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Will The Last Person To Leave Detroit Please Turn Out The Lights?
March 21, 2007 8:59 AM   Subscribe

The city of Detroit is in a bad way. House are cheaper than cars. The city's neighborhoods are in decay. Families are leaving. Even "revived" areas are struggling. Entire portions of the city are starting to revert to prarie and ruins. Can the city be saved or is it time to give up on the Arsenal of Democracy?
posted by fancypants (220 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
Detroit is where I grew up, and I lived in the city and attended its public schools from age 5 to age 18. Someday I'd like to come home to it, but at this point I'm at a loss as to what can be done to stop the bleeding that's been going on since the 1960s. (This is my first post to the blue, so be gentle)
posted by fancypants at 9:04 AM on March 21, 2007


Where else would Robocop battle ED-209 if Detroit doesn't decay more to the point where it will be revitalized by an evil private monolith?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:05 AM on March 21, 2007 [7 favorites]


.
posted by funkbrain at 9:08 AM on March 21, 2007


It's also being attacked by beetles.
posted by nekton at 9:08 AM on March 21, 2007


You know, in the end a smaller, more manageable Detroit with lots of greenspace may emerge from this; that wouldn't necessarily be such a bad thing. It's high time Detroit got itself a new identity; the Motor City days are gone forever. Why not be the Green City or something?

And where are all the people going? Chicago?
posted by Mister_A at 9:09 AM on March 21, 2007


How are things in Windsor?
posted by srboisvert at 9:11 AM on March 21, 2007


"I'll buy that for a dollar."

No, seriously. That little bungalow over there. I'll give you a dollar. I think it's the best offer you might get.
posted by MasonDixon at 9:11 AM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


I live in one of the northeast suburbs of Detroit, work doing IT for an auto company, and I'm actively looking to get out of the area. With the auto industry collapsing and all employment here no more than one step away from auto stuffs I think it's a good time to leave.

While I like Michigan (it's got just about everything one could want to do) it no longer feels possible to work, live, and feel that there will be enough economic opportunity to earn enough to eventually retire.
posted by c0nsumer at 9:11 AM on March 21, 2007


I personally have relocated to Chicago, but I think a lot of the movement out of Detroit is still to the surrounding suburbs. First it was the white population and now the middle class black families are fleeing the city in droves.
posted by fancypants at 9:12 AM on March 21, 2007


The $29k houses are "regular" houses. I've heard of houses going for as low as $4k in detroit.

The poor areas of detroit seem like an entirely diffrent country, like nowhere else on earth. In other poor places in the world, people have never been wealthy. Here you see poverty in a place that used to be wealthy. It's very strange.
posted by delmoi at 9:13 AM on March 21, 2007


yeah.. it's in a bad way. but as a resident i feel that finally the rate of decay might finally be slowing. (our second derivative is positive?)
posted by ofthestrait at 9:17 AM on March 21, 2007


I was thinking the same thing Mister_A. Perhaps Detroit can pare itself down and become a verdant and beautiful city.

But it will take a long while and lots of capital investment. It's the latter that causes so many problems. Who wants to put money into landscaping? It has to come from city government. And as they're not getting any money from property taxes, that's a tall order.

And what of the people? Though in decay, people still live in the ruinous areas of the city. They can't simply be evicted. Then again, that's exactly what Daley did in the housing projects of Chicago, but that's a different story.

Detroit's problem is that it remains a one industry town. All of its eggs are in a single basket. A basket that was really good for a long time, but that has since fallen apart. Other cities in the Midwest have suffered similarly, at least to some extent.

Chicago managed to survive - and for the first time since 1950, to actually grow - by diversifying. The stockyards and grain elevators that built the city disappeared decades ago. They've been replaced by advertising firms, financial services, and consulting agencies. Detroit has to figure out a way to do the same.
posted by aladfar at 9:19 AM on March 21, 2007


Sounds to me like what they need is a take-no-shit mayor like Rudy G. to come in there and clean the town up. I'm no expert on Detroit, and most of my knowledge comes from a friend who moved to Dallas from Detroit. According to him, once the jobs started going, there was no reason to stay in Detroit. And with the absurd about of crime and trash running down the city, there was a good reason to leave. You could get people to put up with it when there are jobs, but they aren't going to do it for the hell of it. So sounds to me like you need to get a Mayor who will crack down on the city hard and clean it up, and who isn't afraid of political ramifications for tough decisions. Once the city is cleaned up, the people might be willing to return, and if the people return, the jobs will too. Then again, I could be way off-base since I am relying on one person's assessment, and that guy clearly has significant judgment problems seeing as how he is convinced that the Pistons could beat the Mavs in a 7 game series.
posted by dios at 9:20 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I grew up (and live) in West Michigan. What needs to happen is that Michigan as an entire community needs to step up to the plate and take responsibility for Detroit. Until that happens, the city will continue to face decline.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:20 AM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm not going to pretend that I'm doing anything more then idle speculation, but it seems to me that a lot of urban centres in the US are going to see a lot of reorganization in the near future, when suburban sprawl begins to implode.

Detroit seems to be in an otherwise great location as far as agriculture is concerned. With no money (investment or liquid) actually left in the city, it might be prime for radical approaches and experiments in low-impact sustainability.

Wow that's optimistic and naive. How do I even survive?
posted by Alex404 at 9:23 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, dios, is "Rudy G." Giuliani?

But yeah, "cracking down" on poverty should clean it right up. Get those who are willing to work busy building debtor's prisons, say I!
posted by DU at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2007


Oh, and Mister_A and aladfar are one step ahead of me.

I'm still twice as optimistic though.
posted by Alex404 at 9:25 AM on March 21, 2007


There's been a lot of talk of starting some kind of farming in Detroit, but unfortunately a lot of the land is really polluted with heavy metals and the like because of the city's industrial history. Stuff like that can be remediated, but again, it takes money. It's a vicious cycle.
posted by fancypants at 9:26 AM on March 21, 2007


that's part of the reason that the downtown/midtown appears to be doing well, alex404.. aside from royal oak and ferndale there's really nowhere in the metro detroit area to experience walkable urban living, and i think the success of developments downtown speaks to a frustration with the suburban lifestyle.

Unfortunately, the worst areas of Detroit are in the neighborhoods between downtown and the first-ring suburbs, where new development and economic opportunity is basically nonexistent.
posted by ofthestrait at 9:27 AM on March 21, 2007


They should merge Detroit and Toledo and call it "Deledo."
posted by Floydd at 9:29 AM on March 21, 2007 [6 favorites]


Let's blame the auto unions! and next, the teachers unions.
posted by Postroad at 9:35 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


> Perhaps Detroit can pare itself down and become a verdant and beautiful city. But it
> will take a long while and lots of capital investment. It's the latter that causes so many
> problems. Who wants to put money into landscaping?

Trees and grass grow all by themselves, if people don't go out of their way to bulldoze them.
posted by jfuller at 9:43 AM on March 21, 2007


I too grew up in Detroit. I attended Detroit Public Schools (sampson, Bates Academy, Cass Tech) until I was 16. It was obvious to me then that I had to get out of there if I wanted to get a proper education and be in a more stable environment.

I went back in December of 2005 and it was just devastating. There were more vacant lots than houses in my old neighborhood. I stood on the vacant lot where the house I grew up in used to be. I could see houses 5 blocks away because the neighborhood was mostly empty space.

Everywhere I went it was desolate. There used to be all kinds of stores and shops on 7 mile, and now there are just boarded up, graffitied buildings.

My sister opened a small business downtown and within a 6 month period her car radio was stolen, windows broken and wallet stolen from her car, she was robbed at gunpoint and carjacked with my niece who was a year old at the time. The Livonia police recovered the car, but not once did the Detroit Police follow up or attempt to arrest anyone for any of this. I told her she needs to move to Chicago. You can't live in a city where you experience more crime in 6 months than I have in the 13 years since I left.

Detroit Blog is a site that covers all of this, especially the architectural treasures of Detroit that have been lost to neglect. I enjoy reading it and highly recommend spending an afternoon going through the archives. It's really painful for me, but there is no other site as thorough.

After growing up in Detroit, living in other cities was a culture shock. Growing up poor makes one accustomed to certain things that someone better off would find intolerable or unacceptable. Similarly, growing up a in a city with such a poverty of spirit obscured how many horrible things I'd just gotten used to when I lived there (like the hot, unreliable, filthy city buses). When I first encountered, in Houston, well maintained, clean, air conditioned city buses that ran on something approximating a schedule, I was floored. It just never occurred to me that city services could be anything other than minimal. It was like going from sleeping 3 or 4 to a bed every night to having my own room.

Detroit is a broken city due to poor management by incompetent elected officials and a populace that seems determined to elect a mayor to spite the rest of the state instead of one that will govern effectively. That is not to say that there were not some deliberate efforts to hurt the city economically by its suburbs and Mr. Engler, but a lot of blame can be placed at the feet of a string of useless mayors (including the current one).

Sorry for the rambling, but it's a very emotional issue for me. Leaving Detroit was like leaving an abusive home and thinking about the city ties me up in knots.
posted by eisbaer at 10:04 AM on March 21, 2007 [23 favorites]


So sounds to me like you need to get a Mayor who will crack down on the city hard and clean it up, and who isn't afraid of political ramifications for tough decisions.
posted by dios at 12:20 PM on March 21

Authoritarianism! YeeeHaw!

Get dem jackboots on, me boy-os. Kick in some doors and kick up some prosperity, that's what I say. Beat up some 'hoods and Big Business will start flinging money at you. Get rid of da bums and the respectable people will all come rushing back in droves.

Detroit, Detroit,
It's a wonderful town
The jobs are gone
And the prices are down
Detroit, Detroit
It's a helluva town!

posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:05 AM on March 21, 2007


Hey Eisbaear, I too went to Cass Tech (and before that Golightly). What years were you there? There's so much about Detroit that is so hard to explain to people who haven't lived there - and is so much worse than anything I've seen in Washington and Chicago where I've lived since there. Going home is like visiting a different planet.
posted by fancypants at 10:07 AM on March 21, 2007


What a sad and frustrating situation. I have never been to Detroit, but the detroitblog post instantly reminded of when I used to live in Poughkeepsie, NY. I recognize the neighborhoods decaying into woods and fields. They seem beautiful and picturesque, especially this time of year when everything is green and flowering. But "the dope dealers, the hookers, and the walking dead ambling past empty fields" make it an unsettling or dangerous place to be.

What appears to be a little oasis in an urban environment is actually a scary wasteland where almost anything can occur. In the case of my neighborhood, it was a serial killer living up the block and keeping bodies in his attic.
posted by annaramma at 10:09 AM on March 21, 2007


It looks like a great opportunity for someone in the next few years. Someone is going to get rich off this, even if the jobless continue to flee for now. Seeing the prairie take over the roads looks great to me in theory, but not if people go break new land to build on. Interesting. Thanks.
posted by Listener at 10:12 AM on March 21, 2007


So New Orleans can't get rebuilt, and Detroit is falling into disrepair. St. Louis, are you still out there?
posted by Pastabagel at 10:13 AM on March 21, 2007


The phrase "Will The Last Person To Leave Detroit Please Turn Out The Lights?" has been around a long time. It was on bumper stickers on cars back when I was a kid. I was in one of them.

In the late 1970s Detroit was still a boomtown, and had been resting in its laurels from as far back as the early 1900s when Henry Ford put them on the map. There was a Henry Ford museum and Greenich Village which tried to capture those heady days and magically keep them frozen in time forever. It was idyllic and conservatively pretentious. I loved Detroit when I was a kid.

Then foreign auto manufacturers began giving Ford and Chevy a run for their money. My dad had a great job and potential for a burgeoning career with a major steel manufacturer in the area, but then the bottom blew out and after having lived there many years, we turned south. That bumper sticker was very popular, for those who could still afford to buy one in a Stuckey's on the way to Toledo Ohio; Michigan's drainpipe to the rest of the country.

Michael Moore's documentary "Roger and Me" is as much a time capsule of that time as it is an opinionated treatise against big business. Watching his first major work is particularly daunting for me, because it cuts me to the quick. I never had to skin a rabbit, but I knew people who did.

Frankly, I'm surprised Detroit isn't a ghost town by now. Or maybe it is, and has been for a very long time, and those still there don't realize how haunted they really are.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:15 AM on March 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


I was class of '94, but I left after junior year when I got a scholarship to a boarding school. So it was Fall 90 - Spring 93.

And you're right about it being hard to explain. I tell people that I wish something cataclysmic had happened because that's at least something I could come to terms with. Instead I have to reconcile how a city with over a million people can die of neglect.
posted by eisbaer at 10:16 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Maybe Detroit could pioneer the concept of winding up a city. There's no rule that says cities have to live forever, is there? They could sell off all civic buildings and give relocation grants to those who can't afford to get out themselves. And if they have no money left to bulldoze the site back into fields, they could put a fence round it and open the world's first Abandoned City Theme Park. Like Chernobyl, but without the frozen radiation and Russian heavies guarding the ticket office!
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 10:20 AM on March 21, 2007 [5 favorites]


I grew up in DC during the bad years of the crack era, and visited Detroit and environs (and drove around downtown and the various ring road areas) last year.

