Landscope: Southfield explosion

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This story is part of Great Lakes Echo's 'Landscope' series.

This story is part of Great Lakes Echo’s ‘Landscope’ series.

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.”



In 1952, houses began to fill in area towards the center of Lathrup Village, but land outside remained relatively bare.



By 1964 the center of Lathrup Village was even more densely populated and suburbs were expanding towards the edges of this image.


“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.



By 1972 where there was once nothing but farmland,  suburbs, businesses sprouted and Southfield-Lathrup High School was fully developed.




In 1980 Southfield’s population reached 75,000. There were more paved roads, more densely populated neighborhoods businesses near Southfield- Lathrup High School.


“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.



In 2000 Southfield Township reached its peak. Formerly unused land contained suburbs, schools, businesses and a highway.

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.


Southfield in 2013. Image: Google Maps


2 thoughts on “Landscope: Southfield explosion

  1. I still find it offensive to characterize prime agricultural land as “unused land”. Urban sprawl has destroyed some of the best farm land in the world, right here in southeast Michigan–and it has also left a legacy of urban decay, as people have abandoned Detroit and the inner suburbs in a never-ending quest to move to “where it’s green”. We never quite seem to understand that we’re destroying both areas in the process, the countryside AND the city.

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