Detroit: then and now

A message from Life co-author, Helen Stephenson

The story of Detroit is very interesting. It’s a city that was rich, then it was poor and now it’s becoming rich again. I think it’s a ‘good news’ story.  I hope you agree with me!

The American city of Detroit was like Paris, some people said. It had a big river, beautiful wide streets and important buildings. Then, in the 20th century, it was called ‘Motor City’ because of the number of car factories there. Workers in the car factories had good jobs and they earned good money. It wasn’t unusual to own a home, a boat and even a holiday home. In the 1950s, new highways were built and lots of people moved from the city centre to the suburbs. Life was good. But at the beginning of the 21st century, Detroit became America’s poorest big city.

In a period of fifty years, more than half the people left Detroit. Houses and buildings were empty. Poverty and crime increased. Plants and trees grew in the empty houses. What happened in Detroit?

The city’s population fell for several reasons. One reason is people moved to the suburbs in the 1950s. Another reason is that in 1967 there were terrible riots. A lot of people were scared of coming to the city. Also, the big car companies like General Motors and Chrysler had huge problems. And in 2008, the world financial crisis had a big effect on many cities, especially Detroit. Now, a lot of people in Detroit are poor. Half of the city’s families have less than 25,000 dollars a year.

In 2013, the city of Detroit was bankrupt. It was the biggest bankrupt city in American history. But then something began to change. It was a new beginning for the city. It had some money to improve small things like lights in the streets and so people felt safe. The police came quickly when there were problems. Old, empty buildings were demolished. There is now space for new buildings. And there are new businesses too. The city gave 10,000 dollars to 30 new small businesses. Now there are grocery stores, juice bars, coffee shops and even bicycle makers. Finally, the city is working again.

suburbs (n) the areas where people live outside of a town or city, away from the centre
poverty (n) the state of being very poor
riot (n) violent actions by a large group of angry people
demolish (v)  to destroy a building
bankrupt (adj) not able to pay money that you owe


factory (n) a building where products are made
fall (n) an instance of something becoming smaller in size or amount
grow (v) to start as a seed and become a tall plant. The past simple is grew.
improve (v) to make something better
increase (v) to become more in number or value
leave (v) to go away. The past simple is leave.
move (v) to change the place where you live
safe (adj) not in danger
scared (adj) very worried that something bad will happen
terrible (adj) very bad

Listen to a recording of the text: 

Reading comprehension: 

Read the article and choose the correct option.

1. In the city of Detroit, ...
things are better than before.
things are the same as before.
things are worse than before.

2. In Detroit, ...
a lot of people are very poor.
a lot of people are very rich.
a lot of people are very scared.

Read the article again and choose the correct option.

3. People thought Detroit was ...
better than Paris.
bigger than Paris.
similar to Paris.

4. There were a lot of car factories ...
in Detroit.
in Paris.
in Paris and Detroit.

5. Some people in Detroit ...
had two cars.
had two houses.
had two jobs.

6. At the end of the 20th century ...
lots of people moved away from Detroit.
many people came to live in Detroit.
people moved into empty houses in Detroit.

7. Which statement is true?
Detroit had a number of problems.
Detroit’s biggest problem was crime.
There was one big problem in Detroit.

8. Which statement is true?
In 2008, half of the people in Detroit were poor.
Lots of cities had problems in 2008.
The car factories closed in 2008.

9. After 2013, which of these things happened?
The city had no money.
The streets were safer.
There were problems with the police.

10. Which sentence describes Detroit today?
New businesses are opening.
There are 30 grocery stores.
There are no empty buildings.

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