DC was bad... really bad. Detroit looks like Dresden after WWII. It's unbelievable to me to see 30-story buildings boarded up, and the grand Michigan Central train station in tatters. It's hard to believe that stately edifices like these buildings can just be... abandoned. Scary stuff.
posted by fet at 10:21 AM on March 21, 2007


I had no idea it was this bad, and I'm fascinated. I live in an area of California where every tiny piece of land is worth $500K and every bungalow around $1 million. Beautiful old neighborhoods full of well-built craftsman architecture worth basically nothing? How strange.
posted by letitrain at 10:22 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


To those who are mocking the "cleaning up the town" thing... I guess you missed the transformation of NYC from crime-ridden, trashed out shell of its former greatness into a good town again, in less than a span of 10-15 years. If it worked in NYC, it can work in Detroit. And it doesn't mean lynching the poor people or whatever kind of hyperbolic nonsense you want to throw out there. The problems aren't going to solve themselves on their own.
posted by dios at 10:27 AM on March 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


I've been to Detroit once, when my band was on tour. It's the only time in my life (and I've lived for 5+ years within blocks of Downtown Milwaukee) where I could tell with absolute certainty that a person standing on the street was a prostitute.
posted by drezdn at 10:32 AM on March 21, 2007


My folks live in Detroit, grew up in Oakland County though. They bought a cheapo bungelow a few years ago.

I find that they, and my Oakland County relatives, could care less about the real problems of the city. They also can't believe that I wouldn't want to drive an SUV, much less an American made car.

Are they all living in la-la land about the state of the economy or is it just my perception?
posted by k8t at 10:34 AM on March 21, 2007


For you Urban Exploration types..

Forgotten Michigan.

It's sad because some of the buildings are really nice. The stonework on some of them is gorgeous.
An acquaintance of mine is a firefighter/paramedic for the Detroit FD and had some great stories about the Highland Park area. I might actually go visit one day.
posted by drstein at 10:37 AM on March 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


I've been to Detroit once, when my band was on tour. It's the only time in my life (and I've lived in many neighborhoods featuring crack whores) that I've been offered a blowjob to drive someone a half mile.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:37 AM on March 21, 2007


My dad grew up in Detroit, and he moved my Mom and me out of there back in 1966. He continued to work out of Detroit, and of course we'd go there for various reasons over the years. There are things that are hard to explain to those who've never been there - the rows of burned out buildings for example. It's amazing to find now that I live in California, the number of people who've never heard of "Devil's Night." I remember saying when I first got here: "You know, the night they set all the abandoned houses on fire!"

My dad once took me to the house he grew up in. The roof was caving in, and there were still people living in it. It was incredibly sad.

During the 80's there was a semi-official rule that you could blow stoplights in certain sections of the city, for risk of car-jacking. I truly can't believe that they haven't turned the lights out yet. Someone pull the plug, please!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:37 AM on March 21, 2007


PS, my Oakland County relatives and parents also can't believe that the cheapest house in my city is $800,000 and that we pay $2k/month for rent.
posted by k8t at 10:37 AM on March 21, 2007


K8T - the foreign made car thing is a tough one. People aren't in la-la-land about the economy, but they look around and they see that their dad and their uncles and their grandparents their friend's relatives all worked for the auto industry, and it makes it hard to buy a foreign car. I ended up buying a Ford Focus (which is actually a great little car) last year because I couldn't bring myself to buy a foreign car.
posted by fancypants at 10:38 AM on March 21, 2007


dios, nyc always had jobs. Even when things were bad it was still the economic heart of America.

I'd love to see Rudy G tackle detroit. It would be like watching Phil Jackson try to win a championship coaching the Atlanta Hawks.
posted by srboisvert at 10:39 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


But we had the Super Bowl last year!

That was supposed to fix everything!

.... sigh.
posted by kbanas at 10:40 AM on March 21, 2007


NYC had some big advantages, though, dios, most notably the fact that it was not completely beholden to one large moribund industry. Detroit doesn't seem to have anything positive going for it right now. It's not a financial center, nor a tourist destination, nor a port, nor even a good place for kids from Jersey to get drugs. So, yes, a law-and-order mayor is just what the doctor ordered, but there also must be a huge investment in bringing businesses (ie, jobs) into the city.
posted by Mister_A at 10:40 AM on March 21, 2007


If it worked in NYC, it can work in Detroit.

It would be nice if it could, but there's a huge difference. Even during the dark ages of NY, there was still a vibrant business community. Detroit just doesn't have that.

To revive Detroit, it would probably take a concerted effort on the part of the city, state, and federal government. Including active efforts from each of the three to convince businesses to relocate to Detroit. Without jobs, people will continue to move away.

In the past, part of the reason for the success of Detroit was its proximity to water, allowing easy access to both rail and water transport. It's just not as essential as it once was, as shipping has changed dramatically.

The other thing that could save it, would be some sort of fluke. Some unforeseen industry that Detroit is especially adapted for (say San Francisco and the web circa the late 90s) or an active desire to move away from the suburbs model back towards the cities (though Detroit lacks the jobs to really pull this off).

And as for Rudy G., to claim that he was alone in restoring NYC isn't very accurate. During the NYC regrowth, there was active investment from the Feds (ie. Clinton) into policing and business redevelopment. There were also some smart new policing strategies which Rudy G. claims credit for, but didn't come up with, and may have actually hindered.
posted by drezdn at 10:41 AM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


Sounds to me like what they need is a take-no-shit mayor like Rudy G. to come in there and clean the town up.

An alternative would be to forcibly place the entire metro area under one unified government. The resulting government gets more tax base to draw from, well-off suburbs can't pretend they aren't part of a larger community, and the population of the larger community gets a say in how the inner city runs itself.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:41 AM on March 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


Ahh, srboisvert beat me to it. Well met sir!
posted by Mister_A at 10:42 AM on March 21, 2007


Half makes me wonder if Detroit shouldn't lower the drinking age to 18 and legalize soft drugs, to turn itself into sort of a vice party town that Las Vegas once was? It would bring in quick cash that the city apparently needs.
posted by geoff. at 10:43 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


For another city past its prime, look to Buffalo, which used to be huge due to its prime shipping location.

It's interesting to me how cities developed based so much around shipping. For example, Chicago got so big because the cheapest way to ship things would be to send it by water as far as possible (ie. the end of Lake Michigan) and then send it by rail the rest of the way (or backwards if you're shipping livestock or agriculture).
posted by drezdn at 10:44 AM on March 21, 2007


I used to live in Poughkeepsie, NY.

*waves*

In the case of my neighborhood, it was a serial killer living up the block and keeping bodies in his attic.

annaramma's referring to Kendall Francois, whose profile was considered atypical even by serial killer standards.

Since then, a number of places have flourished in Poughkeepsie, but real estate rate remains overinflated, due to the changing climate of the area. Many (current) dwellers of the area have relocated from NYC, Albany or Connecticut, often for economic reasons and competitive schooling, who then commute back to their old spots. Into this setting, a number of drug-related homicides have increased, along with an influx of residents who prefer not to know the area, making the prospect of further flareups a possibility.
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:45 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's the real problem here. Largely because of racial tensions, there's a complete lack of awareness of Detroit as a metro-area. It's virtually impossible to get anything done regionally without squabbling that inevitably has its roots in Detroit's resentment of white abandonment of the city and the suburban why-don't-you-just-pull-yourself-up attitude. Communities continue to quarrel with one another while the whole region is slipping away - there's a reason Detroit is the largest metro area without any sort of transit system that exceeds bus service, which is actually a pretty good case study of how regional problems are caused by disagreements between cities. The region has two bus systems: DDOT serves the city of Detroit, and SMART serves the suburbs. Certainly they could save money and provide better service through a regional transit authority, which was attempted a few years ago but vetoed by former Gov. Engler, then killed by the courts. Recently, some suburban communities have opted out of the SMART system (most notably Livonia).
posted by ofthestrait at 10:45 AM on March 21, 2007


It would probably also help a lot to put in place single-payer national health care, which would take a huge cost burden off of the car industry and help the old companies be vastly more competitive.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:45 AM on March 21, 2007


A great future awaits if you can just holdout until 2027. (nsfw)
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 10:45 AM on March 21, 2007


"In the case of my neighborhood, it was a serial killer living up the block and keeping bodies in his attic."

Oh, we had one of those in downtown Sacramento too, except she was burying them in her yard. And nobody noticed.

This story is pretty sad. The airport at DTW is beautiful. Michigan is beautiful too. I've enjoyed my trips there. but I haven't been into downtown Detroit.. yet.
posted by drstein at 10:46 AM on March 21, 2007


^^ I was just talking about this with a friend at work...
posted by Mister_A at 10:47 AM on March 21, 2007


Single-payer healthcare and the Big 3 I mean...
posted by Mister_A at 10:48 AM on March 21, 2007


For another city past its prime, look to Buffalo, which used to be huge due to its prime shipping location.

Similar thing there too. You want to see Buffalo change, abolish Amherst and Cheektowaga and the Tonawandas and Lackawanna and so on and shift them all forcibly into the same governmental bed with Buffalo.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:50 AM on March 21, 2007


I agree with the point about needing the business support and financial infrastructure to revive the town. And I think ROU's point would help too. I didn't mean to suggest that it only took a law-and-order mayor. I was merely suggesting one thing it needed. I don't think you will attract the businesses or the people until the city is cleaned up. I don't know if the businesses or the people come first (chicken/egg), but I do know you won't have one without the other. And you will have neither with a rundown crime-ridden city.

Again, I'm no expert on Detroit and don't presume to be. This is purely an outsiders perspective. If I'm a business owner looking to move to a new city, I'm probably not going to go to the run down criminal one. If Detroit was cleaned up and offering me similar incentives as another city, then its back on my list. So there are lots of things that need to happen; I was just proposing one that might be a major one.
posted by dios at 10:50 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]



Single-payer healthcare and the Big 3 I mean...


I think we're rapidly approaching a point where big business (including and especially the car companies) decides it would be cheaper to support a government run single payer system, and soon it will be big business and unions lobbying for government healthcare while the insurance industry and medical industry lobby against it.
posted by drezdn at 10:51 AM on March 21, 2007


It seems like, and I'm clearly not an economist, this is what happens when you have an industrial monocrop system.

The city was entirely dependant on one industry. When that industry (inevitably) gave up on Detroit, everything collapsed.

It's a tragedy.
posted by serazin at 10:53 AM on March 21, 2007


Speaking as someone born in Detroit and still living in the area (Ann Arbor), I can confirm that most folks I know are now in one of two camps: either actively and openly planning to leave, or stubbornly refusing to and angry at the former group for being quitters. I've even seen the split in-family, with my father bailing for Jacksonville and my brother staying here -- after working together in Detroit for a decade.

Most of the latter group, of which I'm one, can come up with little better to say than "well, at least when it comes back it should come back big and I won't miss it." The truth is really just that we love Michigan -- not the government or the cities or the economy, but just the physical state. The water, and the trees, the tough "real people" vibe and mindset, and even the crazy weather. Us holdouts, we don't even get why everyone seems to be moving to the places you are. We can't imagine living in places that warm, waterless, crowded... and, to us, boring. I've turned down multiple offers to move to the coasts -- where I'd have to make twice the money to afford a decent apartment, when I own a house here.

When folks do leave, it's often not to where you'd expect. The Detroit area regularly gets worker recruitment campaigns from harsher weather places like Wyoming, where they are jobs -- because Michiganders will actually tolerate living there.

"Detroit" proper is moving further and further out in a virtual blast wave of suburb building, but we're rapidly running out of "out" to move to as the flight of people begins brushing against the decay radius of other dying cities like Flint, Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw. When the room runs out, that's when things here will get their worst.

But as many of us are fond of joking, there's nothing wrong with Detroit that burning it down and starting over wouldn't solve.
posted by Pufferish at 10:53 AM on March 21, 2007


Sounds to me like what they need is a take-no-shit mayor like Rudy G. to come in there and clean the town up.

Dios, while I'm glad that the crime rate in New York has dropped (I won't romanticize the sleazoid 70's the way some might) there's been some serious blowback to a lot of his policies. the overeagerness of some of our police force has exacerbated racial tensions* and he seemed indifferent to the gentrification that's driven housing prices into the stratosphere, thus driving the working and middle class further and further out and destroying older neighborhoods. Plus, while I don't want Times Square to become Scumbucket Disneyland again, I'm not too fond of the giant mall it's become.

*and if the news is any indication the crime rate seems to be rising. Just the other night some psycho shot two unarmed auxilliary cops and an unarmed bartender. I kind of wonder if that crime drop wasn't just a natural cycle or something.
posted by jonmc at 10:57 AM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


ofthestrait :
Awesome name!

For the unaware, Detroit, translated from French, means "of the strait."

