along significant geographic cleavages: major roads, freeways, and railroads.
- We used the simplest unit of population measurement, the Census block. Census blocks are made available by the federal Census Bureau specifically for the purpose of redistricting.
- We made every effort to avoid splitting neighborhoods, historic neighborhoods, community development areas, or targeted investment areas.
We call our result Option 5: the Neighborhood Option. It is less divisive, more compact, and more nearly equal in population than Options 1 through 4.
The Next Step
Make your voice heard! The City Council is hosting three more public meetings about the district maps:
– Monday, February 6, 7:00 PM at Second Ebenezer Church, 14601 Dequindre Road
– Tuesday, February 7, 7:00 PM at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Hall, 1358 Abbott St (enter on Porter side)
– Friday, February 10, 2:00 PM at St. Maron Center, 11466 Kercheval St
If you have any questions about the meetings, please contact the City Planning Commission at 313-224-6225 or the City Council Research and Analysis Division at 313-224-4946.
 “Roughly equal population” is operationalized in the following way, in accordance with state law: population deviation is not to exceed 11.9%, where “deviation” describes the degree to which a plan fails to apportion population evenly among districts. In other words, according to the January 20th memo to City Council by David Whitaker of Research and Analysis Division Staff, the total departure between the most populated district and the least populated cannot exceed 11.9%. Another definition we have used is: total population divergence or deviation is calculated by adding the percentage deviations from perfect equality of the districts with the highest deviations above and below perfect equality.
Check out our City Council Elections by District Resource Page on our website
Includes maps of demographics