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The people who drive the Motor City
April 4, 2009 12:06 AM   Subscribe

Can Detroit be saved? Its future is in their hands . Meet Detroit city council president Monica Conyers, whose children are chauffered to the pricey Cranbrook Schools in suburban Bloomfield Hills daily by on-duty cops, and who recerntly publicly rebuked a white Teamsters official for daring to speak the name of President Obama during a meeting. She also wasn't interested in the estimated 16,000 jobs that would be created by the proposed Cobo Hall expansion because most of those jobs would be filled by people who "don't look like her."

Also on board is Barbara-Rose Collins, a bona fide queen ("with all the responsibilities and privileges afforded to royal family members,” according to her web page) who occasionally bursts into song during council meetings. Let's not forget Martha Reeves, who has a city-paid assistant accompany her after hours to the casino because she's afraid to go out in the city alone.

How dire is the state of the city? Sam Riddle, former policital consultant to Conyers, has said that the only difference in terms of corruption between Detroit and a Third World nation is that Detroit doesn't have goats wandering the streets.
posted by Oriole Adams (111 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, I know, more DetroitFilter, but I was inspired by the previous posts of the decaying buildings around the city. I've paid Detroit taxes for about 20 years and it breaks my heart to see how much the city has declined during that time, and the Powers That Be just can't seem to get together and do something to stem the bleeding.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:10 AM on April 4, 2009


You already said it, but I want to say it too, since everyone else is.
posted by brenton at 12:20 AM on April 4, 2009




Who'da thunk John Conyers' wife was such a c-word?
posted by bardic at 12:50 AM on April 4, 2009


Seeing stuff like this totally takes me back to my childhood in the DC area during the 1980's. Just the most corrupt, incompetent leadership imaginable. But ya know, DC couldn't be allowed to fail, because it's home to the nation's capitol. And with large infusions of Federal cash, it managed to re-emerge as a decent place to live.

I guess Detroit couldn't be allowed to fail for a long time out of deference to the Big 3. But that deference is gone now.
posted by bardic at 12:54 AM on April 4, 2009


I can't think of Detroit without thinking about RoboCop. It seems like my impression of the city becomes less inaccurate every day.
posted by chudmonkey at 12:55 AM on April 4, 2009 [11 favorites]


How is this circus even possible?
posted by flippant at 1:32 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't think of Detroit without thinking about RoboCop.

And Axel Foley for me as well.

Having lived in a "boom town" wot's population has probably doubled in the last 30 years – and it's still doing OK, even in this recession – these stories of urban decay are unimaginable. No exaggeration.

Every square cm of land is coveted by developers. Even public space like parks and school ovals are disappearing.

But given the above: similar levels corruption? You betcha.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:55 AM on April 4, 2009


The Steelers won their fifth Super Bowl in the home of Robocop.
posted by dirigibleman at 2:05 AM on April 4, 2009


Don't miss the "Conyers" link, where she basically has her behind handed to her by an eighth grader.

Eighth grade girl: "...but you're an adult."
Conyers: "Mmmhmm."
Eighth grade girl: "We have to look up to you."
Conyers: "Absolutely."
Eighth grade girl: "...we're looking on TV, and like, this is an adult, calling another adult 'Shrek'... that's something a second-grader would do."
Conyers: "And so at school, you've never done that? You've never said anything that you shouldn't have said inappropriately?"
Eighth grade girl: "We are kids, we're children..."

It reminded me of Tucker Carlson giving Jon Stewart a hard time about not being a tough interviewer, and Stewart replying "You're on CNN! The show leading into me is puppets making prank phone calls!"

Brilliant and depressing.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:57 AM on April 4, 2009 [54 favorites]


I don't get how public servants this corrupt or worse (see the former mayor, from what I've read) keep their jobs. Isn't there part of the federal government that is supposed to step in any kick assholes like this out of office, for corruption this blatant?

Then again, corrupt politicians seem to be championed and revered by a seemingly significant portion of the population, so maybe that's what people want.
posted by maxwelton at 3:28 AM on April 4, 2009


Detroit is a lost cause. We all need to focus our karmic energy on the creation of Delta City.
posted by mannequito at 3:29 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Truly astonishing.
posted by jonnyploy at 3:58 AM on April 4, 2009


"I don't get how public servants this corrupt or worse (see the former mayor, from what I've read) keep their jobs."

Racial politics.
posted by bardic at 4:03 AM on April 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've been hunting around on Google, but can't find any articles or discussions about whether a major modern city can or has failed (not very good at finding stuff like that). If we project forward, say 50 years, could a city like Detroit just become Rome in 500 AD, with a fraction of its peak population and no regional influence? New Orleans aside, has such a thing happened-- huge drop off in jobs, revenue and population. And then the inevitable question-- why not let it? (Meant seriously, not being sarcastic)
posted by nax at 4:05 AM on April 4, 2009


Detroit is America's foreshadow.
posted by srboisvert at 4:21 AM on April 4, 2009 [9 favorites]


"And then the inevitable question-- why not let it? (Meant seriously, not being sarcastic)" - nax

You mean, apart from the thousands of people whose lives have been irrevocably changed for the worse for no other reason than the whims of the marketplace and bad corporate and civic management, and the state that will go down with it?

Can't think of any at all.

(Yes, I live in Michigan. No, I do not live in Detroit. Yes, I am tired of people writing the city - and by extension the state - off as not worth helping. My ire is not really directed at you, nax. Just frustrated with the Internet and the media in general. Maybe if all this were happening in their own backyard, they'd be more concerned about it.)
posted by HostBryan at 4:29 AM on April 4, 2009


Although I don't live in Michigan anymore (sometimes I wish I did despite the economy) reading about Detroit dying feels to me like hearing about a relative dying. My grandfather grew up in Detroit and tells me stories about how it was when he was a kid; practically the best schools in the nation, incredible public facilities (i.e. libraries) and all around a great place to be. I wonder how he feels about the drastic change the city has made in his lifetime..
The incompetent leadership in the city has been a problem my entire life starting with Coleman Young. While he did a lot of positive things for the city he started a dialogue about race that polarized the suburbs and the city proper and ultimately drove the tax base any large city relies on out to the north and west. To my mind that was the deathblow for the city as it has only dwindled since.
I will say however that when I read about the artists moving into the city and projects like the community gardening that I believe was linked previously on mefi it does make me hopeful that the city has a future.. just maybe not the one any of us expect.
posted by zennoshinjou at 4:31 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Perhaps we should stop thinking of cities art.
posted by converge at 4:41 AM on April 4, 2009


...as art.
posted by converge at 4:41 AM on April 4, 2009


Detroit is becoming more and more like a frontier town. City services are ineffectual, the governing body of the city (as demonstrated by the FPP) is too incompetent and corrupt to bring the city any new revenue, infrastructure is deteriorating, and whole swaths of the city are uninhabited.

The decline of the city began after the '67 riots. People started leaving, and those that hung on did so because of the pull of the automotive industry. Once the industry collapsed, the city went into a steep decline, and nothing, not The People Mover, or the Renaissance Center, or even the Detroit Electronic Music Festival have managed to stanch the flow of people away from the city. The politicians in charge of the city certainly haven't done anything to help.

Race-baiting politics and corruption are nothing new. Coleman Young (mayor from 1973-1991) was outspoken in his dislike for the white suburbs that surrounded Detroit's inner city. (He was also accused of corruption, but never convicted.) When Young's successor, Dennis Archer, the least controversial mayor in recent memory, won by a significant margin in 1997, Young's supporters initiated a recall. Kwame Kilpatrick, on top of being sensationally corrupt, was also prone to accusing people of persecuting him because he was black. These current politicians aren't setting a precedent in Detroit politics, they're just following the precedent set over the last 40 years.

The biggest problem is there's no way to generate revenue for the city. In cities like New York, when industry left, eventually other industries came in to take their place. This has not happened with Detroit, and now it's just a city with no economy, rotting from the inside out. Leaders need to lure new industry, and, by extension, new revenue to the area. But as you can see, they are just yelling at each other and having sing-a-longs at council meetings, with one hand surreptitiously in the coffer.