I'm also now kicking myself for not making my name "piglady."
posted by eisbaer at 10:57 AM on March 21, 2007


A good lifelong friend of mine, who had spent her whole life up to college graduation in the Baltimore/DC corridor, who then did grad school in Flagstaff, AZ (skiing!) and internships in South Florida (beaches!), did what any normal person would do when she found out that her new husband's four year medical residency was to be in Detroit:

She cried for a week.
posted by contessa at 10:57 AM on March 21, 2007


The crime rate is rising nation-wide, and seems to be symptomatic of a dearth of financial opportunity and the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

Nevertheless, I do agree with dios that a law-and-order mayor can do a lot for a place like Detroit, if better safety and law enforcement can be deployed as part of a comprehensive bail-out.
posted by Mister_A at 11:05 AM on March 21, 2007


Kwame Kilpatrick, son of Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Mayor of Detroit:

"The central focus of the career center is a coaching model. We’ll be assessing individuals. We’ll be giving them occupational testing and guiding them through a process that will put them on a path to a real career...

The only thing this process requires of each participant is a personal commitment to be ready to learn and to prepare themselves to work. That means going to class. That means developing the skills that will make you employable. That means developing good work habits. And, yes, it means being able to pass a drug test. "

That last line received the most applause of the night.

In regards to law-and-order: Kwame also announced plans to hire 200 new police officers. Certainly not enough, but, a good start.

@eisbaer: thanks. but, piglady? i don't get it.
posted by ofthestrait at 11:05 AM on March 21, 2007


What do you do with the abandoned houses in your neighborhood? Tyree Guyton turns them into art. His mother's old house. The Heidelberg Project website. Then the police bulldoze, etc. etc. and he keeps at it.
posted by bobobox at 11:09 AM on March 21, 2007


I've been furiously googling, but there doesn't seem to be much about the Belle Isle Piglady around. It was a local urban legend the kids in my neighborhood used to scare each other with. The details are foggy, but she looks like a pig, may or may not be a witch, and devours kids. If you go off in the woods on Belle Isle she may get you!

Pretty standard boogeyman fare. I hadn't thought about it in years. The pig aspect makes it uniquely Detroit:
Belle Isle was known to the Indians as Wah-nah-be-zee (White Swan) and was later renamed Isle St. Claire by the French. It was also called Ile de Cochons (Island of the Hogs) because wild pigs had been placed on the island by the first settlers.
The name "Ile de Cochons" rules your face.
posted by eisbaer at 11:13 AM on March 21, 2007


Let's blame the auto unions

Um, that's pretty much exactly right.
posted by tadellin at 11:15 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's interesting and depressing to look at the area described in the original post's detroitblog link on Google Maps satellite view. Wow.
posted by Kat Allison at 11:16 AM on March 21, 2007


Huh. I never heard of the Belle Isle Piglady... I always heard about the Nain Rouge.

I also found this interesting site, which mentions a Belle Isle Snake Goddess? wtf?
posted by ofthestrait at 11:18 AM on March 21, 2007


To those who are mocking the "cleaning up the town" thing... I guess you missed the transformation of NYC from crime-ridden, trashed out shell of its former greatness into a good town again, in less than a span of 10-15 years.

NYC never came close to Detroit. A few neighborhoods did, but Manhatten and all that money was always right over the river, all part of the same city. Intelligent (not so much tough, but cracking down on quality of life crimes) certainly helped, but then so did economic revival of the 80's and '90's.
posted by caddis at 11:23 AM on March 21, 2007


A city has to have a reason to exist; now that manufacturing has dried up, what reason is there for Detroit *not* to shut down?

A strong mayor is no good if there's nothing to govern, and Detroit seems headed towards nothing fast. Is hoverboard's idea of closing it down, selling the remaining assets to help citizens relocate, and tearing down the remaining structures so bold an idea? Is it better just to let the place rot?

The biggest issue I could see is what do you do with the land if the city buildings were gone...is there still a small town? Does it become a park? Do you sell it off to developers to build McMansions? Does it become a Superfund cleanup site, if it has lots of heavy metals in the soil?

The biggest problem may simply be there is no political will to take on these big issues in Michigan (I leave that question to Michiganers), and so the city will just keep rotting.
posted by emjaybee at 11:25 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Kat Allison,

That inspired me to look at my old neighborhood. The houses are supposed to be pressed together like sardines. I recall that an adult could stand between two houses and almost touch both of them with his or her arms spread. Look at Northfield. Almost a whole block is just...gone. Same with Vancourt.
posted by eisbaer at 11:26 AM on March 21, 2007


That shot of the State Fair neighborhood from the air is incredible. For a slightly less depressing view of the city, here is the neighborhood I grew up in. All of the flat roofs are relatively new condos and town houses.
posted by fancypants at 11:26 AM on March 21, 2007



For another city past its prime, look to Buffalo, which used to be huge due to its prime shipping location.

You could just as easily put "Baltimore" in that sentence. It took me a while to understand the provincialism I grew up with: people honestly seemed to think B-more was a major American city.

Finally I understood that it had been at one point, but probably not since the 1800s.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:36 AM on March 21, 2007


"they need is a take-no-shit mayor like Rudy G. to come in there and clean the town up"
The Big Apple just needed polishing.
Detroit is a rotting lemon.
posted by 2sheets at 11:38 AM on March 21, 2007


Dr. Jimmy -

I think that's part of why I love The Wire so much. It could so easily be set in Detroit. Especially Season Two.
posted by fancypants at 11:40 AM on March 21, 2007


The more I read through it, the more impressed I am with detroitblog. The entry on the derelict old Hotel Fort Wayne is fantastic. Thanks so much for the link to this site, fancypants!
posted by Kat Allison at 11:46 AM on March 21, 2007


Here are the reasons Detroit is far, far from dead:

(1) It's still the center of the region, all roads run through it, at some point a corporation looking for a region with affordable housing and decent infrastructure will relocate here. Boeing left Seattle for Chicago, no reason some smart company couldn't move here.

(2) It's the seventh borough, just after Philly, before Baltimore, ahead of D.C. All the art kids who are being pushed out of pricey Williamsburg might want to consider it.

(3) There's a great bar downtown (Cliff Belles) there's a good restaurant (Atlas) and there's a good movie theater (D.I.A.)

(4) If you sit in front of the Diego Rivera mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts you will have your mind blown. Seriously, it's better than drugs.

(5) In Lafayette Park you can buy a Mies Van Der Rohe townhouse for just over $100,000.00. And it's in beautiful shape.

(6) One of these days someone is going to stick a high speed commuter train connecting Ann Arbor and Chicago and the downtown rail station (which they'll have renovated like Jackie O renovated Grand Central), making the entire region come to life.

(7) Detroit is hundreds of feet above sea level. And since we can't seem to get our act together on climate change, the coastal cities are screwed.

(8) And most importantly, Lupitas in Mexican Village has the best tacos east of the Mississippi.
posted by tobybarlowny at 11:50 AM on March 21, 2007 [5 favorites]


Hey Pufferfish - thanks for mentioning Jackson! Although I didn't end up growing up in Detroit, I did grow up in Jackson, one of the little cities decimated by the death of the auto industry. I give you a big "atta-puff" for staying in Michigan - I couldn't even hack Ann Arbor with it's "highest rate of phd's flipping burgers" economy.

I laughed my butt off when I moved to Berkeley, CA. 5 pages of want ads (in '92)! I miss Michigan, I always will - but a person has got to eat!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:50 AM on March 21, 2007


What Detroit Can Learn from Bangalore

Also, nice job blaming white people for the state of affairs in Detroit. When the likes of Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick are vilifying white residents at every turn, it's not surprising that they flee. They probably don't want to pay for the mayor's massages, or his wife's Navigator. Or maybe they don't like their elected leader to liken them to Klansmen.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:51 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow. What's particularly nuts about the "lynching" ad (kwantsar's last link) is that Freman Hendrix, Kilpatrick's opponent, is black.
posted by Mister_A at 11:57 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


A lot of you are mentioning how the decline of the auto industry is the cause of the decline, and I suppose you're right, but looking at Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, I'm not so sure. Each of those cities was based on many industries, all of which have completely disappeared. Railroads, mining, steel, gone gone gone. People forget that before the oil boom in texas, the petroleum capital of the US was PA. A great many of the huge locomotives that we sold in the US were built in PA, and the coal that drove them was mined from there. When the coal industry disintegrated, the railroads collapsed, and then Japan destroyed the American steel industry, those cities were hit decade after decade. And yet they survived and renewed themselves. They aren't the industrial centers of the country the way they once were, but they have survived and have the ability to attract people to live there.

The auto industry is not completely dead, and won't be for the foreseeable future. The problem I think is that Detroit isn't doing what these cities did to reinvigorate themselves. In particular, the dot com boom was an opportunity missed that philly and pittsburgh made an effort to develop. All that dot com money is still in those places, and PA is host to a great many direct tech and non-tech companies that rely heavily on technology.

If anyone knows the philly area, it seems to me that a microcosm of detroit would be Norristown, PA.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:58 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Detroit is on "maps.live.com" in 3-D. Kat Allison's link on that site.
posted by maxwelton at 12:01 PM on March 21, 2007


A lot of Hendrix supporters were white suburbanites.
posted by ofthestrait at 12:05 PM on March 21, 2007


Detroit is actually a beautiful city that's lost it's shine.

I had been there only once when I was 18. I drove through on my way into Canada. It was a hole then. Recently, I've had the opportunity to discover Detroit more intimately. I'm there a couple times a month. There is effort to revitalize.

But all of the above is correct w/r/t jobs. Detroit needs to do the following:

1. Lure "thought work" companies with the promise of tax incentives, low cost office space, etc.

2. Lure "thought works" with the low cost of living & urban affordability.

3. Keep things safe for both of the above.

4. Profit!!!

Seriously though, I like Detroit quite a bit and I'm hopeful that things bottom out soon and start to rebound. It'd be a shame to lose all that history.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:05 PM on March 21, 2007


Will The Last Person To Leave Detroit Please Turn Shoot Out The Lights?

FTFY.
posted by jet_silver at 12:07 PM on March 21, 2007


Ironically, the biggest tool of suburban sprawl was the automobile, so in a way, Detroit indirectly created one of the mechanisms of its demise.
posted by drezdn at 12:08 PM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


Did anyone link to Forgotten Detroit yet? Lots of pics here.

A band I used to be in recorded a record in downtown Detroit (Ghetto Recording, next to The Fox) in the early 90s and being there for an extended period fairly blew my mind. I don't think I will ever be able to completely forget staring at (what I imagine was) the Michigan Central Depot, looming like some dead ruin on the horizon, extremely eerie in some way I can't really explain.

The people we stayed with lived in large, old houses which most of them were actually paying for (as opposed to renting) - and these were people who'd definitely be renting in any other large city. They seemed to have a strange attitude overall about Detroit, simultaneously proud (esp. of their musical heritage), angry, righteous, bemused. I remember at one guy's place there was a local coffeetable book out featuring nothing but pictures of burn-out cars.

Driving down streets you'd see a lovely turn-of-the-century home, followed by a smoking ruin, followed by a vacant lot, followed by another lovely old home - it's completely surreal. I remember at the time there was a lot of talk about how Detroit was on its way up again, but sadly that doesn't seem to have quite come to pass.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:10 PM on March 21, 2007


So, fascinated by all of the linked material and comments, I scooted over to the Wikipedia entry on Detroit. It's (compared to the info here) shockingly upbeat. Boosterish Wiki editing, or is this thread exaggerated?
posted by COBRA! at 12:10 PM on March 21, 2007


Here's a random spot in Detroit on zillow.com. Could someone more familiar with the city post a better link so we can see the scope of the housing mess for ourselves?
posted by Pastabagel at 12:10 PM on March 21, 2007


FlamingBore, not many sane businesses will move to Michigan.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:13 PM on March 21, 2007


Urban prairie.
posted by ofthestrait at 12:14 PM on March 21, 2007


The problem is, aside from furniture commercials, we haven't seen much of this guy lately. (youtube)
posted by evilcolonel at 12:14 PM on March 21, 2007


Here's the Zillow data for the neighborhood I grew up in. The only thing in my old zip code is a 3 bedroom townhouse going for $391,000. I'd say that's pretty high for the neighborhood, but not totally out of line. Generally considered one of the most thriving in the city. Downtown and Lafayette Park are the source of a lot of the civic boosterism you see about Detroit these days and a lot of that is deserved. People were genuinely impressed when they came to town for the Super Bowl and baseball All Star Game. HOWEVER, once you get out of downtown, then no this thread is not exaggerated. At all.

And more than that, even when you live downtown there are serious city services and amenities that are just missing. Like shopping. There's literally nowhere to shop in the city of Detroit. To buy a pair of socks or a CD or anything but groceries, you must drive to the suburbs. This may be changing a bit with the redevelopment of Campus Martius downtown, but last time I was home it was still very much the case.

Since leaving Detroit, I've lived in Washington and Chicago, and I've never seen anything that compares to the detestation of Detroit. But at the same time, there's a sort of savage pride and kind of insane boosterism among people who live there. It's weird.
posted by fancypants at 12:22 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


COBRA! - I think the true state of the city lies somewhere between wikipedia and this thread - certainly some neighborhoods of the city are doing well (or, at least, not falling apart) and other neighborhoods are just like this thread describes.

Certainly sentences like this are disingenous: "The city's streamlined government has a balanced budget and is seeing new growth in business and tourism."

Umm... there's no way this can be. The citation is a speech from Kwame. Detroit is a few years away from defaulting and possibly facing financial takeover from the state of Michigan.

