Editor’s note: Landscope is an occasional series about Michigan land use changes documented in the aerial imagery archive at Michigan State University’s Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems center. Click photos for larger view.
Now a booming suburb of Metro Detroit that some residents call “the center of it all,” Southfield has come a long way from the small, agricultural town it once was.
The Oakland County city grew from around 18,500 residents in 1950 to more than 75,000 residents by 1980, according to Southfield’s comprehensive master plan. Population peaked at 78,322 residents in 2000 before declining to 71,758 residents by 2010, according to the United States Census Bureau.
This drastic population increase was due to the growth of suburbs, where fresh air and having your own backyard was advertised by real estate agencies, as opposed to city living, where housing was crowded and dense, said Kenson Siver, Southfield city council member, who has written three books on Southfield history.
Those moving to Southfield came largely from Detroit, said Siver. A small number of people came from Oak Park.
Aerial images of Lathrup Village, a neighborhood in the middle of Southfield, between 1952 and 1980 confirm the explosion of housing from what was once mostly unused land.
“A lot of it was relative to a big housing boom that we experienced in the 1950s and 60s, said Siver. “ I think people chose Southfield because of the developing community and central location.”
“Southfield was pretty much unsettled until after World War II, when there was a housing shortage caused by the depression and the war,” said Siver. “They made huge changes on the city such as freeways, houses, and schools.”
Southfield-Lathrup High School was opened for the 1967-1968 school year, and can be seen in the left corner of the aerial image from 1967 as partially developed.
This brought even more residents to Southfield suburbs, as the city became a major employment center with all the offices and new schools built, said Siver.
“Detroit was in a downward spiral ever since the race riots in the 1960s, and because it was the biggest city in Wayne County, everything happening in Detroit was effecting all surrounding areas in Wayne County,” said Southfield resident Sandra Yagiela, who moved there from Wayne County in 1982, in the middle of the population explosion.
Marlon Hairston moved to Southfield from Detroit in 1996 for a safer community that was still close to the city.
“In a matter of six months our house got broken into three times and the last time they tried to roll our big screen TV out of the door, so after that we knew it was time to go,” said Hairston.
Yagiela was looking to move from Wayne County to Oakland County in hopes of living in a county with more money and a less corrupt government.
“Southfield was one of the first cities outside of Wayne County that was close enough to the city where I would not be too far from work, but would also be able to live in a nice neighborhood,” said Yagiela.