Nax - Yeah, I suppose the city could contract, re-adjust, re-size itself as a smaller city with less regional influence. More likely, in my opinion is that it will begin to look more like Escape From New York.

On preview: zennoshinjou, thank you. As another Michigan ex-pat who misses living there in spite of all of the economic hardships.
posted by orville sash at 4:43 AM on April 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


*snaps, winks, points at camera*

America, this is your life! :)
posted by Super Hans at 4:45 AM on April 4, 2009


Detroit is America's foreshadow.

Naah… the U.S. still has some rather covetous pieces of property. Most of it is on the ocean, however. California will always be expensive, same with New England. But for everything west of Pennsylvania and east of, well, California… yeah. This is your future. Chicago should do alright as a hub, and the old folks will still flock to Florida or Phoenix to die. But Cleveland? St. Louis? Omaha? OK City? Gonna get grim.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:03 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just a little update about the classy Mrs. Conyers.
posted by lukievan at 5:20 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


You mean, apart from the thousands of people whose lives have been irrevocably changed for the worse for no other reason than the whims of the marketplace and bad corporate and civic management, and the state that will go down with it?

No, more like giving up on the notion that in even the next 100 years, Detroit would get back to its former glory. Renovate part of the city, and condemn the other half, perhaps including nature reclamation projects. Work on making it a bustling small city rather than an ailing large one.

At the same time, when companies or stores become unmanageable and unprofitable (in human terms, profit would be quality-of-life), it's better to have an organized closing rather than letting the whole thing collapse in on itself. Maybe it is time to just close up shop on Detroit? Salvage what can be salvaged, and do the best we can to situate its citizens in other cities with other jobs and houses? To be honest, I feel the same way about New Orleans, though that's mostly because re-building a city that's essentially sinking into the Gulf of Mexico seems foolish compared to building a replacement on a safer location.
posted by explosion at 5:34 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


explosion- I think the problem with that mentality is that a lot of people still call Detroit home and feelings about home are seldom rational or dispassionate. While I see to a point the value in what you suggest the real problem in Detroit right now is that its been run by a long line of incompetent thieves and no one is standing up to say enough is enough.
I think the psychology of the city is complicated in that there are people who say "fuck it. let it burn" and people who say "hey wait a minute.. this place might not be the best but its still my home and I want to keep living in it." At this point I don't think anybody has illusions about Detroit being what it once was but the one guarantee we have is that it truly will be nothing if the people who still love the city don't stand up and take it back from the jokers running the show now.
posted by zennoshinjou at 5:46 AM on April 4, 2009




Just curious about the roots of the Cobo Hall vote. Conyers is clearly a ridiculous person, but I can generally see why a city might want to avoid handing over control of a local exhibition hall to a regional authority and possibly lose most of its say in how the hall's expansion is handled. The post focuses on the histrionics more than the arguments. Are there any?
posted by mediareport at 6:03 AM on April 4, 2009


nax, the reason that your suggest can't be implemented is because of bardic's point. More than 80% of Detroit's population is black, and suggesting that America officially abandon its largest mostly-black city just isn't politically feasible. Nor is shipping in competent management from outside, because, guess what, the people you'd ship in would almost certainly have to be white (or at least not black), as most of the competent black politicians are already up to their eyeballs doing desperately needed work.

Thus the politics of egalitarianism and diversity have basically prevented anyone from saying, "Look, you people are incompetent. Sit down, shut up, and let us adults run things for a while." You just can't say that in today's America, no matter how desperately it needs to be said. We respect self-determination to the point that if a person, family, or entire city decides to--or is simply unable to avoid--complete and utter self-destruction, no one can say "Boo."

Until we, as a society, come up with a story to tell that allows us to revoke self-determination from people, which is admittedly explicitly patrician and condescending, this kind of thing will repeat itself again and again. And even coming up with such a story is no guarantee that anything can be done.
posted by valkyryn at 6:08 AM on April 4, 2009 [15 favorites]


Speaking of Robocop, apparently the upcoming 2010 Darren Aronofsky remake will be set in Los Angeles.

It seems to me that setting the movie in Detroit is more appropriate now than ever (and the tax credits for film the state offers should make it pretty lucrative), but then again I am not a movie executive.
posted by HostBryan at 6:13 AM on April 4, 2009


Oh, and in case you're having a difficult time imagining why people wouldn't want to leave Detroit, this Mitch Albom piece explains it beautifully - it's probably one of the best things he's ever written.
posted by HostBryan at 6:14 AM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thus the politics of egalitarianism and diversity have basically prevented anyone from saying, "Look, you people are incompetent. Sit down, shut up, and let us adults run things for a while."

Beautifully said, valkyryn.

We respect self-determination to the point that if a person, family, or entire city decides to--or is simply unable to avoid--complete and utter self-destruction, no one can say "Boo."

I'm just amazed that any discussion of Detroit has to go on so long before these, the most obvious points, get made.
posted by Faze at 6:27 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for sharing that HostBryan. I can definitely relate to the sentiment (save for the whole I left the state to get a job thing.. )
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:32 AM on April 4, 2009


Faze- I agree with you.. you do have to ask when its time to say enough is enough. I think that article that HostBryan linked actually makes an interesting point about why those points haven't gained traction; essentially the rest of the country has given up on Detroit. Everyone expects it to fail and is just waiting to see it happen. To my mind that is a heavy burden for a city to carry and if you let the cynics take the reigns that's the road its going to go down.
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:39 AM on April 4, 2009


Needs the batshitinsane tag!
posted by kldickson at 6:54 AM on April 4, 2009


Dude, Conyers' nemesis Kwame Kenyatta sounds bad-ASS. He's mentioned as a critic is the artciles, but then there's this, from the Wikipedia-linked article:
When Kenyatta asked her what she said, Conyers responded he needed to learn how to talk to a woman.

Kenyatta shot back that when he was with a woman, he would do so. That prompted Conyers to yell at Kenyatta that he was stupid, citing his lack of a college degree, to tell him he "can't hear" -- a dig at his hearing aid -- and to try to rub in his face rumors that Kenyatta has cancer.
posted by FuManchu at 7:15 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I don't get how public servants this corrupt or worse (see the former mayor, from what I've read) keep their jobs."

Street Fight is about Newark NJ, but it'll give you a clue. Great movie.

Oh, and it does end on a hopeful note, so - maybe Detroit has a future as well.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:28 AM on April 4, 2009


I don't get how public servants this corrupt or worse (see the former mayor, from what I've read) keep their jobs.

Voter ignorance.

No, think about it. Think back to election day. You saw the ballot - Obama & McCain, maybe one or two local third-party candidates for president. A couple congressmen, maybe, depending on your district. Those were all easy to vote for.

Then there was that huge swath of people you'd never heard of, right? A whole list of different various local officials, judges, deputy district whatevers...but you'd never heard of any of those people. And yet there they were on your ballot. In some cases, you may have even seen that there were no opponents to the incumbent. So what did you do?

That's how they stay in. Those races get almost no publicity because they're overshadowed by the national races. People either re-elect who they've got in because they're the only name they heard of or they just vote for the one name who's up there, because no one's bothered to raise an opposing candidate. Or they just don't vote for those elections because they have no idea. And...people like this stay in power.

I'm not blaming the voter for this -- if anything, the local news media should step up their local political coverage like crazy so people have heard of who they're voting for. But hell, I consider myself to be a little more educated than average when it comes to voting -- I actually go out of my way to keep tabs on the different candidates' policies for each election -- but I still don't know anything about the 2nd District Judge candidate or what have you each election day.

Isn't there part of the federal government that is supposed to step in any kick assholes like this out of office, for corruption this blatant?