"Office construction surrounding the revitalized Campus Martius Park included the 2004 opening of Compuware World Headquarters and the 2006 opening of Ernst & Young's new offices at One Kennedy Square."

What they don't tell you is that the bottom 8 floors are unoccupied.
posted by ofthestrait at 12:27 PM on March 21, 2007


Pastabagel - that isn't far off. Zoom in some on the different areas. In particular, I can tell you, Harper Woods is pretty spot on. Homes are sitting on the market for a long time. They are often sold for less than what people bought them for. And this is a decent area next door to the Grosse Pointes - arguably the nicest burbs in the Detroit Metro area.

Kwanstar - I know. What I'm saying is that they need to find a way to change that.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:29 PM on March 21, 2007


"Let's blame the auto unions"

"Um, that's pretty much exactly right."

Or, you know, you could like, blame the big three for putting out poorly thought out, poorly built, gas guzzling crap that no one wants to buy, while sticking their thumbs in their ears and chanting "la la la la la, I can't heeeeaaaaar yooooouuu...." for the last twenty years or so...
posted by stenseng at 12:33 PM on March 21, 2007


Ironically, the biggest tool of suburban sprawl was the automobile, so in a way, Detroit indirectly created one of the mechanisms of its demise.
posted by drezdn at 12:08 PM on March 21


Is that too sad to be funny or too funny to be sad?
posted by hexxed at 12:36 PM on March 21, 2007


It's virtually impossible to get anything done regionally without squabbling that inevitably has its roots in Detroit's resentment of white abandonment of the city and the suburban why-don't-you-just-pull-yourself-up attitude.

This is a pretty good summation of a very complex problem. I would only add that the "resentment" manifests itself in outright hostility and punitive policy decisions (see the current water rate fiasco), and some suburbanites seize on the hostility as a reason not to care or support the city. In both cases, it's very much a cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face scenario. But it ain't changing anytime soon.

Wow. What's particularly nuts about the "lynching" ad (kwantsar's last link) is that Freman Hendrix, Kilpatrick's opponent, is black.

Well, in Detroit, there's "black" and then there's Black. The phrase "not black enough" is a common one around these parts.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:36 PM on March 21, 2007


"So New Orleans can't get rebuilt, and Detroit is falling into disrepair. St. Louis, are you still out there?"

Indeed. Two major US cities that look like they may never recover. How many others are on the way?

Anyone think this is an isolated phenomenon, only occurring city by city? Hm? (Hint: it's not.)

New Orleans will survive to some point because it's an important river- and seaport. Detroit isn't anymore, although if the railroad system can get revived that might help it a lot. St. Lawrence seaway shipping coupled with railroads could give a lot back to Detroit. And surely, some other kind of manufacturing would be nice, but that's all been sent to other countries. No city can survive only on "service" industries; something of value has to be produced or transported for a city to function properly.

As long as the population is falling precipitously, the only thing a city can do is fail.

The failure of two large and important US cities is really quite a bad sign.
posted by zoogleplex at 12:36 PM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


(3) There's a great bar downtown (Cliff Belles) there's a good restaurant (Atlas) and there's a good movie theater (D.I.A.)

Seriously? That's a justification for Detroit being far from dead? The town of 7000 that I grew up in had that. We are talking about a major US city right?
posted by chundo at 12:38 PM on March 21, 2007


Interesting and sad post. Here's another discussion on decaying Detroit on Metafilter.

Abandoned Detroit set on Flickr
posted by Otis at 12:54 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I love to point towards the great Rust Belt cities of the Midwest when people here in NYC bitch so endlessly about gentrification and "why they hate Williamsburg so much."

Hey hipster, guess what? There are thousands of square feet of loftspace in St. Louis and Detroit just waiting with your name on it. C'mon, have at it! What are you waiting for?
posted by Afroblanco at 1:01 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


First: great post. There's some excellent reporting on those blogs.

Second: Kwantsar's first link? This thing?

What Detroit Can Learn from Bangalore

That's one of the most extraordinary things I've ever read. It's just . . . awesome. For a long time, Tom Friedman was the reigning champion of the Least Accurate Thing Ever Written About India competition ("a country with few natural resources and a terrible climate") but this Shikha Dalmia comes in with a hypothesis built on a bit of Randoid nonsense so spectacularly blinkered and ahistorical it saunters off with Tom's crown like a languid cow in Bangalore traffic. To wit:

The factors that made India the world’s economic basket case after it obtained its independence from Britain in 1947 are precisely what have stymied Detroit’s resurgence: excessive bureaucracy, destructive taxes, and bad labor laws.

I await the interpid Dalmia's follow-up report, wherein the ample parallels between spending the first half of the twentieth century as the birthplace of modern industrialism are equated with similar ease to being a colonial cantonment in a pre-industrial fiefdom governed by a strict and enduring theocratic hierarchy.
posted by gompa at 1:05 PM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


A city has to have a reason to exist; now that manufacturing has dried up, what reason is there for Detroit *not* to shut down?

There's still almost 900K people living there. That's makes it a pretty big city still. My city, Pittsburgh, is a third that size and we're not shutting down. Where do you propose that almost a million Detroit residents move to when the city gets shut down?
posted by octothorpe at 1:08 PM on March 21, 2007


At least in Buffalo, the areas that got hit the hardest by urban decline were mostly those neighborhoods that weren't well-off to begin with; working-class and lower-middle-class sections of the East Side. Middle-income and upper-income areas north of downtown, on the West Side and North Buffalo are still quite healthy, and seeing quite a bit of new investment. Blue-collar neighborhoods in Riverside/Black Rock and South Buffalo are shopworn and have seen better days, but their state is still far better than a typical Detroit neighborhood. (Outside of the City of Hamtramck enclave, are there still even blue-collar, ethnic Irish/Polish/Italian/whatever neighborhoods in Detroit itself?) Buffalo has a LONG way to go before it even approaches the condition that Detroit is in, but much of the East Side is getting there.

The sad thing about Detroit, as a previous poster said, is the sight of poverty in once-wealthy neighborhoods. Detroit has upscale neighborhoods like Indian Village but they're essentially islands; at their fringes there's gorgeous mansions standing next to burned-out husks.
posted by elmwood at 1:10 PM on March 21, 2007


Flamingbore - if that's right, then all the city needs is to tip in the right direction, and all that real estate will get gobbled up.

There are townhomes in the DC suburb of Northern Virginia that go for $1 million now. The notion that that money could buy 20-30 of the $30-$40k homes in the city in insane. You toss around a few hundred million and a single developer could buy an enormous part of the city.

Ten years from now, could Detroit be the world's first corporate owned city?
posted by Pastabagel at 1:13 PM on March 21, 2007


The failure of two large and important US cities is really quite a bad sign.
posted by zoogleplex 25 minutes ago


It is? Why is that? Seems to me that you are ignoring the issue that the decline of certain cities is linked to the growth of other cities. Cities like Phoenix, Charlotte, Louisville, Austin, Las Vegas and DFW are growing. What is inherently problematic about the fact that some cities are growing and others are not? Sure its bad for the failing city, but on the macro level, it doesn't seem like a real problem.

You seem to be trying to suggest or imply that there is a systemic and irreversible cause for your prediction of the failure of American cities. Care to explain what it is instead of just alluding to a cause?
posted by dios at 1:15 PM on March 21, 2007


Setting aside the gloom-and-doom for a minute, there is still much to be said for Detroit. It has pretty strong support of theater, the sports teams draw huge numbers of people downtown. There are nice places to work and stroll (during the day -- the place tends to be a ghost town on weeknights). The casinos do big business. There are many top-flight eating establishments. There are world-class museums.

I could go on. I guess my point is that as a suburbanite, there are numerous good reasons for me to go to Detroit regularly. I go by myself, I go with friends, I take my kids. My brother got married in a beautifully restored inn in the city last year, and my sister is getting married downtown this summer. This thread could give you the idea that it's like Sadr City out there -- it's not. At least not all of it.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:16 PM on March 21, 2007


Pardonyou -

All of that stuff is great, and I love visiting Detroit to see my Tigers or a show too. But what the city really needs is people to LIVE there, not just come downtown and then leave again. The tax base desperately, desperately needs middle class people to come and live and work in the city. I applaud all of the Downtown/Midtown development. It's amazing how different things look even then the last time I lived in town (2000-ish), but I worry that it's being done at the expense of ignoring the neighborhoods and the actual residents of the city.
posted by fancypants at 1:23 PM on March 21, 2007


They seem beautiful and picturesque, especially this time of year when everything is green and flowering. But "the dope dealers, the hookers, and the walking dead ambling past empty fields" make it an unsettling or dangerous place to be.

There you go. When they finally turn The Walking Dead (comic) into a movie, they can tape it in Detroit!

Detroit and Cleveland (where I live) have an awful lot in common. Hipsters -- seriously! Come on down. You could BUY a house for less than a year's rent in NYC, we've got crazy-good cost of living, we just need some people who don't suck.

I say that only half tongue-in-cheek, because a company I used to do work for closed its NYC office and relocated a ton of people here. The NYCers fell in LOVE with the cheap rent, all the stuff to do, etc. What did my fellow Clevelanders do? Freak out because the city took them on a tour that included a suburban "lifestyle center." Native Clevelanders reflexively, automatically diss their hometown. It's just something we do. And it makes no sense at all because Cleveland, Detroit and other rustbelt cities have a ton to offer the rest of you.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:24 PM on March 21, 2007


"Pittsburgh is a third that size and we're not shutting down."

It's worth considering that Pittsburgh may have been saved by being smaller; even with the loss of major industries, the city wasn't small enough to collapse under its own weight. Sometimes smaller is better.

"Where do you propose that almost a million Detroit residents move to when the city gets shut down?"

Where are those who flee moving to now? Where did everyone from New Orleans go? They're spreading out all over the place. This is still a big, big country; the rest of it can absorb a million people fairly well.

Most likely the city will reach some equilibrium population level and then flight will stop.
posted by zoogleplex at 1:39 PM on March 21, 2007


My sister opened a small business downtown and within a 6 month period her car radio was stolen, windows broken and wallet stolen from her car, she was robbed at gunpoint and carjacked with my niece who was a year old at the time. The Livonia police recovered the car, but not once did the Detroit Police follow up or attempt to arrest anyone for any of this. I told her she needs to move to Chicago. You can't live in a city where you experience more crime in 6 months than I have in the 13 years since I left.

Dunno if Chicago is the best recommendation, then; I grew up there, and I know people who had more or less the same experience in more or less the same timeframe.

By the way, since I grew up there, my first thought on reading your comment was "WTF leaving her wallet in the car and having a radio?" Heck, I used to have my car broken into (as in damaged trying to "break" in) even with the doors unlocked and windows down. And this was in a tony neighborhood on the north side.
posted by davejay at 1:43 PM on March 21, 2007


If anyone knows the philly area, it seems to me that a microcosm of detroit would be Norristown, PA.

Chester, Pa is a microcosm of Detroit.

And authoritarianism doesn't work in cities like Philly or Detroit because authoritarianism is expensive and these cities have no money.
posted by The Straightener at 1:46 PM on March 21, 2007


"You seem to be trying to suggest or imply that there is a systemic and irreversible cause for your prediction of the failure of American cities. Care to explain what it is instead of just alluding to a cause?"

Systemic, yes, but certainly not irreversible. There's no single cause, it's a compendium of causes centered around the overall American way of life, and around the economy it's built upon. I think it's beyond the scope of this thread to try to wrangle through the thousands of intertwining threads of causality.

However, the growth that you're pointing out in these other cities bears some close investigation. What, specifically, is making these cities grow and others fail? Phoenix and Las Vegas are particularly interesting, since these seem to have grown simply because housing was cheap as dirt and being built at an astounding rate for 10 years and it doesn't rain much in either place - and energy to sustain these cities has been pretty cheap, too, which may or may not last. Both of those areas are water-poor and require an enormous transport of cheap energy to maintain. I think that infrastructurally these places are already in trouble; it's just not visible yet.

I don't know much about the other cities you mention.

In any event, the fact that the country as a whole is allowing major, important cities to fall apart in a highly disorderly fashion (as opposed to a more managed, orderly process), without offering much in the way of assistance or cooperation, seems to me to be a failing of our national heart and soul.

Nobody's pulling for the whole country anymore, it's pretty much everyone for themselves/their in-group. This is unsustainable in the long run.
posted by zoogleplex at 1:52 PM on March 21, 2007


more like Camden
posted by caddis at 1:53 PM on March 21, 2007


posted by zoogleplex the country as a whole is allowing major, important cities to fall apart in a highly disorderly fashion (as opposed to a more managed, orderly process), without offering much in the way of assistance or cooperation, seems to me to be a failing of our national heart and soul.

I think that's more a by-product of the free market than anything else. In the case of Detroit, the American automobile industry is failing because they do not, cannot, or will not accept the fact the overwhelming majority of Americans want cheap, economical cars. They continue to build crappy, overpriced, gas-guzzling cars and then wonder why they're going bankrupt. Good riddance, I say.

posted by zoogleplex Nobody's pulling for the whole country anymore, it's pretty much everyone for themselves/their in-group. This is unsustainable in the long run.

