Thursday, October 01, 2009

Detroit's Future -- America's

Detroit was once the nation's 4th largest city, boasting 1.8 million people. It was America's manufacturing giant, the home of the automakers that made America hum. Ford, GM, Chrysler -- the Big 3. Times have changed, the city, which sprawls out over about 135 square miles is now at about 900,000 and ranks number 11.

For some reason Detroit is a city people love to make fun of. Maybe it's due to the recent revelations of corruption and silliness by the city's former mayor and some of its council members. But there is more to the story than what gets thrown out there, and as resident of one of this downtrodden city's suburbs, I have come to have a greater interest in its situation.

With that said, I turn to the Time Magazine cover story written by Daniel Orkent entitled:

Detroit: The Death — and Possible Life — of a Great City

This is an article that needs to be read by everyone in America, not just people living in Southeast Michigan, because what is happening in Detroit could be the face of a nation's future.

Orkent opens his essay with these words:

If Detroit had been savaged by a hurricane and submerged by a ravenous flood, we'd know a lot more about it. If drought and carelessness had spread brush fires across the city, we'd see it on the evening news every night. Earthquake, tornadoes, you name it — if natural disaster had devastated the city that was once the living proof of American prosperity, the rest of the country might take notice.

And this is true. Detroit wasn't hit by natural disasters, it was hit, like other "rust belt" cities with economic changes that it was not equipped to navigate. Unfortunately, no one has rallied to help. We hear the nation sneeringly say that they would buy American, if the American companies made cars people wanted to buy. Well that may have been true before, but the much smaller three are making some good cars these days.

While the culprits are many -- auto industry, unions, politicians, etc. But there are other players like racism and white flight. Oakland County was the beneficiary of White Flight, and there is a clear dividing line between Detroit and Oakland County. The nation needs to pay attention -- both to the causes of the fall and the possibilities of resurrection (I'm going to use a theological term here).

There are signs of new life, even if hard times remain. There is a new mayor who is making difficult choices, but also recognizing that Detroit will never be 1.5 million people again and that it needs to adjust its infrastructure accordingly. The same is true of the school district, which has been ravaged by corruption and mismanagement -- but there is hope here as well.
But, as Orkent reminds us -- unemployment in the city is 28.9%. That compares to 11% in New Orleans at its worst.

Ironically, due to the fact that the auto industry was so prevalent, the region is full of well trained engineers and workers, who could be the vanguard of a new green manufacturing focus. And thus this observation:

It is — and it isn't. That's because the story of Detroit is not simply one of a great city's collapse. It's also about the erosion of the industries that helped build the country we know today. The ultimate fate of Detroit will reveal much about the character of America in the 21st century. If what was once the most prosperous manufacturing city in the nation has been brought to its knees, what does that say about our recent past? And if it can't find a way to get up, what does that say about our future?

So, is Detroit's future, America's future? Can Detroit rise from the dead? Can it partner with it's suburban neighbors -- or will the two continue to try to live as if the other doesn't matter? The new mayor seems to understand that the two need each other, so does L. Brooks Patterson, the powerful Oakland County Executive understand this? Will the racial divide continue to color the relationships? Only time will tell -- and as we wait to see what happens, we must wonder about America's future.

*** Note on the picture by Sean Hemmerle from the website -- this is the picture of much of Detroit -- abandoned homes, factories. For more pictures of Detroit's situation by Hemmerle, click here. Could this be America's future?


Anonymous said...

There has alwoays been a lot of love and tender memories of the old Detriot in the suburbs, even from those who remained bitter. It seems like we finally are getting to a point where relations have warmed up. I heard about this story in Time. Hopefully it helps get us to a "critical mass" of real compassion and mutual support. David Mc

Anonymous said...

There is more to this story. Evidently the black who became mayor saw his reaching this office as payback time. This led to not only white flight to the suburbs but also to people just plain leaving. I understand now that the population within the city limits is 80-90% black.

Anonymous said...

One new mayor will not be able to overcome 20 years of revengeful politics before him. The "MFIC" as he called himself only served to deepened the divide, anger, and hate. The vengeance of people does not accomplish God's righteous desires for people to be in right relationship with each other both across and within racial, socio-economic groups.

Anonymous said...

Coleman Young is long gone. He called himself The "MFIC". Why are you trying to disparage the new mayor? Dave Bing seems to have his heart in the right place. He's had fame and glory and is successful in his own right. Give Detroit a chance at last.

Young's reign was a reaction to white racism. He was a shrewd Politian. Kwame Kilpatrick was a crook-yes, but they took care of him- unlike Colman who reigned 20 years in spite of playing the same games. These are signs of real progress.

Detroit's motto, Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus, coined in 1827 to memorialize a devastating fire, translates from Latin as "We hope for better things; it shall arise from the ashes."

Why are you still smoldering?

By the way, I often visited Memphis as a young child, while they still had official segregation. I saw as a child how stupid we whites were. I also saw, and still think, Africans are the most attractive and pleasant people I have ever known as a group. What's your beef? Dumb fear?
David Mc

Anonymous said...

Hey now, Brooks used to be Oakland County's answer to Coleman Young. Tell me things haven't changed-

David Mc