Highland Park, Mich., and Highland Park, Texas, share more than just a name.
Both towns were founded in the early 1900s within three years of each other. Both are essentially islands — both one half of sister towns (Hamtramck, Mich., and University Park, Texas) and completely surrounded on all sides by a much larger city — Detroit in one case and Dallas in the other. Both encompass less than 3 square miles and have populations of fewer than 12,000 people.
But that is where the similarity stops.
The two cities, while they began in similar fashions, took drastically different paths. Highland Park, Texas, boasts the title of the 40th wealthiest city in the United States. Highland Park, Mich., removed two-thirds of its street lights last year because it couldn’t afford the electricity.
Perhaps the most shocking difference between the two cities is the home prices. As of Wednesday, the median list price for a home in Highland Park, Texas, was just shy of $1.8 million, for Highland Park, Mich., the median was only $10,000.
The small town in Michigan was once a booming testament to American ingenuity. Once a farming town, the auto industry essentially took it over in the 1900s. In its heyday in 1930, the town had almost perfect employment. It boasted the Ford Model T plant and record population growth, rocketing up 1,081% to almost eclipse 50,000 people.
But by the 1970s, a fall from grace took the tiny town. Ford shut down its plant when it discontinued the Model T. It wasn't the only body blow. The town, nicknamed “The City of Trees,” witnessed the rapid spread of an arborial disease which killed all of the trees in one, fell swoop. People started to flee the once booming city.
From there, crime increased and the population decreased. The city that once almost busted at the seams with people now has a population of only 12,000 and a dwindling tax base. The removal of a Chrysler plant in 1993 secured its demise. Even in the last 10 years, the population has decreased almost 20% as the middle class flees the increased crime and decreased job market.
The town is now sits at a stubborn poverty level of almost 44%. Unemployment is at 31.2%, more than triple Michigan’s 9.3% unemployment rate. Only 39.6% of people own their homes. The town, which once showed so much promise, is quickly becoming America’s next ghost town.
Compare all of this with Highland Park, Texas, and you’ll find an entirely different story. At more than 97% white, the town has a median household income of $228,106. A mere 2.7% percent of the city falls below the poverty line, and just over 83% of people own their homes. This town will continue its reign as the wealthiest enclave of Dallas for years to come.
So what did Texas’ Highland Park do differently? From the beginning its goal was to attract only what they considered the best and wealthiest. Founded in 1907, the town was meant to be “a refuge from an increasingly diverse” Dallas to protect residents "from the predations of the minorities." Developed by the same person who designed Beverly Hills, Calif., the town was never meant for big business. It was meant to be a residential haven for the rich, white elite who would buy a house, seek to increase its value and provide stable and increasing property tax revenues for the town.
Not so with Highland Park, Mich. The town, built on the backs of middle-class autoworkers, was meant to be a town to live in and work in — a model that becomes problematic when the only work available is from an industry that is continually in flux. When that industry inevitably left Highland Park, so did the town’s luck.
The two cities, similar in so many ways, are a grim reminder of the problems that still face this country and its differing demographics in the form of housing, poverty and unemployment. It is easy to walk through the well-kept neighborhoods of towns like Highland Park, Texas, and feel everything is returning to normal from coast to coast. It only takes a click of the wrong “Highland Park” in Google to discover it is not.