No, I think it's always been that way.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:03 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Systemic, yes, but certainly not irreversible. There's no single cause, it's a compendium of causes centered around the overall American way of life, and around the economy it's built upon. I think it's beyond the scope of this thread to try to wrangle through the thousands of intertwining threads of causality.

Hmm.... are you suggesting it is a problem with capitalism, comrade? If not, I'm not really sure what grand point you are making.

I fail to see the macro-problem with the fact that we have internal immigration. It would seem like just natural and cyclical changes in preferences. Cities that were major cities in 1840 aren't major cities now. Is that problematic? In sum, I fail to see the problem if in a 20 year period the populations of Detroit and Austin/Louisville/Phoenix/wherever switch.
posted by dios at 2:03 PM on March 21, 2007


I've long held that Detroit is America's first post-apocalyptic city.

A lot of this is exagerrated, some of it isn't. Detroit did begin to recover under Clinton (and Archer), but the movie Zebrahead is also remarkably accurate.
And there are a huge amount of sweet things to do in the city, it's just that they're spread all over. Well, and a huge amount of racism and inability to tell where bad neighborhoods are keep the folks from Royal Oak from branching out.

But yeah, I'd love to go and live in Detroit, close enough to take a bus to the Lager House or Majestic. It's just that there aren't any goddamned jobs for what I'm trained to do.
posted by klangklangston at 2:05 PM on March 21, 2007


Still, at least Detroit's got the best sports market in the country. Pistons, Tigers, Red Wings, and an assortment of great college teams.
posted by klangklangston at 2:06 PM on March 21, 2007


I find this all completely baffling. As mentioned upthread, here in California people are paying outrageous sums for postage-stamp-sized properties. The notion that an entire city is going fallow beggars the imagination, especially one with architecture as beautiful as Detroit's. I doubt I'll be able to afford a house here in the Bay Area in this lifetime, so there's a voice at the back of my head screaming "Move to Detroit and buy that downtown loft you've always wanted!" Urban death be damned, it would be mine mine mine!

I would hazard a guess that that is what will eventually happen - the middle-lower class folks living in the big coastal cities will eventually fill the void, desperate for a chunk of the American Dream that we've all been hearing about.
posted by lekvar at 2:07 PM on March 21, 2007


I would hazard a guess that that is what will eventually happen - the middle-lower class folks living in the big coastal cities will eventually fill the void, desperate for a chunk of the American Dream that we've all been hearing about.

Unless if they move their industries with them (maybe it could happen), this probably won't happen en masse, as there aren't a ton of jobs available.

Much of the rust belt (my city included) is still trying to find its way in a post-industrial world. We built the trains, planes and cars that made the modern world, but the modern world has no interest in us.
posted by drezdn at 2:14 PM on March 21, 2007


Crazier things have happened, lekvar.

A few years ago when my boyfriend was on a let's move to Cupertino kick, I told him oh hell no, I am not paying half a million bucks for some generic 1960s Brady-Bunch-looking house. So, damned if you do, damned if you don't...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:19 PM on March 21, 2007


Dear Lord--Match Day was just here and delivered the news: three years in Motown. The wife is scared to death; she thinks Detroit is one big ghetto pudding with a casino or two plopped in. I'm not quite as worried, though having lived relatively nearby I know Detroit's been in the shits for a good long while, and unfortunately it's still nose-down. My relief is I'll likely be working so much during my residency it won't bother me.
posted by adoarns at 2:21 PM on March 21, 2007


In Milwaukee there's been an insane amount of rebuilding in and near the downtown, many of it condos, and there are even sections close to downtown where decent houses are available for 60K or less.

The thing is, there aren't enough jobs here to support a huge immigration of anyone looking for a cheaper cost of living.

The cost of living is nice though, I live in a flat with a huge (for the city) backyard that ends at a river, and I could walk to work if I needed to all for $450 a month.
posted by drezdn at 2:21 PM on March 21, 2007


posted by drezdn We built the trains, planes and cars that made the modern world, but the modern world has no interest in us.

The modern world has no use for and therefore no interest in outdated products.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:27 PM on March 21, 2007


Much of the rust belt (my city included) is still trying to find its way in a post-industrial world.

Milwaukee is so bad, at least it isn't......Gary.
posted by MikeMc at 2:30 PM on March 21, 2007


Seems to me that you are ignoring the issue that the decline of certain cities is linked to the growth of other cities. Cities like Phoenix, Charlotte, Louisville, Austin, Las Vegas and DFW are growing. What is inherently problematic about the fact that some cities are growing and others are not?

Because it's not a question of simple loss and gain, it's a question of what's left behind. What's left behind in shrinking tax base cities is poor and black (Detroit, Baltimore, Philly, New Orleans, etc.) and where the gains are is not. You either feel like this is wrong because you think just because a kid is born dark in Detroit their public institutions (schools, hospitals, social service networks) shouldn't be substantially different in quality than those afforded to a white kid in Orange County but they are. That quality differential impacts outcomes. Crime, violence, unrealized human potential, economic and social immobility, on and on and on.

To represent the problem as, "so what, some people packed up and left Detroit for Austin!" displays a lack of perspective, to say the least.
posted by The Straightener at 2:31 PM on March 21, 2007


I'd love to go and live in Detroit, close enough to take a bus to the Lager House or Majestic.

There's something interesting in there about how there's no hope of, god forbid, walking somewhere. At least it's a bus and not a car.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:39 PM on March 21, 2007


OnlyCoolTim - Detroit is ENORMOUS - almost 150 square miles (Manhattan, by comparison is 23 square miles). That's a lot of walking.
posted by fancypants at 2:44 PM on March 21, 2007


Posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:39 PM There's something interesting in there about how there's no hope of, god forbid, walking somewhere. At least it's a bus and not a car.

I have never been to a rust belt city that was a walking city. Certain neighborhoods maybe, but usually you have to drive take a cab or a bus to a different location. Maybe that is why the rust belt is loosing out to other cities. No light rail system.
posted by hexxed at 2:45 PM on March 21, 2007


The wife is scared to death; she thinks Detroit is one big ghetto pudding with a casino or two plopped in ... My relief is I'll likely be working so much during my residency it won't bother me.

For what it's worth (and I'll probably get flamed for this), the Detroit area has some awfully nice suburbs. I know a lot of people who -- like you -- were "forced" to move to the Detroit area for work. They all thought they'd put in their time and move out, but most found they liked the communities, they liked their neighbors, they liked the relative value. So, again, don't get too blinded by the portrayals of disaster.

(Will you be at the Detroit Medical Center? If you end up at Detroit Receiving, I think you'll see things most doctors in the U.S. can't begin to imagine).
posted by pardonyou? at 2:46 PM on March 21, 2007


I fail to see the macro-problem with the fact that we have internal immigration. It would seem like just natural and cyclical changes in preferences. Cities that were major cities in 1840 aren't major cities now. Is that problematic?

Yes, Dios, it is a problem.

When people migrate to a different city, it's not like they take their neighborhoods, factories, garbage, and discarded industrial byproducts with them. All of these get left behind to rot, forming a long slug-trail of urban blight.

What happens when water becomes more expensive and LV and Phoenix become uninhabitable? Maybe the people will find a new place to live, but the cities they leave behind will be every bit as ugly as Detroit.

It's very telling that the suburbs of Detroit are becoming far-enough-flung that they're starting to touch on the already-blighted radii of other failed cities.

What happens when there's nowhere else to go?
posted by Afroblanco at 2:46 PM on March 21, 2007


What happens when there's nowhere else to go?
posted by Afroblanco at 2:46 PM on March 21


Robocop.
posted by drezdn at 2:52 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


MikeMC: Just to clarify, I love our city, I just wish there were more good jobs here.
posted by drezdn at 2:54 PM on March 21, 2007


"Hmm.... are you suggesting it is a problem with capitalism, comrade?"

Clearly, Detroit's problems are caused by capitalism as it's been applied here in America. No valuable production or transport = no money = no jobs = no city.

"In the case of Detroit, the American automobile industry is failing because they do not, cannot, or will not accept the fact the overwhelming majority of Americans want cheap, economical cars. They continue to build crappy, overpriced, gas-guzzling cars and then wonder why they're going bankrupt."

With the support, you should add, of the US Government, where the auto companies have been spending a lot of lobbying and campaign support money. They've pretty much legislated their now-failing business model into a monolithic institution. Nobody in the government, probably most especially the actual representatives of Michigan, have looked at Ford, GM and Chrysler and said, "you need to get your act together, because the population of Michigan and millions of other Americans depend on your industry for their livelihoods;" instead, they've taken the lobby money and patted the car co's on the back, "heckuva job!"

Now of course, companies failing due to failure to compete is an aspect of capitalism, and a good one; it helps maintain a variety of quality goods and innovation. However, an entire domestic industry failing, and demolishing a regional economy and population, because of a systemically established and governmentally assisted failure to compete... well.

And we'll probably bail them out with tax money, too. Oh wait, sorry, borrowed Federal money.

Yeah. Capitalism.

"Cities that were major cities in 1840 aren't major cities now."

Such as? And, why not?

I don't think Cleveland, Pittsburgh and St. Louis are any less "major" than they ever were, even if they've been eclipsed by Los Angeles, Raleigh and Las Vegas.

Until recently, pretty much every place in America was growing. Now we're starting to see some heretofore important places actually shrink, with housing values actually cratering, I think for the first time in our history (let's not count "gold rush" ghost towns, mmkay? They were never that big). If nothing else, that's kind of a national milestone.

"Maybe that is why the rust belt is loosing out to other cities. No light rail system."

They're losing out because there are few or no growing industries in those cities. Transportation problems play a minor role in the Rust Belt, I think. Gasoline is still affordable, as are cars. There's just no jobs, no money. A light rail system isn't going to bring in revitalizing industry, though of course some people would be employed building the thing...

"It's very telling that the suburbs of Detroit are becoming far-enough-flung that they're starting to touch on the already-blighted radii of other failed cities."

You said a mouthful there, Afroblanco...

"What happens when there's nowhere else to go?"

Everyone tries to move to Los Angeles and become movie stars. Sorry folks, we're pretty packed here. Of course, I've noticed an increasing trend of densification in some neighborhoods, most notably the Hollywood area itself and downtown; older and dilapidated single-family homes with front/back yards going down, with their lots filled to the edges with 16- to 48-unit aparment buildings with underground garages. Not to mention all the new lofts going up all around the 'wood. At that rate we can probably quadruple our population, assuming there's enough paying work for people.

Boy, won't that be fun.
posted by zoogleplex at 2:57 PM on March 21, 2007


It's very telling that the suburbs of Detroit are becoming far-enough-flung that they're starting to touch on the already-blighted radii of other failed cities.

Just in this thread there's been mention of Camden, NJ, Chester, PA, and Norristown, PA all as qualified Detroit analogs and this is all within about a 25 mile radius of Philly, which happens to be one itself.
posted by The Straightener at 3:02 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have a friend that grew up in Detroit and recently bought a place in Troy (a nearby suburb) A couple of years ago I was visiting him and he drove me through Detroit proper - I was shocked. I lived in New York about 20 years ago and I had never seen anything like this. The city was so obviously dying. It definitely seemed hopeless.

We made a quick stop in a casino and the folks there trying to gamble themselves some extra money was totally depressing. It was a very sad, creepy place.
posted by dindin at 3:05 PM on March 21, 2007


Wow, and I thought Philadelphia was bad (it sure looks bad on the train from Trenton—you pass all sorts of factories that have been empty for at least a decade, and are largely ignored except by the exact people you don't want attention from).

it seems to me that a lot of urban centres in the US are going to see a lot of reorganization in the near future, when suburban sprawl begins to implode.

Yeah, that's going to happen in Canada, too.
posted by oaf at 3:11 PM on March 21, 2007


hexxed writes "I have never been to a rust belt city that was a walking city."

I've never been in a city that was a walking city. Does that even apply to cities? Small towns, sure, but from super low population density Houston (drive or die) to super high density Tokyo (take a train or die), the very nature of cities are that they are very large, and thus you need some sort of transportation to get around. New York has its subways and taxis, Los Angeles has its buses, Tokyo has trains and subways...what city exists where you can walk clear across it?
posted by Bugbread at 3:24 PM on March 21, 2007


Loose defination—“the walking city”—was marked by highly compact cities and towns; an intermingling of residences and workplaces; a short journey to work for those employed in a variety of tasks; mixed patterns of land use; and the location of elite residences at the city centers

New York bills itself (at least in the alan king tour you get from the top of the empire state building) as a walking city. Some would even argue that it is the only one in the USA
posted by hexxed at 3:30 PM on March 21, 2007


Chicago and Boston are both walking cities. I believe that Boston is even referred to as America's Walking City.

I've lived in Chicago 30 of my nearly 37 years. I've never worked outside of the city. Granted, there were times when I took the bus or train to work, but other than that I was pretty happy to do almost everything I had to do in my neighborhood. Not all areas of the city are completely walkable, but it's certainly possible to live here without a car. I did it for years. I still know people who do.

It's all in how you define walkable.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:42 PM on March 21, 2007


I've never been in a city that was a walking city.

New York and Boston both qualify. You can take the subway, the bus, or drive, but you can also reasonably walk to conduct your life.
posted by bshort at 3:43 PM on March 21, 2007


Milwaukee is so bad, at least it isn't......Gary.