I doubt it, but that's actually a good question. My hunch is that that would be a state-vs.-federal rights thing, and that the feds probably aren't supposed to. But anyone else know?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:46 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


to wound the autumnal city.
posted by empath at 7:47 AM on April 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


I can generally see why a city might want to avoid handing over control of a local exhibition hall to a regional authority and possibly lose most of its say in how the hall's expansion is handled. The post focuses on the histrionics more than the arguments. Are there any?

The basic argument in favor of Detroit giving up Cobo Center: Detroit can't afford Cobo Center. The city council's accountant says Detroit loses $15 milllion per year on the thing (Conyers insists he's lying, by the way) and that's with the city skimping on maintenance -- they're at the point of tarps-and-buckets to deal with ceiling leaks during events.

Why does Cobo lose money? Because it's 20 years behind state of the art, and a lot of major events simply won't put up with that. Several of the non-domestic automakers are already hinting they want the North American International Auto Show moved to another city. As you might imagine, the locals would consider that a major blow to both morale and the local economy.

Rennovating and expanding Cobo would help get and keep conventions, but Detroit can't afford the work on its own. (Detroit can't afford to keep all of its street lights on at night, for crying out loud.) The big hope for funding expansion is hotel and rental car taxes, but most business travellers to the region stay in other cities (or even other counties), which means the city needs suburban governments to pitch in. The suburbs won't do that while Cobo is managed by the Detroit City Council.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 7:54 AM on April 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


dear Oriole Adams,
is there a reason you linked to a bunch of information that would lead one to the conclusion that the mayor is an inept racist but failed to openly call her out as such?

clearly you don't believe in objectivism -and that's acceptable here- but the post is written in a way that would suggest you're trying the fox news approach of masking opinion as factual reporting. without knowing anything beyond your post about the persons in question I for one wish to declare my objection to such posts. let's keep one-sidedness to the huffington post and drudge.
posted by krautland at 7:57 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The future of America? Maybe, but I hope not. A vision of the fruits of wasting untold resources and effort on the finger-pointing and endless self-serving rhetoric and conjecture of identity politics? That sounds more like it to me. When the controlling issue in elections becomes racial politics instead of deteriorating infrastructure, property values in free-fall, nonexistent municipal services, the ruination of local industry, and a completely ineffective incumbent government, all hope is lost.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 7:58 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


is there a reason you linked to a bunch of information that would lead one to the conclusion that the mayor is an inept racist but failed to openly call her out as such?

Um, there were no links to the mayor.
posted by billysumday at 8:01 AM on April 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


Isn't there part of the federal government that is supposed to step in any kick assholes like this out of office, for corruption this blatant?

They're working on it, but they're taking their own damn time.

The Feds probably won't get them all. Unfortunately, Detroit seems to be where the U.S. government dumps its less-than-stellar investigators and prosecuters. If they sent an ass-kicker like Chicago's Patrick Fitzgerald, Detroit probably wouldn't have enough council members left to make quorum.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 8:02 AM on April 4, 2009


Detroit has become the horrendous car wreck on the side of America's highway... Most of the people have already escaped the wreck, there's a few still inside that are probably terminal, the emergency crews don't have the right equipment to save anyone, much less repair the car, and y'all have become gawkers!
posted by HuronBob at 8:03 AM on April 4, 2009


I live in Livonia, which is a suburb of Detroit. I just want to chime in and say that we're totally, totally fucked.

I mean, like, totally.

I said this in another thread, but I'll say it again - pretty soon Detroit will be like something out of Twelve Monkeys - nature will take back what we've abused and neglected, and wolves and deer and dog and cat and fox and beaver and raccoon will outnumber people.

It's depressing and it fills me with a swell of rage, because there have been opportunity after opportunity for it not to be that way - but instead, people like Monica Conyers are essentially fixated on rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Sigh.

Hey, at least we've got the Lions, am I right?
posted by kbanas at 8:06 AM on April 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hey, don't mention the Lions without reminding folks that they hold a new NFL record... They've actually gone so far around the circle of bad that they are about to burst back into good...it's all about the cycle...
posted by HuronBob at 8:08 AM on April 4, 2009


Um, there were no links to the mayor.

And Detroit doesn't have a mayor anyway.

Detroit has an interim-mayor, because the last one, Kwame Kilpatrick, resigned from office and fled to Texas after it became clear that he had abused his power in some fairly ridiculous and embarrassing ways, and I believe he was charged and convicted of some felony obstruction of justice charges.

Go Detroit!
posted by kbanas at 8:09 AM on April 4, 2009


Hey, don't mention the Lions without reminding folks that they hold a new NFL record... They've actually gone so far around the circle of bad that they are about to burst back into good...it's all about the cycle...

Careful, HuronBob, you're starting to sound like Monica Conyers.
posted by kbanas at 8:10 AM on April 4, 2009


Isn't there some sort of African-American Anti-Defamation League that could go after this Monica Conyers person?
posted by dunkadunc at 8:10 AM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interesting. At least New Orleans still has a decent city council, for the most part, despite an increasingly tiresome e-mail, garbage and administrative corruption and incompetence soap opera starring Ray Nagin. (His spokesperson, whose last name is Quiett, used to work Kilpatrick. Seriously. Spokesperson Quiett. She always says she'll make "no comment at this time," or typically does. Her name is eponysterical.) This makes me think, Well, things could always be muuuuch worse. (Which is not to say that the city and the Gulf Coast still haven't been screwed over by the fed govt. in some ways, although the Obama admin seems to be working that out. Long story and, like ridiculous talk of "rebuilding" the city--it needs recovery, not some total rebuilding after all this time, never needed that in the first place--or "relocating" it is irrelevant to the topic at hand.)

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the NCAA Final Four being held in Detroit over the weekend, meanwhile. I wondered if it were picked for some symbolic reason.
posted by raysmj at 8:20 AM on April 4, 2009


Just want to say thanks for taking my difficult question seriously and not assuming I was advocating throwing the population to the lions.
posted by nax at 8:24 AM on April 4, 2009


Ha! Conyers! You know she once used a city firetruck to fill her swimming pool under the pretense that "lots of neighborhood kids use my pool."
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:26 AM on April 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Just want to say thanks for taking my difficult question seriously and not assuming I was advocating throwing the population to the lions.

Maybe it's a Detroit thing but lions don't exactly inspire fear these days.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:35 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


And Clarence's parents have a real good marriage.
posted by box at 8:36 AM on April 4, 2009


raysmj - I doubt it was a symbolic choice, but the fact that Michigan State is in the Final Four has been the source of a great deal of excitement and dare I say pride for the state, especially since the championship game will be held in Detroit.
posted by HostBryan at 8:36 AM on April 4, 2009



I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the NCAA Final Four being held in Detroit over the weekend, meanwhile. I wondered if it were picked for some symbolic reason.


Ha! One of our fine council-people, the infamous Martha Reeves, didn't even know the Final Four was being held in Detroit until very recently. You may recall her from the whole Jay Leno SNAFU.
posted by kbanas at 8:36 AM on April 4, 2009


I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the NCAA Final Four being held in Detroit over the weekend, meanwhile. I wondered if it were picked for some symbolic reason.

Also, no, it wasn't symbolic. These things are set a long time in advance. We hosted some of the Sweet Sixteen games last year.
posted by kbanas at 8:37 AM on April 4, 2009


Maybe it's a Detroit thing but lions don't exactly inspire fear these days.

Lions? HUGS!!!
posted by P.o.B. at 8:40 AM on April 4, 2009


I can't think of Detroit without thinking about RoboCop.

That's Delta City, citizen. Thank you for your cooperation.
posted by Artw at 8:52 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's so cold in the D.
posted by cashman at 9:25 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Those races get almost no publicity because they're overshadowed by the national races.

Now this is something that really could be fixed - a) stop electing positions which should be fufilled by someone of certain skills and not policy positions (anything in the justice area like sheriff or judge or DA, dogcatcher, etc), and b) move the local elections so that they happen at a completely different time from the national and state elections.

