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Another World is Possible, Another US is Necessary
June 21, 2010 6:15 PM   Subscribe

The United States Social Forum (USSF) is being held in Detroit, MI, starting tomorrow, June 22nd-26th. Organizers are expecting as many as 20,000 people to attend. Could this meeting make Detroit a model for growth that can be propagated elsewhere?
posted by one teak forest (24 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
The USSF is modeled after the World Social Forum, as previously posted here on the blue. Sorry if I missed anything, I searched as thoroughly as possible.
posted by one teak forest at 6:18 PM on June 21, 2010


Free city block to every attendee!
posted by goatdog at 7:28 PM on June 21, 2010


You have to actually produce the growth before you can start patting yourself on the back and calling yourself a model.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:39 PM on June 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


What, doesn't growth in bien pensant Huffington Post articles about community gardens and bottom-up decision making count?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:59 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


You have to actually produce the growth before you can start patting yourself on the back and calling yourself a model.

This is what I was going to say.

Additionally, there may be a lot of promise in what Detroit is doing, especially as a model for other rust belt cities in countries that have chosen to not make public investments in infrastructure and services, in the same way that you can find publicly-financed models in Europe.

As a model for anywhere else, I'm not seeing it.

Moreover, the "model for growth" article is the same thing that's been written since the 1960s, if not long before -- a highly optimistic description of one-off experiments presented as models for national or global development. It's fun to read, but it's worth remembering what makes the exceptions work, and what keeps them from working elsewhere.
posted by Forktine at 8:09 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Grace lee Boggs is a wonderful woman who has served as a voice of conscience for Detroit, but her criticism of Mayor Bing seems to me to be largely based on her automatic criticism of anything that stems from the existing power structure. Bing--as far as I can tell--is breaking with a lot of traditional models of running Detroit. Yes, of course, he is part of the capitalist power structure, and as much as I'd like to nominate Detroit as the site of our new socialist republic, I'm pretty sure that model would fail with there being damn little production for labor to command if all the business owners all at once decided to cede control.

As another take on what has already been said here, Detroit is desperately seeking a model that will work--maybe the USSF will be the germination of the Detroit seed.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:38 PM on June 21, 2010


no. Next question?
posted by milnak at 8:43 PM on June 21, 2010


This process should focus more on cultivating Detroit into the sustainable small to mid-sized city that it would have been if the auto industry had never been there. It will never be what it used to be.
posted by thorny at 8:53 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


You have to actually produce the growth before you can start patting yourself on the back and calling yourself a model.

Just having a model would be a good start. There simply weren't any ideas for growth in that Huffington Post article - just some feel-good handwaving about how the USSF will bring ideas without any specifics.
posted by ripley_ at 8:56 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually detroit is in the process of demolishing a bunch of old buildings because they just make the city harder to maintain. So it'll be a while before they have to start worrying about growth.
posted by delmoi at 9:14 PM on June 21, 2010


What, doesn't growth in bien pensant Huffington Post articles about community gardens and bottom-up decision making count?

Is it impossible that the HuffPo articles have some basis in fact? Detroit, in fact, does have a growing urban agriculture sector. The City of Detroit is a uniquely appropriate place for the USSF (full disclosure: I am attending) because it has been left behind by the government+free market for many basic needs, including fresh foods. As for bottom-up decision making, obviously not every small decision gets written about in the paper; but the vacuum left in this city by the retreat of government and private industry has opened huge possibilities for the non-profit sector and more radical forms of solidarity economics advanced by most groups attending the USSF.
posted by ofthestrait at 9:21 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh dear. This is not quite the kind of discussion I was hoping would happen. Sorry for linking to Huffington Post. I linked to USSF largely to give the forum greater awareness and possibly encourage people with the ability to do so, to go.
posted by one teak forest at 10:32 PM on June 21, 2010


Thanks for posting this. I'm sad I'm not in Detroit this week, with many of my co-workers and friends, and I'm looking forward to what comes out of these meetings. It's a powerful group of people assembling there, tackling some hard topics, and I wish them all the best.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:02 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't it be better for Detroit to try to become a model for shrinking cities?
posted by molecicco at 1:21 AM on June 22, 2010


Organizers are expecting as many as 20,000 people to attend. Could this meeting make Detroit a model for growth that can be propagated elsewhere?

...or will only 14,000 people show up demonstrating that not the USSF wants to be in Detroit.

But in all seriousness, yeah, rather than trying to make it a model for something it is not, why not make it a model for something it is.