I figure you meant to say Milwaukee isn't so bad, since most of it is actually very nice. Admittedly there are some outlying areas that still aren't desirable, but I've never seen anything to compare to the photos of Detroit's ruins.

The city of Milwaukee itself, though, is so rapidly being reborn that I'm tempted to move back in from the 'burbs to where the action is.
posted by Tubes at 3:46 PM on March 21, 2007


"Los Angeles has its buses"

Speaking of which, I seem to be seeing quite a few more of them around lately, especially those extra-long articulated buses, the Metro Rapid 720 that runs from Commerce Center all the way to Santa Monica most especially. All of those 720's are packed to the gills during commute hours, and I've seen them that full even as late at 9pm.

There are a lot of people commuting by bus to the west side from far east of the city, it looks like, a lot more than I've noticed previously.

LA is going to have a lot of problems if driving is becoming too expensive for a lot of people. I guess an upside would be that there will be fewer cars on the road, so less traffic, maybe...

I think these days a "walking city" is one that has a high level of inexpensive public mass transit available. Not too many of those, pretty much NYC, Chicago and Boston is it for the US. Perhaps to some extent Washington DC where it's served by subway.
posted by zoogleplex at 3:48 PM on March 21, 2007


Every city that was big before 1930 was a walking city.

And to steal Lenny Bruce's gag, DC is a walking city- but you wouldn't want to.
posted by Challahtronix at 4:07 PM on March 21, 2007


San Francisco, too.
posted by fandango_matt at 4:07 PM on March 21, 2007


The hills are murder for walking in SF proper, though... walkable, maybe, but walking friendly?? Not so sure. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 4:15 PM on March 21, 2007


"There's something interesting in there about how there's no hope of, god forbid, walking somewhere. At least it's a bus and not a car."

Dude, you've obviously never been to Detroit, so you can cram that up your ass. The Lager House is out past Corktown, where the old Tigers stadium was (and it was revitalizing, but the Tigers moving did that neighborhood in), and The Majestic is along Woodward, kinda north of Downtown. They'd both be a half-hour bus trip from some mythical equidistant point, at least.
But I'm sure you walk from Canal St. to Spanish Harlem all the time, right?

Honestly, if I was moving to Detroit, I'd go for Hamtown. I'd like to say Mexican Town, where I hear a lot of great hipster shit is starting to get going, but I'm too much of a pussy.

For folks doing their medical residencies— I've got a pal whose boyfriend just finished up his second year of residency at, what, Detroit Recieving? I thought it was Mercy, but it turns out that's over on the East side, and he was right around the corner from Wayne and near the Majestic. They found a pretty cheap apartment ($550, 2br) that was well-appointed, had a doorman, and was close enough that he could walk to work. They loved it, and never had any trouble.
He does, however, have all sorts of weirdass stories about stupid shit that people do to themselves, but I imagine anyone who's worked in an ER would have similar ones.
posted by klangklangston at 4:19 PM on March 21, 2007


Right on, Klang. Corktown's still doing okay though even though the Tigers left. The BBQ joint that opened down there recently, Slows, is phenomenal and there are tons of cool bars. If I were to move back (and if there's ever a job I can do in Detroit I will. Michigan candidates for office, I am an opposition researcher and I am available...) I'd totally live in Corktown. Mexican Village is also doing reasonably okay, especially the Hubbard Farms part. No need to fear for your life.
posted by fancypants at 4:32 PM on March 21, 2007


No personal attack, klangklangston. The point is that maybe it would be nicer to have more cities where a good bar and a good "restaurant/pizzeria/concert halls/bars/pool hall/bowling alley" (if I have the right Majestic) don't require driving to get there.

Walking city includes mass transit, but it's also about the layout of the city. From most any place in Manhattan you can walk to the things you need in life - stores of all types, parks, bars, concert venues without even needing to take the subway.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:33 PM on March 21, 2007


I think these days a "walking city" is one that has a high level of inexpensive public mass transit available. Not too many of those, pretty much NYC, Chicago and Boston is it for the US.

Um...Portland, OR is a walking, biking, mass transit city. It's considered a model for successful urban planning. Just saying...
posted by whimsicalnymph at 4:33 PM on March 21, 2007


posted by zoogleplex The hills are murder for walking in SF proper, though... walkable, maybe, but walking friendly?? Not so sure. :)

That's why we have cable cars. And sidewalks with stairs!
posted by fandango_matt at 4:36 PM on March 21, 2007


I blame Drum & Bass.
posted by squirrel at 4:44 PM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


the fact that Detroit isn't a walking city is a testament to the influence of the car on the city. Most of the city was built after the 1930's, when the car was already the primary mode of transportation. We used to have streetcars, but they'd be pretty pointless considering the total abandonment along some major roads. Beyond downtown/midtown, the entire city is literally block upon block of single family homes, with commercial activity along the mile and half-mile roads. It's not that easy to just plop down a light rail line, because it's not really dense enough to support it, except maybe along Woodward and maybe the other arterials (grand river/gratiot/michigan/fort).
posted by ofthestrait at 4:49 PM on March 21, 2007


Thanks, whimsicalnymph, I had forgotten Portland, which I've heard about from friends.

Those cable cars, they're great, but they're not cheap, fandango_matt! $11 for a day pass? Yikes! They seem to be geared to the tourist "novelty," not the downtown daily commuter.

I did have the pleasure of riding one for the first time a few months ago when I was last in SF... we flew in, took the BART from the airport to Mission, then took the cable car up to our hotel. That was pretty excellent, fun and relaxing, and much cheaper than renting a car.

So... what could be done to revitalize Detroit? What kind of city was it before the car companies took over? I mentioned about the railroad hub possibility as Detroit used to be a major transport center, but is there still enough shipping traffic thru the Great Lakes to make it a busy port? We buy a lot of oil and natural gas from Canada, does any of it go through Detroit? Is the old salt mine still working?

In other words, what's still there that works?

"Beyond downtown/midtown, the entire city is literally block upon block of single family homes, with commercial activity along the mile and half-mile roads."

That's true of probably the majority of American cities. I wonder if the greater Detroit area will be the first test case of whether American Suburbia can survive without a well-functioning industrial city center to support it.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:56 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


FlamingBore writes "It's all in how you define walkable."

I see. I had just assumed it meant "you can walk to anywhere in the city". If it means "besides work and other unique locations (a specific sports stadium, city hall, etc), you can walk to all the stuff you normally need (you can walk to a grocery store, an electronics store, the post office, a hospital, a department store, etc.)", then I can imagine quite a few more, so that makes more sense.
posted by Bugbread at 5:00 PM on March 21, 2007


One thing that's pretty great about the Detroit Metro area are the freeways. You can really fly on them, the turns feel smooth and well thought out, there's a lot of greenery, etc. Small consolation, I know.

They also seem built to get you from the airport to the 'burbs without having to see much of that downtown or outskirt unpleasantness. A few years ago I had a job that required 2-3 trips per year to Detroit, it wasn't until the 4th trip that I actually saw anything other then freeways, suburbs, and the airport.
posted by cell divide at 5:25 PM on March 21, 2007


OK... but the problem is, freeways don't actually produce anything of value. They're standing infrastructure, and thus an expense. It's nice to have them to move people around, but...
posted by zoogleplex at 5:33 PM on March 21, 2007


Hey, a little late to this one, but you can walk all over most of the interesting parts of Philly. Plus, SEPTA (public trans) really sucks, so walking and bicycling are the ways to go.

And, bad as some of our problems are, Philadelphia is currently nowhere near the crisis that Detroit is. I feel for you guys up there; it's got to be a horrible thing to see a city crumble like that.
posted by Mister_A at 5:47 PM on March 21, 2007


"One thing that's pretty great about the Detroit Metro area are the freeways. You can really fly on them, the turns feel smooth and well thought out, there's a lot of greenery, etc. Small consolation, I know."

Well, yeah, but the freeways were built explicitly to desroy lower class neighborhoods, with the intent of making poor minorities flee the city. There are STILL lawsuits over the 94 plowing of Mexicantown, and the Black Bottom was targetted specifically to make it hard for black folks to gather solidarity.
And, unlike most planning manuevers in Detroit, those did exactly what they were supposed to.

(My recalcitrance over moving to Mexicantown can probably be traced to both me and my girlfriend having nearly identical "Dead dude in the street" experiences there independently).
posted by klangklangston at 5:50 PM on March 21, 2007


don't forget po(rt)land!
posted by Hat Maui at 5:50 PM on March 21, 2007


So... time for a SE Michigan meetup, right?
posted by klangklangston at 5:52 PM on March 21, 2007


klangklangston - Sure, make it a week from tomorrow and I'll be there. No, really - I will.
posted by FlamingBore at 5:58 PM on March 21, 2007


I blame Drum & Bass.

I was going to call instant karma for creating the abomination "House Music," but touche.

I grew up around Detroit - born in Mt. Clemens, young teen in St. Clair Shores. The city seems a lot like it did back in the 1980s, i.e. not great. There will be a resurgence at some point (too good of a location and land not to), but you can leave me out of it. It used to snow through the end of May when I lived there.

From the people I know who lived there in the 1990s it seems that there's definitely an "artsters buying (relatively) cheap houses downtown" trend going on, or there was for a while.

Btw, the Heidelberg Project linked above is awesome. I will be donating.

those cable cars, they're great, but they're not cheap, fandango_matt! $11 for a day pass?

Single cable car is $3, which admittedly is a rip off, but hey, they're not really optimal for commuters anyway. There are buses that are faster. They are for the tourists, mostly.

However, cable cars do work with the $45/month MUNI pass. It ain't Tokyo, but it ain't Detroit, either. ;)

Btw, SF really is a walking city. You can walk from the Marina to Caltrain pretty easily. And I've walked from Haight to Ocean Beach, which is most of the city.

Actually, I have a friend who used to live at 48th/Lawton and would walk home after drinking downtown. I suppose he didn't always make it home ...
posted by mrgrimm at 6:03 PM on March 21, 2007


Oh, and to zoogleplex— Detroit was a shipping and manufacturing hub prior to the automobile, but Ford opened his first plant in 1899, so speaking of a Detroit without a car is kinda odd, as it wasn't really Detroit, y'know? The population went from around 250k to 1.5 million in 30 years.
It was much smaller, most of its trade came from things like the UP's copper ore being shipped down, then loaded on railroad cars (which we also built).
Manufacturing kept growing and growing, but it was the World Wars that REALLY cemented a lot of the infrastructure of Southeast Michigan, like the Willow Run plant or the Rouge River plant.
posted by klangklangston at 6:09 PM on March 21, 2007


Still, at least Detroit's got the best sports market in the country. Pistons, Tigers, Red Wings

You, ah, (chuckle) forgot one.
posted by evilcolonel at 6:20 PM on March 21, 2007


Detroit needs to become a billionaire's pet project. Instead of being a post-apocalyptic city, it could become a 'city of the future.'

It's a helluva good opportunity to start over. More parks, more trees, more community-oriented structure, better transit, lower environmental impact, modern technologies, planned for future improvements and growth, etcetera.

It would be one of the cooler things a fellow could do with a billion dollars...
posted by five fresh fish at 6:25 PM on March 21, 2007


Did I, evilcolonel, did I?
posted by klangklangston at 6:32 PM on March 21, 2007


I think New Orleans would have to be put before Detroit on that billionaire's list (and in our national priorities, probably). Being done in by natural disaster and government incompetence trumps bad business planning.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:34 PM on March 21, 2007


Much of the rust belt (my city included) is still trying to find its way in a post-industrial world. We built the trains, planes and cars that made the modern world, but the modern world has no interest in us.

drezdn:


American capitalism is never going to win any awards for its sentimentality, particularly where the past is concerned. If it ain't making money now or due to make money in the near future, capital has no interest in it.

Sorry.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:49 PM on March 21, 2007


I have a very practical suggestion for the city of Detroit.

Gentrification always starts with the artists.

Look at all the formerly crappy neighborhoods in NYC - I'm not just talking about Williamsburg, I'm also talking about Soho, the Village, Alphabet City, and other neighborhoods. The pattern of gentrification is actually quite predictable.

First come the artists, seeking low rents and large spaces where they can do their work. They're used to living on very little, and aren't afraid to put a bit of sweat into fixing up a place.

Next come the students. They don't have a whole lot of stuff to steal, so they aren't really afraid to live in a bad neighborhood. Plus, it's usually the only place they can afford.

After that come the employed hipsters and the more well-off students. They, too, seek out low rents, but more often they come because they want to be 'where it's at.' Plus, the lower rents don't exactly hurt.

At this point, the neighborhood becomes more expensive, and a lot of the original 'settlers' are pushed out in favor of the honest-to-god yuppies. The neighborhood is now officially 'lame,' and the hipsters are already looking for a new place to colonize.

I'm not saying that this is good or righteous or anything, but it's the way of the world.

There are still a lot of people in the Detroit area, so it's not like they have to build the whole city from scratch. They just need to entice people to move back into the city. That's where gentrification comes in. Cha-ching!