I know you would have to change the constitution (stupid founding fathers, couldn't they leave the details to the future?*) and that's a bother, but seriously, are there are any reasons to vote against it? It would save so many headaches, make voting so much easier and simpler when you go. Canadians, Brits, most of the rest of the world have no problem having separate election days - we go in, mark up a much shorter bit of paper, get out. It works.

Also, stop having your congresspeople elected every two years - that's just too short a term. They spend their whole time running for election and no time actually serving their position. If four years is fine for a president, it should be fine for a House of Representatives - and you can still do it offset to the presidency (just like the summer and winter Olympics).

*Like me, for instance. I could have written a much better constitution. And what it lacked in rhetorical flourishes, it would gain in flexibility and adaptability to changing needs. Also, stronger human rights protection.
posted by jb at 9:29 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many people's mental image of Detroit comes straight out of Robocop - which was filmed in Dallas and Houston.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:24 AM on April 4, 2009


My mental image of Detroit is a smoking sinkhole with faint, indistinct, pointless jabbering wafting out on the wind.
posted by longsleeves at 10:34 AM on April 4, 2009


How is this circus even possible?

It's possible because the the folks in Detroit proper--the voters--are horribly uneducated. It all comes back to that. The apparent disregard for their own well-being is only a symptom of the greater problem that, for instance, less than half of Detroit Public Schools students graduate high school.

And how is the charade allowed to continue? Because the educated dollars in the form of city taxes keep flowing into the beast. Monica Conyers and her cronies get to use my money to finance her Us vs. Them war, and keep herself in a position of power. It's disgusting.

You want to fix Detroit? Give all of us suburbanites who pay city taxes a vote. We'll have these jackasses out on their butts so fast it would make Joe Louis' head spin.
posted by fusinski at 11:03 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Detroit is America's foreshadow.skin: full of smegma and controversial.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:12 AM on April 4, 2009


> stupid founding fathers, couldn't they leave the details to the future?*

Well, besides the fact that the constitution still exists as a document 200+ years after the fact is a testament that they did in fact create a dynamic and well structured system.

Fixed dates for election is huge, and a large concern of the founding fathers was creating a system that could prevent a tyranny or a monarchy. Making it so that the law, not the current political power, dictated when an election took place is a very big deal. As such, it is not the easiest thing to change on purpose.

As for local elections, those have had problems for ages, and in some states we do have a policy and procedure to allow the federal government intercede.

I think the biggest electoral issue we need to tackle (besides getting rid of the EC), is to develop a standard nation wide voting process and system, to ensure that a US citizen can vote in an election anywhere on the US soil. The voting policies and procedures can vary from county to country and state to state, which makes it very easy for the current people to stay in power. An 'easier' approach would be to develop an open and cheap manageable process to handle the federal elections that would be provided to states to use for the federal elections. They could also use them for the local elections if they wish, but "this isn't the federal government trying to dictate how you do your elections, we are just saying here are free tools that provide the most fair and open and monitor-able elections possible, you states can make your own duplicate system if you so wish, to keep your little kingdoms, but we wont be giving you money to do that".
posted by mrzarquon at 11:12 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this an American problem? Are European or other Western cities experiencing this?
posted by geoff. at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2009


Krautland: Clearly you don't believe in objectivism

I am trying to make sense of this comment. My theory is that you are not talking about the "philosophy" of Ayn Rand, but rather meant to use the word objectivity, which also seems incoherent in this context.

I think the various videos of Conyers' behavior speak for themselves, and I don't see what race has to do with any of it. She is ignorant, unprofessional, belligerent, and from everything I have seen of her, unqualified to hold any important government office.

This should all be evident from her behavior, and doesn't seem to need spelling out. The motives for calling out such buffoonery are clear, and laudable. I can't make any sense of your comment.
posted by idiopath at 11:15 AM on April 4, 2009


> Is this an American problem? Are European or other Western cities experiencing this?

It is not uniquely American, however the specifics may be considered to be, as mentioned by posters up thread about the racial undertones and symbolic interpretations of a largely African American city needing intervention by what would most likely be white politications, etc.

However, corruption and election fraud and general shenanigans happen in just about every modern democracy, at all levels. I just found this article on it with some basic googling.

Also, it looks like Bulgaria and Romania are currently in hot water with the EU over the level of corruption inside their governments.

And again the situation is exacerbated when the city or state in question is made up of primarily one demographic that due to their own policies have removed or silenced any local members of their community to be the figureheads of change, which then requires a non local entity to intercede, stirring up national/racial/ethnic tensions. (or the coarse version for Detroit: they drove out any black politician who had a chance of challenging the power structure, now it is most likely anyone coming in to institute change would be white, and the established power will use that imagery to it's defense).
posted by mrzarquon at 11:37 AM on April 4, 2009


Is this an American problem? Are European or other Western cities experiencing this?

There are plenty of cities around the world where the gap between the rich and poor is stark, but you'll have to hunt pretty hard to find the level of segregation you get in Detroit, esp. on such a scale.
posted by dydecker at 11:43 AM on April 4, 2009


mrzarquon - it's not just the national government, it goes to the local level. You ought to listen to my friend bitch about Sorin Oprescu. (Fun fact - 'opresc' means 'I stop' in Romanian, and according to my friend, Oprescu hasn't done squat for Bucharest.) Nastase is corrupt through and through, Boc and Basescu are generally impotent (although Basescu was a better mayor of Bucharest than Oprescu), and when the Partidul Social Democratic and the Partidul Conservator (social democratic and conservative party) make an alliance, you know their politics are fucked up.

50's, 60's, and 70's Romania did produce some good rock music, though. Have some Phoenix.
posted by kldickson at 12:10 PM on April 4, 2009


Is this an American problem? Are European or other Western cities experiencing this?

Actually, Detroit may be unique as an example of catastrophic urban collapse on this scale. Other American cities have survived the catastrophic implosion of major industries and environmental disaster, and after a few decades anyways, bounced back. Detroit has lost fully 50% of its population in the last fifty years. The city has fewer people now than it did in 1920. Chicago and Philadelphia have both lost 20-25% of their population in the same period, and both are notoriously corrupt, but no one talks about either of them in the same way they talk about Detroit. It's still possible to, you know, get a job in Chicago and Philly. Detroit, not so much. With the impending bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler, I don't think we've even seen the worst of it.

There are places in central and eastern Europe where populations are slowly declining, but I'm not aware of any cities there losing population anywhere near this rapidly. There are a few cities in the UK, including Liverpool and Glasgow which have seen similar population declines, but both of them are economically resurgent, though admittedly Liverpool did experience a rather extended period of stagnation after WWII. I think the closest European analog is probably the Parisian suburbs, where a combination of deindustrialization-caused unemployment (as high as 45% among certain segments of the population) and racial tensions lead to regular civil unrest. But even there you don't see the kind of massive vacancy that you do in Detroit, where upwards of 18 million dwellings are currently empty for at least part of the year.

In short, what's wrong with Detroit seems to be a combination of factors, and it's hard to say whether dependence upon a single industry or racial politics (it was forced school-desegregation which caused the first wave of white flight in the 1960s) is the worst offender.

Either way, Monica Conyers is Not Helping.
posted by valkyryn at 1:02 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Thus the politics of egalitarianism and diversity have basically prevented anyone from saying, "Look, you people are incompetent. Sit down, shut up, and let us adults run things for a while.""

Fucking bullshit.

Look, every time Detroit comes up, it annoys the fuck out of me that folks who have no fucking clue use it as an excuse to spout whatever bullshit they got from The Bell Curve.

Look, for folks that don't understand why these shitty, shitty councilpersons keep getting reelected: Detroit has at-large elections for city council. That means that name recognition is enough to get folks reelected, especially if they do ward heeling in their own neighborhood. The entire slate is voted on every four years, which means that if you're the ninth-best candidate, you get on the council. That's a structural problem, written into the city charter, which is pretty hard to amend. Detroit is the largest city in the country that elects the council at large, which also eliminates primary challenges.

