I'm no expert on economics, but it seems to me there are certain factors that offer hints that a downtown area - whether a big city like Detroit or a small town like Trenton - is showing signs of rebirth. Aside from the obvious "Are there a lot of people walking around?", here are a few questions you can ask youself:
Do you you ever walk through sidewalk scaffolding? If so, that's a good thing, evidence that someone is fixing up an old building. You see tons of the stuff in Chicago, and more and more I see it downtown Detroit lately.
Do you ever see those metal chutes leading from the top of a skyscraper to a Dumpster on the ground? If so, that's a good thing, too. It means someone is taking an old crappy building and trying to make something of it. Again, these aren't hard to find downtown these days.
But most revealing, are there hot dog vendors on the street corners? If so, that's a really good thing. Although the educational requirements to become a hot dog vendor aren't demanding, these guys aren't stupid. They only sell hot dogs where people are prone to buy hot dogs, and until this summer, I never noticed one in downtown Detroit, except maybe near Comerica Park before a Tigers game. Now they're all over the place, which tells me there are more people working, living and/or visiting downtown than there were a few years ago.
The guy in this photo sets up at Fort and Griswold every day, selling regular dogs and Italian sausages. Grilled green peppers and onions are availible at no extra charge, which is nice. And of course he sells Better Made potato chips and Faygo, which I think is city-mandated by this point. It seems everyone is latching on to the "Buy Michigan" movement.
No question, Detroit has a ways to go, as evidenced by the remarkable lack of a 7-Eleven. But one of these days I expect I'm gonna turn the corner and come across Purse Lady. Just don't tell MJenn.