So what should they do? Encourage artists to move to Detroit. Maybe subsidize their rent a bit. Artists are used to living on little, so it doesn't really take a whole lot. People can't get a good job in Detroit, you say? Well, we are talking about artists here. It's not like they're in any danger of getting good jobs, anyway.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:53 PM on March 21, 2007


The violence and sense of anarchy took root when Coleman Young took office. And he had 20 years to work his magic. This article recalls the early years of Young's reign and the youth crime wave of 1975 and 76. An excerpt:

Young made little secret of his animosity for law enforcement -- an animosity with a distinctly racial edge. He came into office not just seeking reform but girding for war with the police department. He saw the force less as an arm of the law than as an army of repression -- the paramilitary wing of a white society determined to crush black pride and autonomy. "As everyone knows," he told a group of black professionals, "law and order is a code word for 'Keep the niggers in their place.'" Everything else was secondary, even the crime rate in Detroit. "Crime is a problem," the mayor declared, "but not the problem. The police are the major threat...to the minority community." For Young, police issues had less to do with public safety than with a larger and, to him, far more important power struggle between black and white. "I have to decide," he said early in his mayoralty, "who is going to run the city the police or the people."
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:02 PM on March 21, 2007


This makes me so sad. I loved Detroit and the people there when I visited, and my bf is a Michigander. And I think it does matter when people leave the Rust Belt for the Sun Belt: the cultures are different, and I'd prefer and Rust Belt America to Sun Belt one.
posted by dame at 7:18 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Chicago managed to survive - and for the first time since 1950, to actually grow - by diversifying. The stockyards and grain elevators that built the city disappeared decades ago. They've been replaced by advertising firms, financial services, and consulting agencies. Detroit has to figure out a way to do the same."

Abolutely! That's what America needs, more advertising, consulting and loan-sharking!
posted by davy at 7:48 PM on March 21, 2007


As for cities, Louisville, KY is awful pretty.
posted by davy at 7:53 PM on March 21, 2007


Has anybody here ever done some archaeology?


Great empires have great cities, and sometimes the great cities enter a state of decline, sometimes they decline so much that they are literally abandoned. We dig up places like this all the time.

It happens, and its not always a bad thing. In the long run, it's actually a good thing, as it will give our distant progeny something to dig up in several thousand years.

Of course, they'll wonder why Detroit went under in a matter of decades as opposed to centuries.

They'll have no doubt about NO, however. A thick layer of waterlogged clay or sandstone marking the bouandry between "inhabited" and "largely uninhabited" strata will tell them everything they need to know. (I wonder how many more of our cities will have met the same fate by the time the distant future rolls around?)

My point is: No worries, folks. In 10,000 years it wont matter.
posted by Avenger at 8:14 PM on March 21, 2007


Oriole—
That article is bizarre, and both totally misstates context and attempts to shoehorn a conclusion into a messy history.
Coleman Young, described there as a "militant left-wing radical," in a way only the DLC can, was elected following a wave of racial violence, and RIGHTLY saw the Detroit police as some of the most racist in the country. Black men were routinely shot by police with little or no investigation, and the police department was, like, the textbook example of institutionalized racism, with regular hazing of black cops and different standards in testing (the article alleges that standards were changed to make it easier for black cops to get promoted and hired, which is true, but those standards were still regularly ignored in an echo of "poll testing" racism).
Young, who was charismatic, and whose union background was a GOOD thing (it gave him more authority in the white community) was RIGHT about the Detroit police department.
Unfortunately, he lacked several things— First, the vision to create a real, integrated police force. He was a racist, and that racism got more and more pronounced as he got older (both politically and personally). He had a fair number of personal experiences that largely backed that worldview, but that doesn't excuse it. Second, and this is true of all of Detroit history since the race riots, he just didn't have the cash. It's always been a scrappy city, but Young was never any sort of financial genius, and the racism in the city really did affect the ability to recover from the knocks that other cities weathered. Third, he also lacked support in the police department. He got no help from the inside, and that turned into a racial cronyism setup that still kinda plagues the department.
Further, he really should have stepped down long before he did. He WAS the right man for the job in the beginning, something that a lot of conservatives try to paint with "radical" bullshit, but he was about the only person who could pull Detroit back from constant riots. The problem was that he was like Chavez— once he took over, he didn't want to leave, and ran Detroit like a fiefdom.
posted by klangklangston at 8:24 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Detroit and New Orleans illustrates one contention: the U.S. power structure is so racist that when it can't keep the blacks down by "normal" means it resorts to destroying their homes. Parallels with Palestine are apt.
posted by davy at 8:50 PM on March 21, 2007


"but on the macro level, it doesn't seem like a real problem"
Nothing seems like a real problem if you remove people from it, I guess.
What if it's your grandmother living out her last days in the house that she and your grandfather bought in 1948?
posted by 2sheets at 9:12 PM on March 21, 2007


I'd like to read more about Coleman Young. Even accounting for the DLC's bias in recounting the story, it sounds like his good intentions were mired in bad planning and a worse overarching situation.

Interesting thoughts on gentrifying Detroit, though. I wonder if it would work, however, without a strong financial base already present in the city.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:16 PM on March 21, 2007


Keep your billionaire disneyhands off New Orleans. We'll figure it out.

NO had its own problems (decentralization, poverty, crime, reliance on a single industry, etc., oh god, etc.) in the works for a long time. But a quick disaster (two weeks) is something different. A lot of national attention, a quick reminder of what home means, and why home is worth fixing makes people mobilize, and people want to come back here and make it better this time (all of them, davy).

A slow disaster (a few decades)...I don't know. I just know this post breaks my hurt. I've never been to Detroit, but I can't believe it's hopeless. I love cities, and I love people who love their cities. I don't think they should be abandoned.
posted by gordie at 9:41 PM on March 21, 2007


Rather, it breaks my heart. Or however you want to read that.
posted by gordie at 9:42 PM on March 21, 2007


Detroit and New Orleans illustrates one contention: the U.S. power structure is so racist that when it can't keep the blacks down by "normal" means it resorts to destroying their homes. Parallels with Palestine are apt.

You're joking, right?
posted by oaf at 10:07 PM on March 21, 2007


Google could re-inhabit Detroit, make it their world HQ.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:08 PM on March 21, 2007


For a long time, Tom Friedman was the reigning champion of the Least Accurate Thing Ever Written About India competition ("a country with few natural resources and a terrible climate") but this Shikha Dalmia comes in with a hypothesis built on a bit of Randoid nonsense so spectacularly blinkered and ahistorical it saunters off with Tom's crown like a languid cow in Bangalore traffic.

I cant say for sure, but I think this could be the greatest sentence Ive ever read in my entire life.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:28 PM on March 21, 2007


five fresh fish:
Google actually just set up shop in Ann Arbor (not a large one, but still, a rare bit of good news for MI economic activity.) Don't bank on them moving too much out here, though -- electricity prices aren't great, and datacenters suck juice like you wouldn't believe.

I just wish I'd gotten to this thread sooner. I grew up in West Michigan (damn close to Baby_Balrog) and spent plenty of time in Detroit with family over the years. I'm now in NYC, and all people seem to associate with Michigan is the rusting hulk that is Detroit.

The repeated conversations are, to put it mildly, a drag. But in many ways, the perceptions are accurate. The NY Times ran a piece (behind their paywall, but if anybody's got TimesSelect...) in the fall with a dateline in my little hometown which basically just talked about how bad the economy is, and how it's a major, major political topic in the state.

I used to work for a company that processed property foreclosures for Michigan county treasurers, then auctioned off the parcels for them. I spent a lot of time in Flint, where, like Detroit, actual houses sold at auction for ~$5k, if not less. Let's just say that if anybody's seen Roger and Me, things have gotten considerably worse. Neighborhoods are simply ceasing to exist.

Wayne County is about 10 years behind in processing its property tax foreclosures. There are tens of thousands of these piled up. Part of that is the massive clusterfuck that is Detroit-area governance, but part of it is just that people are just walking away from the property in droves, and never looking back. Neighborhoods have already ceased to exist.

I don't know what the solution is. Completely ineffectual leadership / bureaucracy is a major problem for SE Michigan. Racial tensions have more than a little to do with the government's troubles.

Sadly, it's not just a Detroit problem, as Pufferfish alluded to--the "blast wave" is moving across the state, and the economy, she ain't so good anywhere in Michigan. Unless and until we figure out how to put some spark in the economy, there's no money to address the other glaring issues.

Ah, but Michigan -- I miss the place, all the same.
posted by theoddball at 10:37 PM on March 21, 2007


I was just cruizing through the older posts to the detroitblog and I noticed something unnerving - there's practically no cars on the road inany of the pictures. Three and four-lane streets devoid of cars. I know it isn't an auto blog, but it still weirds me out.
posted by lekvar at 10:45 PM on March 21, 2007


Detroit and New Orleans illustrates one contention: the U.S. power structure is so racist that when it can't keep the blacks down by "normal" means it resorts to destroying their homes. Parallels with Palestine are apt.

I realize there's a don't-feed-the-troll thing going on here, but I sort of have to respond: the houses being destroyed are abandoned. They're crack houses. The mostly black residents of those neighborhoods want to see them destroyed because there isn't enough money to rebuild them -- but there also isn't enough money to destroy them. Not to put to fine a point on it, you're an asshole who knows nothing -- nothing -- about the people and places you're talking about.

I was talking to my friend a second ago, who's from detroit, and he backs the most radical proposal in the article -- to completely level the sparsely populated neighborhoods and relocate their residents to other parts of the city. That idea hasn't gotten too much attention in this thread because to outsiders it probably sounds like a classic "let's wipe out all those bad [read: ethnic] neighborhoods" thing, but it's not. In michigan, the racial faultlines cleanly split the city from the suburbs, so suburbians aren't backing any one of these ideas -- they mostly don't care at all about what happens inside detroit.

The leveling-whole-areas idea actually has a pretty simple root: detroit is huge, and policing and maintaining giant swaths of near-empty land costs the city a fuckload of money. If that money was funneled into other things, maybe detroit could get a foothold.
posted by Tlogmer at 11:03 PM on March 21, 2007


I said: "[T]he U.S. power structure is so racist that when it can't keep the blacks down by "normal" means it resorts to destroying their homes."

I just found out there's a term for it: "planned shrinkage" (emphasis of course added). To quote from the Wikipedia article (so y'all won't have to pretend you indulged this "contrary idea" by reading the article yourselves):

History of the term

In 1976 the Housing Commissioner of New York City was Roger Starr. In response to the urban decay that plagued many areas in NYC (such as The South Bronx and Harlem) Starr proposed a policy now known as "planned shrinkage." (He conceived of this policy in 1966.)

On January 14, 1976 Starr gave a speech at the real estate industry lodge of the B'nai B'rith, shocking them by suggesting that the city should "accelerate the drainage" in what he called the worst parts of the South Bronx through a policy of "planned shrinkage." He suggested closing subway stations, firehouses and schools. In these days the city was in a deep financial crisis and Starr felt these actions were the best way to save money.


Anticipating that "Wikipedia makes shit up" line, here's a Google search on planned shrinkage.

For extra credit, I proffer here a quick refresher on white flight, with its own Google search.

Any ideas on why Detroit was allowed to shrink in the first place? I have one: you've heard of racism, eh?

(Note that I haven't asked y'all to consider why "planned shrinkage" started taking hold in the 1960s and 1970s specifically, which around here is a graduate-level question; I will say though that I doubt it had much to do with LSD and Woodstock, and I think it might've had something to do with "Black Power".)
posted by davy at 11:50 PM on March 21, 2007


[Of course since that last comment might get ignored I reserve the right to an FPP on it; in advance, stuff it dios!]
posted by davy at 11:53 PM on March 21, 2007


Break up the city.

Choose sections that can be saved and sections that can't. Tell people living in the unsavable sections that they can move into the savable sections (with city assistance, maybe with house swapping) or they can move out of town, but the bad sections are going to be condemned as a whole, neighborhood by neighborhood, not building by building.

Concentrate on building up and protecting the good parts. Give them local schools, local police stations, a town hall, local shops, and a local bus system to let residents move easily and safely between neighborhood schools, shops, and homes. When the good parts are healthy and self-sufficient, incorporate them as their own towns, independent of Detroit except for maybe shared utilities.

Wipe out the now vacant bad parts of Detroit and look for buyers willing to replace them with good upscale self-contained towns built from scratch.
posted by pracowity at 2:00 AM on March 22, 2007


Great post, fancypants. Among many other things of interest here (not the least of which are some great comments in the thread!), this photo from the old train station is amazing.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:29 AM on March 22, 2007


davy writes "I just found out there's a term for it: 'planned shrinkage' "

Except that the excerpt that you quoted from Wikipedia doesn't correspond to what's happening in Detroit. You may as well say that Walt Disney was killed in a presidential assassination, and then quote a Wikipedia page describing presidential assassinations.
posted by Bugbread at 5:09 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Gentrification always starts with the artists.

Not true. Gentrification starts with the Hispanics. Typically just off the boat, they'll work for crap wages at crap jobs that actually need doing, unlike artists who will simply keep their local Western Union in business ("Hey, Mom...") They live with the vice and crime yet have a fantastic work ethic. Once the Hispanics make significant headway, that's when the artists see the shade of the city is getting paler... and that's when they move in. Boston's a good example of this phenomenon.