That's combined with the fact that under Michigan's state constitution, Detroit can't annex other surrounding municipalities, which is a way that tax bases are maintained for a lot of cities—in Detroit, you can hop over the township line and still avail yourself of Detroit services, and the revenue sharing is fucked.

There's also Prop A, enacted under Engler, which caps the value that real estate is assessed at for taxes based on a yearly formula. A lot of the vacant houses you see are worth as much to the tax roles as working houses, which means that there's little incentive to buy one and redevelop it, especially since that means a reassessment, which kicks the rate up higher.

As to state control, the state has taken over parts of Detroit government, such as failing schools, and it's been a debacle, with the state often losing as much or more money than the city did. That's compounded by the fact that Michigan is basically a Republican state, plus Detroit, which is Democratic. So the rest of the state is often looking for ways to make their lives better with little regard for Detroit's problems.

Finally, in terms of kicking the city while it was down, Kwame gutted the comptroller offices, in part to hide his own malfeasance. Detroit has the highest rate of uncollected taxes in the country, or did a couple years back when this was going down, so Kwame cut the budget for enforcement.

Noting all that, and noting that Detroit is not now as bad as it was during the recession of the late '80s and early '90s, it's fucking galling to have a whole bunch of bullshit about how it was egalitarianism and diversity that caused these problems, especially since those are just fucking codewords for "Black people did it because they're black, and we white people need to take over the city."

Detroit does need a huge federal influx of aid, but it also needs a lot of fucking internal reform, otherwise it'll just be a poster for the same racists saying that just goes to show that blacks can't be helped. Thank God Detroit has good folks there, willing to work hard to make it a livable place again.
posted by klangklangston at 1:09 PM on April 4, 2009 [37 favorites]


Sag zum Abschied leise Servus

posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:25 PM on April 4, 2009


Detroit Train Station
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:30 PM on April 4, 2009


Klangklangston, you are so right it's not even funny. And, to add, not only does the city receive remarkably little financial assistance from the region and state -- which it absolutely has to have; it's a city with infrastructure for 2 million, trying to support itself on tax revenues from 800,000 people, most of whom are much, much poorer than the median from when the city was thriving -- it also has to deal with continual downward pressure from, for example, insurance companies and banks. Quick, get a loan for a business in Detroit. Quick, try to insure that business. Quick, move to Detroit and get insurance quotes for your car, which you have to have because the city doesn't have enough money to run a decent transit network. It may look like the cost of living in Detroit is staggeringly low, but if you don't live below the radar in one way or another (don't insure your car, or claim somewhere outside of Detroit as your residence), it can be actually more expensive to live there than in the suburbs or in decent cities. Sometimes it seems like every single major institution in America is telling people to abandon Detroit, in the clearest way possible -- by monetarily punishing them for staying or for moving there.

Unfortunately for the region, the governments of the places with money and white people are just as corrupt and blinkered as the city government itself, though maybe not in as cinematic a way. When residents of the whateveritis surrounding the city ("suburbs" isn't quite the right word, I think -- the sprawl, with a few exceptions[1], is an aggressively regimented supergrid of indistinguishable strip malls and indistinguishable single-family homes that makes Levittown seem like cutting-edge urban planning) say that they should be running things, look into the career of L. Brooks Patterson, county executive of Oakland County (the richest of the bordering areas), who started his career as a crusader against busing and sort of got worse from there.

Sometimes I feel like it's almost impossible for people from other area to understand the specific nature and severity of the mismanagement of the entire region.


[1]: Ferndale's a nice little town, for whatever it's worth...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:34 PM on April 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the link, yoyo_nyc. This one, in particular, is horribly ironic.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:38 PM on April 4, 2009




Noting all that, and noting that Detroit is not now as bad as it was during the recession of the late '80s and early '90s

In what way was the city worse during the late 1980s/early 1990s? Perhaps my evidence is strictly anecdotal, but I lived in the Harper/Cadieux area during that time, and there were no abandoned houses within the DARE (Detroit Area Residents East) boundaries until the mid-1990s. There were a few chain restaurants/stores in the area, and our streetlights and fire hydrants were in working order. When I moved to the DARE area in the very late 80s, many of my neighbors referred to it as "Grosse Pointe living at Detroit prices." By the time I moved out in 1999, my block was dotted with boarded-up, abandoned houses. Baskin-Robbins, 7-11, Boston Market, Burger King, Kavan's and the Golden Lion (our nearest upscale restaurant) had all closed. The Michigan National Bank branch on Morang (close enough so that I could walk there to do my banking) closed after the Comerica bank shooting down the street. During the time I lived in the area, the Kensington branch of the US Post Office installed counter-to-ceiling bulletproof glass and all transactions had to be conducted through a Lazy Susan. Our local public library branch closed due to lack of funds. Again, all these changes occurred in the latter part of the 1990s, long past the late 80s recession. And, again, perhaps my vision is limited to my immediate neighborhood and does not consider the goings-on at the City-County building.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:03 PM on April 4, 2009


klangklangston: not so fast.

Annexation was a way that cities used to keep things going, but that stopped decades ago in most places. I'm not aware of any state which permits cities to annex incorporated municipalities, and the 1960s-80s saw a wave of defensive incorporations nationwide as suburban municipalities sought to avoid being sucked into their urban neighbors. Detroit is far from alone in its inability to annex its neighbors. Most cities haven't been able to do that for a while.

Detroit is also not alone in being politically opposed to the rest of the state. Philadelphia is massively Blue, but most of the rest of the state is reliably Republican. It seems to be doing more or less okay. Michigan isn't even that terribly unbalance: a good chunk, if not a majority, of the population lives in a Democratic congressional district. The countryside may indeed hate the city, but Detroit is hardly alone in that situation. Country/court tensions go back centuries, but I don't know of anywhere that has collapsed as badly as Detroit has.

I'd be with you on the idea that spectacular city mismanagement is perhaps the biggest contributor here, but I don't think that's at all hostile to my argument. Yeah, mismanagement, even criminal mismanagement, has plagued the Detroit region for decades. Detroit is, if anything, an example of what you get if you elect idiots for several decades running. Which makes my suggestion that Detroit's ability to self-govern be reduced or eliminated not entirely unreasonable. Detroit's inability to change the form of government supports my argument.

Bell Curve my ass.
posted by valkyryn at 2:12 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Detroit has at-large elections for city council.

Interesting, again. In most southern cities and others outside of the region with traditionally large minority populations, only a certain number of at-large districts have been allowed by the Justice Dept., or at least this had been the case before the Bush administration changes started taking effect. I would think that pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act would apply in Detroit, unless the white population is just so minimal as to not make any difference. In New Orleans, where I live, the white population is a minority but its voter turnout is large enough to make a difference in at-large elections. Before Katrina, there was one-large white rep. Now, there are two (one a former council person who strong recognition who ran against a black district-level incumbent with strong name recognition; the black crossover vote for the white candidate was larger than vice versa).
posted by raysmj at 2:17 PM on April 4, 2009


> I would think that pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act would apply in Detroit, unless the white population is just so minimal as to not make any difference.

Pre-Clearance unfortunately was never an actual conditional list, but a specific list created of the worst offenders at the time it was created, and no one has looked back. There are lots of little aspects about segregation and racism in the North that people have been able to quietly continue because all of the attention drawn to the Southern states due to the overt racism that had dominated the area for so long.

A lot of the same bullshit goes on everywhere in the US, but apparently "we fought to free slaves" is a get out of being racist card. In many ways, since the South was called on it, confronted on it numerous times, policies, organizations and community systems were developed in response to the racism. If in fact the VRA was reinterpreted to manage voters issues everywhere, not just specifically southern states/counties/towns with a legacy of voter suppression, it would be much more effective in numerous ways.
posted by mrzarquon at 2:28 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I ran with my tangent and got ahead of myself. The Pre-Clearance list is modifiable, it still hasn't really been changed, and I think if we were just to extend the procedures to all 50 states and be serious about monitoring the guidelines and creating systems and procedures to make it a manageable process (which would be required if every state had to comply, not just a handful who got caught), it would be a good thing. In other words, the VRA needs more support than it has right now.
posted by mrzarquon at 2:38 PM on April 4, 2009


...move the local elections so that they happen at a completely different time from the national and state elections. I know you would have to change the constitution...

