Five surprising similarities between Detroit and Portland

Five surprising similarities between Detroit and Portland
Photo by Doug Zuba / Unsplash

Having worked in both Detroit and Portland for roughly half of my career each, I do a fair bit of comparing and contrasting. Although you’d be hard pressed to find two American cities as different as these two, here are five surprising similarities.

1. Similar Populations

Despite having wildly divergent population trajectories over the last 75 years, Detroit and Portland have nearly identical populations at this moment in time. Detroit once had a population of 1.8 million at its peak in 1950, and Portland is as large as it’s ever been despite recent estimates showing the population has declined ever so slightly since 2020.

As of the 2020 U.S. Census, here are the numbers:

  • Detroit: 639,111
  • Portland: 652,503

2. Nearly Identical in Size

Portland has a land and water area of 142.89 square miles while Detroit has an area of 145.00 square miles.

3. The Same Population Densities

When most people think about Detroit, it’s difficult to disentangle their mental image of the place from the wide-scale abandonment and physical issues it’s faced. Although Detroit has had many awesome successes over the last 20 years, certain neighborhoods are still in very rough shape. Because of this, it’s probably difficult to think of Detroit has having the same population density as Portland, a fairly dense and vibrant place city-wide, but it’s true. Having roughly equal populations and land areas, the population densities (people per square mile, or ppsm) are nearly identical, too. Here are the numbers:

  • Detroit: 4,606.84 ppsm
  • Portland: 4,888.10 ppsm

4. Roughly the Same Level of Racial Diversity

Comparing Detroit and Portland really is Black and White. That’s because they are two of the least racially diverse places in the United States. Detroit’s population is 77.7% black and 14.7% white, while Portland’s population is 73.8% white and 5.8% black.

5. Two of Their Largest Parks were Partly Designed by the Olmstead Bros.

Some of the most beloved parks in these cities are Washington Park in Portland and Belle Isle in Detroit. These two parks were designed by the same firm who designed Central Park in New York City. Washington Park, just west of Downtown Portland, is 675 acres (when including Hoyt Arboretum and the Oregon Zoo), while Belle Isle is a 982-acre island park located east of downtown in the Detroit River. Both are the most popular parks in their respective cities.