Re: walking
You're not going to get any of the "sophisticated urbanites" coming to your city if you don't have a walkable city or good public transportation. They also won't come if there's no infrastructure to live off the city without heading out to the 'burbs. From the description of Detroit, it sounds like most shopping is done from big boxes off major (auto) thoroughfares just outside the city center. That simply won't work. You need bodegas for quick supplies, restaurants for quick eats, and bars for quick entertainment.

You also need universities to bring young people in. Nothing unnerves me more than to walk down a city street and be the only person for blocks. Urbanites want to be surrounded by people. Maybe if Detroit wasn't a sprawling 150-mile radius pancake you might see some outside interest from people looking to escape killer coastal rents.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:22 AM on March 22, 2007


Another sad irony - Detroit actually had a commuter railway in the first half of the 20th century. The InterUrban Railway was an extensive rail line that took daily commuters into and out of the city. Essentially encouraging suburban sprawl. Take a look at the map.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:23 AM on March 22, 2007


I also grew up in Mt. Clemens, 7 years in Ann Arbor, lots and lots of time spent downtown. This thread makes me weep in frustration -- there's a problem, and no good solution, and even if there was, so much red-tape it may never work. We talk constantly about returning to Michigan, and I think sometimes about moving to the city, but I don't know what my husband would do for work. And I worry that any job I take may disappear in a year or two.

There are some people trying hard to make a difference there. I dream of winning the lotto and buying up property in the city. Buying a whole neighborhood and transplanting family and friends there. Buying up every empty store front on Gratiot and tearing them down, replacing them with parks. Opening decent schools. Ugh, there's just so much, I literally weep.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:46 AM on March 22, 2007


Put your hands up for Detroit.

Funny that no one mentions the music. The best music being made in America is still coming out of Detroit, shithole nor not.
posted by dydecker at 8:22 AM on March 22, 2007


And yet, everyone in the Detroit music "scene" hates each other. It's the weirdest, most cliquish scene I've heard about in any major city.

For more on planned shrinkage, take a look at Youngstown, Ohio.

Of course, part of the problem with this plan is that Detroit doesn't have the money to bulldoze the condemned buildings now.
Oh, and one of Kwame's brilliant "money saving" maneuvers was, after battles with the city planning and accounting departments, to simply cut their funds. Roughly $10 million in taxes from the last three years is uncollected due to the Kwamster's vendetta against the chief comptroller, who kept predicting that Kwame's plans would make the deficit worse, which they did.
His current plan? Tax free area around Cobo! The plan is to make Detroit the country's #1 convention destination! Because why go to Chicago when you can come to Detroit?
posted by klangklangston at 8:37 AM on March 22, 2007


dydecker writes "Funny that no one mentions the music."

squirrel writes "I blame Drum & Bass."

mrgrimm writes "I was going to call instant karma for creating the abomination 'House Music,' but touche."

stinkycheese writes "simultaneously proud (esp. of their musical heritage)"
posted by Bugbread at 9:51 AM on March 22, 2007


I wrote: "I just found out there's a term for it: 'planned shrinkage'"

And bugbread replied: "Except that the excerpt that you quoted from Wikipedia doesn't correspond to what's happening in Detroit."

It describes what started happening in Detroit in the 1960s and '70s. That, and yes the auto corporations' own self-shrinkage (intentional or not). I do realize the latter factor matters, but some other cities who lost a big part of their economic base did not "shrink" as Detroit has: those cities remain mostly white. Indeed, Louisville, KY recovered and expanded.

I realize that "racism" is an inconvenient allegation, but that does not make it untrue. Why else would "anti-semitism" be such a popular and occasionally correct charge?
posted by davy at 10:03 AM on March 22, 2007


bugbread, the pedantic snipe you're making doesn't change my point in the least: a couple of lame quips amid two hundred comments in a thread about the decline of Detriot = overlooking one aspect of life in which Detriot is doing very well indeed.

Anyway, in a more positive note - the DEMF is set to go again this year in Hart Plaza and the lineup is looking very great.
posted by dydecker at 10:44 AM on March 22, 2007


I hope they stop charging -- DEMF was way better when it was free and every tiny electronica subculture created in the last 25 years had a posse there.
posted by Tlogmer at 11:14 AM on March 22, 2007


"Nothing unnerves me more than to walk down a city street and be the only person for blocks."

Not me. Nothing unnerves me more than walking down a crowded street seeing lots of people STARING at me, like when I walk through a mostly Black neighborhood in a mostly Black city being the only real-life White person a lot of the locals have seen in WEEKS. (It must feel similar for Blacks in White locales too.) Even when it's clear it's just curiosity and/or amazement ("Hasn't he heard this is a 'BAD' neighborhood?") it's still anxiety-provoking.

Doubtless it marks me as a child of the '60s & '70s, but I prefer more integration. Integration helped me realize that Blacks (and other "non-Whites") are people too, an assertion that seems trite and stupid till you realize that a lot of American kids aren't getting to learn that (thanks to institutionalized racism).
posted by davy at 11:46 AM on March 22, 2007


Civil_D: Detroit has several universities and colleges within its city limits, including Wayne State and the University of Detroit. When I attended U of D back in the early 1980s, there were huge signs posted all around the library that said "WATCH YOUR PURSE." The presence of a college campus is not a microcosm of safety.

One of the many problems with Detroit is the lack of business. There are very few major grocery store chains represented in the city, and those that are there have metal detectors installed right at the front door. Most of the major department stores have moved out, because the shoplifting (by employees as well as outsiders) was causing them to lose too much money. There are no first-run movie theaters within the city limits. There was too much violence once the lights went out, so the last one closed back in the 1990s. Now, what exactly is the problem? Is it government? Is it the populace? Why can't a group of people sit in the dark and watch a movie without causing trouble? And it can't all be poverty and lack of jobs....these troublemakers had the $6 to get into the theater in the first place. They went there with the intent of wreaking havoc. I guess I just have trouble wrapping my mind around that way of thinking. (BTW, I grew up just three blocks north of Eight Mile, and later lived in the Harper/Cadieux area of Detroit for seven years. I witnessed firsthand the pizza places that wouldn't deliver within the city limits, or calling for an ambulance and being told there was a two hour wait, and having neighbors fiercly protecting the last working fire hydrant on the block, because the City sure as heck wouldn't come out and fix it.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:31 PM on March 22, 2007


dydecker: I sure wasn't making any lame quip as you put it, the whole reason I was in Detroit was because of the music scene (and, on reflection, this was the late 90s, not the early 90s as I said before). The Magic Stick was the place to be at that time - I have no idea if it's still going or not. Also The Gold Dollar, which I believe is now gone.

Michigan has had great music for decades and decades, lots of which, unlike Motown, House Music and the whole late 60s Stooges/MC5/Ballroom scene, has never been recognized whatsoever - ie. Gravitar, one of the heaviest bands of all time (based out of Dearborn if memory serves). I drove all the way from Toronto for what I think was their last hometown show at the Gold Dollar years ago...amazing.

I have no doubt that the harsh conditions and lack of things to do served to fuel music abandon in the Motor City as it does the world round. Not to mention the influx of people who brought their music with them when they arrived there.

If there's a lack of discussion here about Detroit's musical success, I'd imagine it's down to: a) it not being particularly relevant to the continued existence of the city overall (which is pretty much what the thread's been about), and b) so obvious no one felt the need to go into it much. Beyond lame quips of course.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:08 PM on March 22, 2007


"Most of the major department stores have moved out, because the shoplifting (by employees as well as outsiders) was causing them to lose too much money."

That's not why Hudson's left. The problem for most of the large department stores is the same as any other city— people want to go to a mall and have them all together, and park there.

"There are no first-run movie theaters within the city limits. There was too much violence once the lights went out, so the last one closed back in the 1990s."

Aside from the Riverfront and the Pheonix, along with a handful of second-run or art theaters.

"When I attended U of D back in the early 1980s, there were huge signs posted all around the library that said "WATCH YOUR PURSE." The presence of a college campus is not a microcosm of safety."

Perhaps you'd like to blame the same signs at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, on the surrounding area?
posted by klangklangston at 1:13 PM on March 22, 2007


Klang - I specified "first run" theaters. The Riverfront is new; the Renaissance 4 didn't last that long, let's see how long this one goes. The Phoenix? You mean the one at Bel-Air Center? First of all, that's barely within the city limits, secondly, I've been to movies at Bel-Air during their previous two theater incarnations. Again, let's see how long this place lasts. (I saw Menace II Society at the Bel-Air when that film first opened. I had to walk through a metal detector and be physically patted down by a security guard before entering the auditorium. How often does that happen at other big city theaters?) I was an East-Sider, so I don't know what second-run or art theaters were available on the West Side, but usually we had to drive out to the Beacon East (which has since closed) or Showcase Sterling Heights to see movies.

Department-store wise, I wasn't referring to Hudson's downtown. Look at all the new strip malls that are opening in various spots in the city. The only "chain," as a rule, is Family Dollar. Eastland (which is technically Harper Woods) is losing tenants at a rapid rate. Try finding a fast food restaurant within the city where you don't have to give your order (inside, not carry-out) through a speaker in the bullet-proof glass and receive your food via Lazy Susan.

I can't speak for U of M, as I never went there, but I occasionally used the library at Macomb County Community College during the time I attended U of D, and there were no warning signs about purses there.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:42 PM on March 22, 2007


dydecker writes "a couple of lame quips amid two hundred comments in a thread about the decline of Detriot = overlooking one aspect of life in which Detriot is doing very well indeed. "

Well, the thread is basically about the parts of Detroit that aren't doing well. Some people have mentioned nice convention centres, but, again, not many, because the thread is primarily about what's gone wrong in Detroit. Ditto with mentioning good sports teams. The topic of the thread just isn't very compatible with long discussions about things that are good in Detroit.
posted by Bugbread at 2:14 PM on March 22, 2007


thanks for letting me know all about the thread, bugbread. now i get it.
posted by dydecker at 2:29 PM on March 22, 2007


Hey, there is a Borders/Starbucks near Wayne State now. That was a good sign!

Looks like I'm not the only one with anxiety about my state of birth! Lapsed Michiganers!!!
posted by k8t at 3:44 PM on March 22, 2007


Of course it's not really racism if Black people really are stupid vicious animals, eh Oriole?
posted by davy at 4:43 PM on March 22, 2007


Anyway, the problem with Detroit now is that almost everybody of any race who could leave the city has. It's too bad Detroit can't incorporate the near suburbs like Louisville did, although that's probably why Baltimore City is still not included in Baltimore County (or vice versa).

By the way, my aunt and her husband used to teach at Wayne State but live(d) over in Windsor, Ontario, Canada (for fuck's sake). Personally I think that's just wrong, like I think Louisville cops should live here and not over in Indiana someplace.
posted by davy at 4:54 PM on March 22, 2007


There's a lot of crime in detroit, but not as much as people like oriole think. Downtown, especially, has been pretty safe recently.
posted by Tlogmer at 5:31 PM on March 22, 2007


How are things in Windsor?
I was visting Windsor on the weekend, and on the whole things are OK. The city is making some mistakes such as closing the Capitol Theatre (which will hurt the arts scene) - however I did not notice much decay.
Windsor, similarly to Detroit, needs to create jobs and to maintain it's position as the big city in the region. Comparing Windsor to Detroit is never fair as Windsor has Essex county (food production), it is very safe, and the very busy border, which will always keep the city healthy - just a year ago businesses were crying out for employees. All Windsor really needs is some entrepreneurship.

What happened to me this weekend, that has never happened before, was I had people from Detroit asking me about Canada - about healthcare, education, taxes.
posted by niccolo at 9:13 PM on March 22, 2007


Davy, I said nothing about race, and you don't know anything about my family or its racial makeup, so don't make generalizations about me just because I'm pointing out some sad facts that apply to the city of Detroit. The city where Mayor Coleman Young himself basically admitted certain city employees could not be trusted when he ordered DOT employees responsible for emptying coin boxes to be issued pocketless coveralls to prevent the rampant theft within the department. And when that didn't work, buses stopped accepting dollar bills, because they were too easy for employees to steal despite their pocketless coveralls.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:06 PM on March 22, 2007


"So... time for a SE Michigan meetup, right?"

Even if you were being serious, I'd tell you "dream on." Trying to organize a "SE Michigan" meeting of any sort is a pain in the ass, because suburbanites are afraid of the big city in the middle of the region. As a result, everybody pretends that their own suburb is the center of the region.

So, my experience (for things as trivial as D&D meetups to things as mainstream as political rallies) is that people north of Detroit want regional meetings north of the city ("Metro Detroit"), people south of the city want regional meetings south of the city ("Downriver"), and neither group wants to drive to or through Detroit. It's like the city has become a gigantic wall dividing the rest of the region in two.

Seriously, the first step to saving Detroit might be getting suburbanites to stop being afraid to drive there.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 11:49 AM on March 23, 2007


And here I was thinking about taking Faint of Butt up on her offer. We've had a couple of meetups in Ann Arbor before (and I could do Ypsi too), and I'd love to do a meetup somewhere downtown Detroit (DIA might be nice, actually), but would want to carpool (I'd throw in for gas!) as my car is so near the last legs, I don't take it anywhere that I can't catch a bus home.
posted by klangklangston at 12:16 PM on March 23, 2007


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