There's nothing requiring state and local elections to be at the same time as national ones. Virginia, is are electing our governor, lg, attornery general, and state delegates this year. Historically this has given VA a few more Democrats in positions of powere than you might have otherwise seen (although with Virginia going Democratic on the federal level for the last couple cycles, it makes less difference now). New Jersey is, I think (someone correct me if I'm wrong), the only other state with a gubernatorial election this year. As for local elections, I know that Alexandria, VA will have its city council and school board elections this May. Although sometimes it's kind of annoying to essentially be in nonstop election season, it's also nice that some of these smaller races get more attention than they would otherwise.
posted by naoko at 2:40 PM on April 4, 2009


Sometimes it seems like every single major institution in America is telling people to abandon Detroit, in the clearest way possible

The biggest, the loudest, and the most effective invitation to leave Detroit was delivered by the rioters in the late 1960s, and the "rolling riot" crime waves of the next two decades. Not until "Amityville Horror," did we hear a voice more clearly and frighteningly telling people to "get out" -- not only of Detroit, but Cleveland and Newark, and other cities that were then taken over by racists and organized criminals (of several races). THAt got rid of the middle and upper middle class people and their businesses. Working class whites who couldn't afford to leave at that time got their invitation to leave in the form of forced school busing in the 70s -- easily the stupidest idea since slavery.
posted by Faze at 2:50 PM on April 4, 2009


Detroit's population was plummeting before the riots. It lost a greater proportion of its population in the 50s than it did in the 60s.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:34 PM on April 4, 2009


"In what way was the city worse during the late 1980s/early 1990s?"

Homocide rates peaked in 1974, then again in 1991, and have been declining per capita since. Violent crime rates are also down. Per capita incomes had been growing faster than inflation between 1989 and 1999 (though they're likely to fall again, noting that the next census figures will measure 2009). Gang activity is down. Education levels are up. That's just what I've been able to find looking at the census data for about 20 minutes.

"I'm not aware of any state which permits cities to annex incorporated municipalities, and the 1960s-80s saw a wave of defensive incorporations nationwide as suburban municipalities sought to avoid being sucked into their urban neighbors."

California. And by the '80s, most of the preventable demographic shift had happened.

"The countryside may indeed hate the city, but Detroit is hardly alone in that situation. Country/court tensions go back centuries, but I don't know of anywhere that has collapsed as badly as Detroit has."

However, the racial politics of Detroit and the state of Michigan as a whole contribute greatly to an unproductive antagonism. Which is the exact fucking opposite of your bullshit about egalitarianism and diversity. It's not just city/country, and the extent to which Michigan is segregated exacerbates the situation.

"I'd be with you on the idea that spectacular city mismanagement is perhaps the biggest contributor here, but I don't think that's at all hostile to my argument."

No, that'd be that every time the state has taken over part of Detroit to run, they've managed to fuck it up as much or more. Further, that argument has nothing to do with diversity or egalitarianism.

"Which makes my suggestion that Detroit's ability to self-govern be reduced or eliminated not entirely unreasonable. Detroit's inability to change the form of government supports my argument.

You'll be greeted as liberators.
posted by klangklangston at 4:07 PM on April 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Ah Detroit... the one place in North America that is is worse condition than Buffalo.
It's nice to be number two (from the bottom).
posted by Kellydamnit at 6:17 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bullshit, klangklangson. Bullshit.

The Constitution of the State of California, Article XI, Section 2(b) specifically prohibits unilateral municipal annexation. To annex neighboring territory, a municipality must secure the approval of a majority of the residents in the target territory. The only time you don't have to give targeted residents an opportunity to vote is if there are less than 12 people living in the targeted territory, which fits the state's definition of "uninhabited". I don't imagine this is a very productive way of expanding one's tax base. Ergo, Detroit is still not alone in its inability to annex neighboring municipalities. Cities generally lack the power to do this, and you've yet to show me a counter-example.

As to the rest of it, you've completely misinterpreted me, so I'll leave it at that.
posted by valkyryn at 6:37 PM on April 4, 2009


I spent the first half of my childhood, from 1967-1975, in a small town not far from Detroit. My mother tells stories from the late sixties and early seventies of people from Detroit driving around our neighborhood on Sundays, knocking on doors and offering to buy houses.

In high school, I was on the ski team, and we raced against Kingswood-Cranbrook. Now, anybody on a ski team is pretty affluent. But they were the only team with matching outfits, and they all had "regular" skis and a second pair of racing skis.

They always whupped our butts, and they always won the league.

And those are the two stories I have that relate to this post at all.
posted by not that girl at 6:44 PM on April 4, 2009


Isn't there part of the federal government that is supposed to step in any kick assholes like this out of office, for corruption this blatant?

I forgot to mention in my first, flippant answer: The governor of Michigan does have the Constitutional power to "remove or suspend from office for gross neglect of duty or for corrupt conduct in office, or for any other misfeasance or malfeasance therein, any elective or appointive state officer, except legislative or judicial," which includes city and county officials. She is loathe to use this power (she dodged using it on Mayor Kilpatrick) because it would turn Detroit voters against the state Democratic Party for years, and they would just elect a different set of morons anyway.

Now, tackling a bunch of poltical observations at once here:

jb: Moving elections to non-presidential years actually reduces voter turnout in the U.S. We've got enough problems with low turnout already, thank you very much.

klangklangston totally nails it, so far as the problem with electing the council at large goes: Most people vote for a bunch of names they recognize. In Detroit, that means "people with the same name as other politicians they like" (Has nobody mentioned that Monica Conyers is the wife of a U.S. Congressman?) and "people mentioned on TV a lot" (which unfortunately encourages a lot of theatrical poltics, both among incumbents and opponents).

Why the dependence on TV and family names? Two reasons: First, nobody reads newspapers in Detroit. (I blame the poor educational system that fusinki mentioned -- half of Detroit is functionally illiterate.) Second (and this the sad one), Detroit is too poor to support citywide campaigning. Corporate donors ignore the Council as ineffectual buffons who are cheaper to bribe then elect; the grassroots in Detroit is too poor to fund a citywide advertising campaign. To win a "small office" (city council, school board, or state legislature) you need name recognition or a damn good ground game.

Detroit's delegation to the state house shows what a ground game can do, because the districts are small enough that a canvassing operation can propel a newcomer into the state house -- some of Detroit's representatives in the state legislature are 20-somethings still in law school!

Where was I? Oh yeah -- having a poor and uneducated populace makes it easy to elect incompetent and crooked city council and school board members (we haven't dissed the school board enough in this thread; they're a serious problem, too), whose policies help keep the poplation poor and uneducated. Detroit has a lot of vicious circles, forming a Big Ass Venn Diagram of Fail.

That said, klang, 8 of Michigan's 15 congresspersons, both senators, and the governor are Democrats. Calling it a Republican state is a bit of a strech, don't you think? I'm a card-carrying white Democrat in MI-14 (Monica's husband's district, for you out-of-staters), and I feel pretty confident in saying the racial divide is a bigger problem for Detroit than the poltical divide. That guy from the Teamsters that Monica was yelling at? Probably not a Republican.

valkyryn: I always find comparisons of Detroit to Chicago and Philadelphia interesting. I like to tell people "Detroit politics is like Chicago politics, but without the money or the competency." At least in Chicago, the crooked politicians can get things built, you know?

And as a Michigander who occasionally goes to Philly for work, I always think that city is where Detroit was in the 1980s -- on the edge. I hope Philadelphia doesn't fall over it like Detroit did.

