Harper Woods, Michigan, is a tiny speck on a map of Detroit. It lies in Wayne County, just outside the northeasternmost tip of the Detroit city limits, and has a burgeoning population of approximately 15,000 people, most of whom are past retirement age. Many of the inhabitants are of Eastern European/Polish descent and most of them have lived there since before the town was incorporated in 1951.
Up until the beginning of the 1990s, Harper Woods was almost an exclusively caucasian town, despite its extremely close proximity to Detroit proper. The town's southern and western borders (7 Mile Road and Kelly Road, respectively) run right alongside the Detroit borders. Two-thirds of the town lie west of Interstate 94, on the eastern side of which the more upscale tenements of Harper Woods are laid out.
Harper Woods is a boring yet convenient place to live. It's about 20 minutes in good traffic from downtown Detroit, 45 minutes on average to most of the outer suburbs due to its proximity to I-94 (and therefore Interstates 96, 696 and 75), and is along a nearly direct route to Canada via the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel to Windsor, Ontario. The Ambassador Bridge, which also leads to Windsor, lies a bit further south along the same route.
Crime rates have increased over the last 15 years or so, as has poverty. In the 1980s (and presumable before then) you'd never see a cart-pushing hobo on any Harper Woods street (none of which are actually designated "street" -- they're all "avenue" or "drive"), yet such a sight was commonplace toward the end of the 1990s. Harper Woods police are notorious for their strict methods of enforcing the almost city-wide 25 miles per hour speed limit, and have been accused of racial profiling several times over the past few years. One study indicates that 42% of traffic tickets are issued to black drivers (read: Detroiters), yet they account for only 32% of total traffic. As with any small suburb, there's not a lot to do, and many teenagers are prone to drug use, shoplifting, vandalism and street racing. This mostly stops once they reach age 16 and start driving, leading to the realization that more worthwhile activities can be had outside the Harper Woods city limits.
The city's emblem is a large, white kidney bean with a pine tree superimposed on top of it, on a black background. I am unable to sufficiently explain the logic behind this, other than it smacks of the 1950s, which is when Harper Woods was founded.
Pertinent statistics as of 2000:
- Total population: 14,254
- Area: 2.63 square miles
- Median age: 38.2
- Total households: 6,292
- Average cost for a house: $105,810
- Labor force: 7,475
- Unemployment rate: 1.3%
- Median income: $19,720
- Telephone area code: 313
- ZIP code: 48225
- Shares borders with: Detroit (south and west), Eastpointe (north), St. Clair Shores (north), Grosse Pointe Woods (east)
- High schools: 5 (1 public, the rest religious or otherwise private)
- Middle/elementary schools: 5 (2 public, 3 religious/private)
- Public parks: 2
- Public libraries: 1
- Landmarks: Eastland Mall (yes, that's the extent of the excitement in Harper Woods)
- Grocery stores: 2
I lived in Harper Woods from 1983 to 1998. I don't particularly miss it.
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