How to understand the geography of social suffering in Detroit? One startling way is to understand it globally– to correlate indices of social suffering in Detroit to those places around the world with identical statistics. These maps advance such correlations; what they reveal is that, in terms of infant mortality, Detroit appears to be what is sometimes called a ‘developing country’ and, in terms of poverty levels, Detroit appears to be what is sometimes called a ‘post-conflict environment’. In both cases, the situation of Detroit strikingly belies the city’s location within the United States – if, that is, the United States is understood as a place of prosperity, liberty and equal opportunity.
These maps follow up on a map produced in the late 1960s by William Bunge. Published in the essay, ‘Detroit Humanly Viewed’, Bunge’s map showed how Detroit’s western and eastern edges, then still populated by white, middle-class majorities, shared infant mortality rates with countries like Australia, Norway and France, while inner city neighborhoods populated by disenfranchised African-American majorities shared rates with countries like Guyana, Trinidad and Bulgaria. Today, Detroit is far more homogenous; these maps document how the city’s suffering is far more pronounced, its global referents are far less diverse and its difference from American norms is far more extensive.