You Can't Tip a Buick: I like Ferndale, too.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 6:49 PM on April 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


faster than a speeding bulette, I think your comparison to Chicago is spot on. Its relationship with surrounding municipalities, many of which are quite wealthy, is often strained. It's a Democratic bastion in an otherwise moderate midwestern state. Yet somehow Chicago, which is if anything even more corrupt than Detroit, manages to keep a more-or-less viable city running and provide halfway-competent social services, and though it has almost three times as many people, it has 0.5% as many vacant dwellings. Something's just different.

On the other hand, I think Philadelphia is actually in better shape than you might think. True, the city has suffered from chronic low-level mismanagement for most of the past few decades, but there are new towers going up, and residential vacancy rates are under 10%. The Redevelopment Authority actually does fairly brisk business in seizing vacant/abandoned properties and selling them to people who will develop them. And again, everyone knows it's corrupt, but it is in fact possible to get something built there.
posted by valkyryn at 9:02 PM on April 4, 2009




There is a difference between being corrupt and being incompetent.
posted by fshgrl at 1:04 AM on April 5, 2009


A silver lining on the cloud of the Big Three's troubles may be to put enough strain on Michigan such that it finally cuts Detroit off. The evidence could not be more clear that every dime of outside money that goes into Detroit makes things worse, not better.

(It will never happen, but) Detroit's only shot at salvation is to become a free-trade zone: operated by and for businesses with the absolute minimum of taxation and regulation, accompanied by the complete dismantlement of the poverty pimp infrastructure which chokes opportunity and incentive now.
posted by MattD at 6:22 AM on April 5, 2009


It's amazing to open a thread like this and find people blaming white flight on black politicians. I mean, really. Is it because most of us can remember Coleman Young but the white leadership before him is ancient history? The current crop of idiots on city council gets the blame for racial antagonism but no-one mentions Hubbard, Guido or L Brooks Patterson, redlining...? This FPP reeks of the local TV news growing up, of rich white suburbanites pointing and laughing at the city they abandoned, encircled and strangled. "Tonight at 11, we take a close look at how those people can't even run a city without us." The poster has reproduced the sneering, context-free contempt so well, you'd think the poster lived right inside Oakland County! I mean this:

You want to fix Detroit? Give all of us suburbanites who pay city taxes a vote. We'll have these jackasses out on their butts so fast it would make Joe Louis' head spin.

is so ill I don't know where to start. You'd have a vote if you hadn't moved out. Ceaseless bitching about the 2% Detroit income tax still going strong 20 years later, I see.

suggesting that America officially abandon its largest mostly-black city just isn't politically feasible.

That's why it has been unofficial policy for the last forty to fifty years.
posted by BinGregory at 8:23 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


BinGregory, Orville Hubbard was a segregationist, but so was Coleman Young. Young even said in an interview once that he admired Hubbard as a mayor, because "he got the job done." Roman Gribbs is the first Detroit mayor I actively remember, and even though my family is white, my parents voted for Richard Austin in that election. During the '67 riots my family lived within walking distance of the Light Guard Armory on Eight Mile Road next to Farwell Field. I remember my Dad walking there with us as close as we could get so my little brothers could see all the Jeeps pulling out of the lot. (I've read that tanks were used by the National Guard during the riots, but I only remember Jeeps filled with guardsmen pulling out onto Eight Mile, one after the other.) And yes, the 2% tax rankles when you get absolutely zero city services for your money. I'll admit it irks me to see my tax dollars used to pay police officers to drive council members' children to school in the 'burbs while the police force is stretched so thin that unless it's a homicide, forget about them showing up on a crime scene - just come into the station and file a report. I still lived in Detroit during the Dennis Archer administration, and a lot of us had hope for the city then; DOT buses started running on schedule, most of the street lights operational, and the garbage pick-up service (including once-a-month bulk trash curbside pick-up) was a cut above the service several of my suburban friends had in their neighborhoods.

I didn't always live in Oakland County, and even after I moved there I still worked in Detroit and paid city taxes. And since the company I worked for was in a somewhat "unsavory" neighborhood (let's face it, heavy industries like steel processing plants are never located in quaint, tidy neighborhoods) we were more highly impacted by the paucity of city services. After years of lobbying (and paying those pesky city taxes, both personal and corporate), we never got any sort of reply from City Hall about having the dirt/gravel sidestreet that provided access to six different plants paved. I remember sending certified letters to various members of the City Council on behalf of my boss requesting a meeting to discuss the issue, and not only did we never receive a response, we never got any of the signed certified mail cards back. Of course, we did not have mail delivery in that neighborhood (too dangerous for the carriers) and had to pick up all our mail daily at the Park Grove post office, so maybe the return cards got lost in the shuffle... Anyway, the six plants formed a sort of co-op and paid to pave the street privately. I still kept in touch with folks from that company after I left and heard that six years after they'd paved that street, the City finally investigated the issue and upon finding that the road was already paved, and was taking steps to assess fines for having done so without the proper permits...
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:41 AM on April 5, 2009


It's amazing to open a thread like this and find people blaming white flight on black politicians.

Say what? One poster before you brought up white flight, and blamed it on whites' reactions to school busing in the 1960s. Yeah, there are still white people who don't want to spend time around black people, and that's a damn offensive shame. But it's not Detroit's current big problem.

Know why it's not Detroit's current big problem? Detroit's poplation is 8% white. All of those white people could disappear tomorrow, and it wouldn't mean much. Detroit's doesn't have a problem with white flight anymore; it's got a problem with middle class flight. Middle-class blacks leaving Detroit to live in places like Southfield and Romulus, and they're fleeing because Detroit isn't very well run right now. (I bet half of them would tell you they moved because they want better schools for their kids.)

There are still problems with getting white Michiganders to care what happens in Detroit, but that's not the big problem here. Granholm, Ficano, Patterson, etc. are all for working with Detroit on the Cobo Center issue; the Mayor is all for working with the counties; it's Detroit's council that out of control, and making racial attacks on white people who are trying to work with them.

So, BinGregory, let's put aside the old "Who was worse in the 1960s?" argument (because I think you and I actually agree on that one), and step back to the present: Please, tell us how you would get the middle class to move back to Detroit without getting a better city council to run the place first. We're all ears.

Detroit's only shot at salvation is to become a free-trade zone: operated by and for businesses with the absolute minimum of taxation and regulation

Yeah, and while you're at it, maybe you can replace the courthouse with a Thunderdome.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 11:11 AM on April 5, 2009


I cannot believe this shrill, ignorant woman a) is John Conyers' wife, b) has a JD from Columbia Law. Amazing.
posted by inoculatedcities at 11:23 AM on April 5, 2009


There is a difference between being corrupt and being incompetent.
posted by fshgrl at 3:04 AM on April 5 [+] [!]


it's much worse when you're incompetent at being corrupt.
posted by lester at 3:50 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're right. We need solutions. Detroit should follow the lead of the surrounding burbs, like East Detroit. They realized it was the name "Detroit" that was holding them back, so they voted to change their name to Eastpointe, after the desirable old money *Pointe towns. Detroit should do the same! How about Waterford? That's a nice, inoffensive place, lots of lakes and green spaces, decent schools. Detroit should rename itself South Waterford Township. Or you know, Sowato for short.
posted by BinGregory at 6:53 PM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


SEMCOG, L Brooks Patterson and the politics of sprawl


Many suburban officials, including Republican Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, insist that Detroit and its inner suburbs can only blame themselves for their condition. Spread-out suburban development is fine with him. “I love sprawl,” the respected Mr. Patterson said last fall. “I need it. I promote it. Oakland County can’t get enough of it.”

...

