Wonder what you would find if you frisked Detroit in general?
Answer: A city on life support waiting for a cure.
I am not from Detroit, MI but I am just a hour and a half away and it’s always depressing to see photos or read stories regarding the city’s decay. Once the fourth largest city in the United State with two million residents… now under one million residents and struggling. For me, it is mind boggling to search Google images for ‘Detroit’ and watch it bring up beautiful pictures of the city while at the same time you see pictures of what could be a deserted disaster area… Almost like it’s two completely different cities.
Daniel Okrent wrote a good piece on the death and possible life of Detroit in Time Magazine. This is how Detroit was knocked into a coma:
Most of us thought Detroit was pretty wonderful back in the ’50s and early ’60s, its mighty industrial engine humming in top gear, filling America’s roads with the nation’s signifying product and the city’s houses and streets with nearly 2 million people. Of course, if you were black, it was substantially less wonderful, its neighborhoods as segregated as any in America. On the northwest side, not far from where I grew up, a homebuilder had in the 1940s erected a six-foot-high concrete wall, nearly half a mile long, to separate his development from an adjacent black neighborhood. Still, white Detroit believed that the riots that ravaged Los Angeles in 1965 and a number of other cities the following summer would never burn across our town. Black people in Detroit, enlightened whites believed, had jobs and homes, and even if those homes were on the other side of an apartheid wall, their owners had a stake in the city.
Some did, but too many others, invisible to white Detroit, did not. The riots that scorched the city in July 1967, leaving 43 people dead, were the product of an unarticulated racism that few had acknowledged, and a self-deceiving blindness that had made it possible for even the best-intentioned whites to ignore the straitjacket of segregation that had crippled black neighborhoods, ill served the equally divided schools and enabled the casual brutality of a police force that was too white and too loosely supervised.
The ’67 riots sent thousands of white Detroiters fleeing for the suburbs. Even if black Detroiters with financial resources wished to follow, they could not: the de facto segregation was virtually de jure in most Detroit suburbs.
Soon Detroit became a majority-black city, and in 1973 it elected its first black mayor. Coleman Young was a talented politician who spent much of his 20 years in office devoting his talents to the politics of revenge. [...] By his third term, Young was governing more by rhetoric than by action. These were the years of a local phenomenon known as Devil’s Night, a nihilistic orgy of arson that in one especially explosive year saw 800 houses burn to the ground in 72 hours. Violent crime soared under Young. The school system began to cave in on itself. When jobs disappeared with the small businesses boarding up their doors and abandoning the city, the mayor seemed to find it more useful to bid the business owners good riddance than to address the job losses. Detroit was dying, and its mayor chose to preside over the funeral rather than find a way to work with the suburban and state officials who now detested him every bit as much as he had demonized them.
But Young isn’t the only politician to blame. In 1956, when I was 8 years old, my Congressman was John D. Dingell. There are people in southeastern Michigan who are still represented by Dingell, the longest-serving member in the history of the House of Representatives. “The working men and women of Michigan and their families have always been Congressman Dingell’s top priority,” his website declares, and I suppose he thinks he has served them well — by resisting, in succession, tougher safety regulations, more-stringent mileage standards, relaxed trade restrictions and virtually any other measure that might have forced the American automobile industry to make cars that could stand up to foreign competition.
Besides politicians becoming slaves to the car industry in order to get re-elected, the unions were also to blame. Now 1/3 of Detroit is out of work, but there might be light at the end of the tunnel for the city. This is how Detroit might be saved:
Detroit must address the fact that a 138-sq.-mi. city that once accommodated 1.85 million people is way too large for the 912,000 who remain. The fire, police and sanitation departments couldn’t efficiently service the yawning stretches of barely inhabited areas even if the city could afford to maintain those operations at their former size. Detroit has to shrink its footprint, even if it means condemning decent houses in the gap-toothed areas and moving their occupants to compact neighborhoods where they might find a modicum of security and service. Build greenbelts, which are a lot cheaper to maintain than untraveled streets. Encourage urban farming. Let the barren areas revert to nature.
Most crucially, the entire region has to realize that defining itself solely by the misperceived needs of a single industry has left all of southeastern Michigan dazed and bleeding. And yet the conditions for resetting that economic model couldn’t be more favorable.
America isn’t so keen on national industrial policy. But in Detroit’s past, you can find an idea for its future — and the nation’s. Back in the ’50s, the Federal Government began investing what would eventually reach half a trillion dollars in what became the interstate highway system. You could have considered that an incredible subsidy for the auto industry — which it was — but it was also an investment in the nation’s future.
It’s an adaptable model. The fuel-cell technology that dazzled me at the GM Tech Center is less about autos than it is about energy — energy, as hydrogen, that exists in every molecule of water. What’s to stop us now from turning Detroit — its highly trained engineering talent, its skilled and unskilled workforce desperate for employment, its underutilized production facilities — into the Arsenal of the Renewable Energy Future?
If we did, Detroit could go back to building something America needs. As a nation, we could prove that we can still make things. And while we’re at it, we could regenerate not just a city but our sense of who we are.
Well said. Make sure you check out Daniel Okrent’s piece here at Time Magazine.
Side-note: I heard this idea on the Patriot Channel on my satellite radio last night: If Obama wants to do something for the American people, go to Denmark and use your influence to get the Olympics in Detroit. It is a beautiful city with a great water front and LOTS of room to rebuild!
Also, don’t forget to…
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