Detroit: How to strengthen a city that once relied on corporate goodwill, and why a large populaton should not rely on corporate goodwill to eat
posted by hal_c_on at 3:09 AM on June 22, 2010


Detroit became Detroit because of ease of shipping. Detroit could import raw materials, convert them to durable goods and export the durable goods easily. Their heyday was before the rest of the world had (somewhat) caught up in engineering. Detroit was viable until the global economy.
The wage differential between the more developed countries and the less developed countries more than makes up for the shipping cost advantage, reputation, and access to consumers Detroit formerly enjoyed.
I have friends from Detroit and regret the current circumstance but the advantage it once had is gone and the critical mass that sustains large cities is gone. Detroit in the future will never be Detroit of old. I think the sentiment expressed above by molecicco is exactly right but may be too late: "Wouldn't it be better for Detroit to try to become a model for shrinking cities?"
What I said sounds horrible and I'm sad about this but probably Detroit is better as an example of how to recognize where we failed to identify the symptoms of collapse and arrest the process rather than an exercise in resurrection to former glory. There will be a Detroit but it won't be recognizable relative to what it used to be.


"This is not quite the kind of discussion I was hoping would happen."
They almost never are but that's not a bad thing at all.
posted by vapidave at 3:15 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


How to strengthen a city that once relied on corporate goodwill, and why a large populaton should not rely on corporate goodwill to eat

You'd think that the interesting issues in Detroit would be about microfinance and ways of recognizing property ownership for places like have been abandoned and reused (eg, the urban gardens). Recognized ownership of property turns those gardens into assets that can be improved and borrowed against in order to invest in new opportunities.

The interesting problem for Detroit is less about finding a "model for growth" than "a model for how to peacefully shrink." When the global economy isn't an option, how do you create a viable local economy?

Also, I have some rather cynical attitudes about the non-profit sector, so I can't help but suspect that consciously or unconsciously its members see Detroit and the USSF as potentially fertile ground to propagate themselves.
posted by deanc at 4:03 AM on June 22, 2010


They're really at the point now in Detroit where they might want to seriously consider bringing in OCP to run the place.
posted by pjdoland at 5:01 AM on June 22, 2010


I'd like to hear more discussion about the USSF. Is anyone here going? What are your goals for attending the conference? I'd like to go but I'm at work.
posted by mai at 7:31 AM on June 22, 2010


Here's a very interesting article in Truthout regarding Detroit and the USSF.
posted by HuronBob at 7:42 AM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


My wife is attending the USSF this week.. I printed out the program for her last night, bugger was 115 pages long, there is a LOT happening there... Her intent is to plug into some alternative economy/barter information/groups/business.
posted by HuronBob at 7:44 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh dear. This is not quite the kind of discussion I was hoping would happen

Not your fault, OP. Despite the DetroitFilter complaints and that rare insightful discussion or two, MeFi rarely does Detroit threads with anything approaching nuance or class. But give folks time to get their HURF DURF HUFFPO / DETROIT IZ SCARY AND POOR! jollies in and maybe it will turn into something worthwhile. (Full disclosure: I agree that Huffington Post has become the worst sort of tabloid sleaze.)

The USSF is up against some oddly negative local news coverage, to boot. One local TV news crew managed to produce an entire three minute segment without discussing the stated aims of the gathering whatsoever, effectively dismissing the USSF as angry activists aiming to smash the state. I have some good, old friends busting their asses to contribute this year and I am thankful you posted this and drew some attention to it.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:01 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


One local TV news crew managed to produce an entire three minute segment without discussing the stated aims of the gathering whatsoever, effectively dismissing the USSF as angry activists aiming to smash the state.

Well, just read the links to the coverage that USSF supporters have provided and talk of "solidarity economics" and vague but hype-sounding mentions of "the great grassroots organizing that is going on".

People who discuss 3rd world poverty issues and sustainable development issues sound, to me, like they have more concrete things to talk about. The USSF people come across as saying, "yay! people are 'organizing'!" The focus sounds a lot like people getting excited about organizing not so much about what they are doing or why this would be useful.
posted by deanc at 9:38 AM on June 22, 2010


I agree somewhat with deanc - sometimes people on the left forget how their words sound to an outside audience. They sound like they are preaching to the choir so they end up doing so.

On the other hand, I think the most important thing about USSF is not the way it plays in the mass media but how effectively it connects people in attendance with each other and helps them share useful information. It does have broad aims which is why it can be hard to put them in to a quick soundbite.
posted by mai at 10:30 AM on June 22, 2010


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