Auburn Hills, a white, upscale suburban Oakland County community of 20,000 that is little more than a series of exits ramps on I-75, won big. The city, which didn’t exist until 1983, claimed over $25 million for streetscape improvements, new roads, a bicycle path, and other amenities. That’s $5 million more than Pontiac -- population 66,000 --received; and $2 million more than Detroit, with just under one million people.
posted by BinGregory at 12:44 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


White Flight never went away and is still Detroit's number one problem. It is just called urban sprawl nowadays. You can't start and stop a discussion on Detroit's problems with the Detroit City Council, because Detroit is not the city limits of Detroit. Detroit is an urban area of 4.5 people across 5 counties. The failure of that Detroit is at the hands of city councils and executives, yes including Detroit's, that are every bit as corrupt and racist as the people in this FPP. What'll save Detroit? When Peak Sprawl is reached, transportation, water and sewer infrastructure can't be stretched any further out, and economic reality implode people back to the center. One day, one day.
posted by BinGregory at 1:33 AM on April 6, 2009


So that’s transportation. Another running theme in Detroit-suburb relations is the attempt to strip Detroit of its remaining assets:

Repeal of Residency Requirements for City Workers, passed 1999. An act of naked aggression against Detroit, it makes city residency illegal while allowing for requirements of a geographic radius from city boundaries. In effect, the transfer of city employees to the surrounding suburbs, a marginal benefit to the burbs, a mortal wound to Detroit, where city workers are the only thing keeping many neighborhoods stable. The block I grew up on was no exception, once majority city worker, now no doubt swallowed up by the madness that was always pressing in. Thanks for nothing, Fat John.

Water Takeover Bill, a perennial favorite.
“The City of Detroit built the water system,” Senator Basham said. “Its citizens paid for its construction through bonds that the city issued. When the suburbs determined the cost of building their own water system, it was cost-prohibitive. They asked that Detroit’s waterline be extended, which the city did at its own expense.”
“Now legislators from these same suburbs”, Mr. Basham continued, “are attempting to power grab, claiming they deserve control of the system. Let’s set the record straight. The customers who receive water from the Detroit water board are just that. They are customers. Paying the City of Detroit for providing the suburbs with water does not mean that they own the system anymore than, I say again, shopping at K-Mart for 20 years means that I own a share of K-Mart.”

John Engler – 12 years of elected office.
George Kuhn – 20 years of elected office.
L Brooks Patterson - 32 years of elected office. Running for Governor.

When will the voters of Oakland County do something to stem the bleeding? Vigorously antagonistic anti-Detroit politicians seem to be championed and revered by a seemingly significant portion of the population, so maybe that's what people want.
posted by BinGregory at 8:53 PM on April 6, 2009


White Flight never went away and is still Detroit's number one problem. It is just called urban sprawl nowadays... What'll save Detroit? When Peak Sprawl is reached, transportation, water and sewer infrastructure can't be stretched any further out, and economic reality implode people back to the center.

So your solution to Detroit's problems is "wait unitl something forces the white people to move back?"

Seriously, I'm stunned. You were the one implying racism in the members who want Detroit's current leadership to do something but you just want to wait until the population is whiter. WTF? Seriously, dude: WTF?

I'm going to an MI-14 Democratic meeting today. I'll be sure to bring up your plan to the precinct delegates from Detroit. No doubt they'll be thrilled at your suggestions.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 5:42 AM on April 11, 2009


My theory is that you are not talking about the "philosophy" of Ayn Rand, but rather meant to use the word objectivity, which also seems incoherent in this context.

you may be right - I'm not sure. chalk it up to my shoddy english. I started by thinking "this is commentary pretending to be an objective assessment" and made a noun. I briefly checked it against my dictionary ("the belief that certain things, esp. moral truths, exist independently of human knowledge or perception of them") and used it assuming I'd be understood. I clearly wasn't and that's my mistake.

what I was trying to say was the message of your post was "I think this person is..." while you were writing in a way that would suggest the argument was "it is a fact that this person is ...". those are two different things and especially when we are talking about individuals who are elected and have an impact on our lives it's important to keep that in mind. not doing so will encourage fear in those who are doing anything that they may find themselves at the mercy of the vocal who just happen to disagree.

please note I am not passing any judgement on the individual acts alleged to have been committed by the persons at the center of this post.

I don't see what race has to do with any of it
look again and actually try to see it.
posted by krautland at 6:56 AM on April 11, 2009


"Please, tell us how you would get the middle class to move back to Detroit..."
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 2:11 AM on April 6 [+] [!]

"So your solution to Detroit's problems is "wait unitl something forces the white people to move back?""
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 8:42 PM on April 11 [+] [!]

Hm. How did you go from the middle class to white people? Look, let's not do this. Nothing is more nauseating than two white boys trying to prove the other is a racist on the internet. Listen. Nobody is calling you are anyone else in this thread a racist for living in the suburbs. White Flight was not solely about race. Neither is Urban Sprawl. They are two terms for the same movement of people away from urban areas. It is a phenomenon that has been enabled by certain sets of policies (including housing loan requirements and the way Federal road funds get distributed), certain economic realities (including cheap gas) and certain social forces in American culture (including racism), some of which I've presented reasonable links about. You'll find the organization that I linked repeatedly to above, the MLUI, to be a good source of practical ideas on how to fight policies that enable sprawl, right there in Michigan. Lucky for us, the economic realities that we are least able to affect are in the middle of changing as we speak, as we run up against the limits of perpetual expansion. When the math of commuting from Livingston County to Detroit just can't add up. That's what I was getting at in the paragraph that irked you so.

I'm real glad to hear you're politically involved and you've stayed with the metro area, if not the city. That's more than I can say for myself. But you're missing my point pretty widely if you think my idea of a solution is more whites to Detroit. What I came here to say is that the problem is bigger than the City of Detroit. The FPP makes it out as though the City of Detroit is a failure politically when in fact it is Southeast Michigan, Metro Detroit, that fails when Detroit fails, and the blame is equally on the very powerful, long-serving political bosses surrounding the City and the misguided policies they have pursued in opposition to the City, since before Coleman Young ever took office, as it is on Council or the Mayor.
posted by BinGregory at 10:23 AM on April 11, 2009


I assume you're equating "middle class" with "white" because you keep using the words 'white flight' after other people tried to dismiss the term and discuss middle-class african americans.

Seriously, if you don't want a racially-charged discussion, stop using racially-charged terms. Suddenly annoucing you included black people in the term "white flight" makes you look daft.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 6:55 AM on April 23, 2009


Urban decline in the US, of which Detroit is literally the textbook example, was synonymous with white flight in its early stages and is now synonymous with urban sprawl. I'd like to claim credit for a radical new idea but alas, it is common knowledge to anyone with a passing interest in the subject.

The term White Flight is not "racially-charged". It is a phenomenon that has been well described and well studied by geographers, sociologists and anyone else who looks seriously at the urban history of the US over the last 60 years. Academics do argue about how much of a role racism played in white flight but I don't think anyone doubts the existence of the thing itself or deprecates the term.

Racism was one driving factor in Detroit's decline and remains a component to this day. The fact that middle class blacks are also able to escape the center city nowadays does not change the extremely vivid racial dimension of urban decline in the U S of A and Detroit in particular. I don't have to point out to you that Detroit is at the very top of the list of America's most segregated metro areas year after year after year, despite 20 years of black outmigration to the suburbs. Why? Take a look at Southfield in 2002, second page, under the big heading WHITE FLIGHT.

To conclude: White Flight is not a myth, nor a relic of the distant past, nor is the term an insult to you or other white folks in Metro Detroit or in this thread. Please get over this. If I wanted to talk trash about racist Downriver hillbillies, I would just do that.

************

How sprawl makes us poor
by john a. powell
When the government first put its national purse behind sprawl, it was explicitly stated in racial terms. The suburbs were designated for whites and heavily subsidized by federal mortgage programs, while the cities, where minorities primarily lived, were redlined and excluded from participating in these federal programs. With the white middle-class -- and more recently the black and Hispanic middle-class -- driving sprawl, most low-income blacks and Latinos have been isolated in the declining core away from jobs and resources.
My emphasis.

Bigger picture stuff by the same author:
Urban Fragmentation as a Barrier to Equal Opportunity (PDF)
posted by BinGregory at 12:13 PM on April 23, 2009


lester: "it's much worse when you're incompetent at being corrupt."

But if they're competent at being corrupt, nobody ever catches them.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:51 PM on April 23, 2009


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