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The Detroit Wince
I have a conference to attend in Detroit, so I flew out a few days early to visit my extended family, which is spread across Michigan.
My first stop was Sault Ste. Marie on the Canadian border. When I grabbed a meal at a local eatery the waitress asked where I drove in from. “Detroit,” I said, to which she made a funny face and said, “sorry.”
I visited my 100-year-old grandma who spent most of her life in the state. The sweet, kindly, 4’8” centenarian who taught me to cuss in Finnish asked where the conference was. “Detroit,” I yelled to make sure she heard me. “Why would they meet there?” followed by a disapproving face.
Uncles in Kalamazoo, aunts in Grand Rapids, cousins in farm country and baristas from one end of the state to the other all gave me the same look when I mentioned the state’s biggest city. It was so ubiquitous I named it the Detroit Wince.
Even people who are fond of Detroit as their hometown use an apologetic tone whenever the place is mentioned. Whether they blame the unions, the auto industry, politicians or dumb fate, the city has become less of a place than shorthand for complete urban failure.
While I’m here, I expect to hear ideas to fix the mess through a mix of private enterprise, political action and individual ingenuity. I know we have plenty of Michiganders on Ricochet as well as others all too familiar with Detroit’s descent. I would love to hear a few ideas from you that I can share with the “experts.”Published in General
There was an article (I don’t recall where I read it, City Journal maybe?) that identified a problem in how we deal with municipalities changing over time. As places grow and expand, services are added, infrastructure is built, and things like annexation are used to adapt to the growth. However, when cities die, there are few mechanisms to deal with this. What Detroit could use is consolidation. How you get there is the problem. As neighborhoods dwindle whether by people leaving or dying off, you are left with scattered individual homes (sometimes only one home on a street) being all that’s left populated. These residents refuse to move, but they also refuse to pay the true cost for the services the city provides. They want to continue living where they’ve always lived with the prices they’ve always paid. This becomes a political problem for the city because no one wants to be the guy on TV confronted by an elderly widow whose water was shut off. Would this be a justifiable use of eminent domain provided people’s homes were replaced in the new, smaller city? How do you get people to buy into necessary consolidation?
I agree with Wiskey Sam. If you look at the official stats for the state, there are plenty of counties in the state that are just as poor as Wayne County, the home of Detroit. Those “blighted” areas are never discussed because they are filled with small towns. Yes, there’s fewer people involved, but also the problems are dispersed. Letting a city like Detroit (or Flint, for that matter) grow was a terrible mistake. Detroit is too big, California is too big, Gazprom is too big. The lust for gigantism pleases the egos of empire builders but sets up a disaster scenario for the future.
New rule: what do you do with an entity that’s too big to fail? Pull out the props immediately.
Slightly off the subject, but I thought I heard somewhere that rich people from China were buying lots of properties dirt cheap in Detroit. Any truth to that ? If so, why? What are they planning to do ?
Detroit just needs to be unincorporated, and all debts dissolved.
We then need to erect a great big monument inscribed with “Here lies the greatest industrial city the world has ever created, laid to waste by the hubris of technocracy.”
When people in Sault St Marie look down on you, you know you got problems.
At least it wasn’t Sarnia!
Detroit needs to undergo the gentrification that NYC enjoyed in the 80s and 90s. Oh wait! It already has and it is called Birmingham/Bloomfield Hills with a charming downtown area, big mall, restaurants, theatres, architecture and business firms plus easy access to Comerica and the new $450 million dollar DRW arena.
And the best-kept ‘travelers’ secret- The Townsend Hotel.
Detroit cannot substantially change until its demographics change.
I liked your comment and as a MC girl, I firmly believe it is too far gone to save; time to move past 8 mile and focus on 16 mile.
The problem is not that they can’t move, but when the city offers to relocate them to a more populated area they won’t move. But they’re also not paying the full cost of what it takes to provide municipal services to them living in isolation which compounds the city’s problem.
As a Michigander who has used “Detroit” as shorthand for “Metro Detroit”, I have seen the Detroit Wince dozens of times when visiting other states. In fact, as a teen visiting Orlando on a family vacation, this gave me immediate street cred while playing basketball against one guy from Upstate New York and another guy from somewhere in the South.
Incidentally, my favorite DW came from a fellow law school student from North Dakota at a Federalist Society Conference. It went something like this: “Hey man, what the hell is going on in Detroit!? It sounds like it’s the End of Times or something.” Then he or I (I forget) volunteered a Mad Max Thunderdome reference.
With regards to the conference (Manhattan Institute?), I would ask: 1. How does one create quality public schools within the city to retain highly educated people after they have children? 2. If Q#1 is an impossibility, would vouchers prevent brain drain by bringing down the cost of private alternatives?
Amusement park. Six Flags Over the UAW
1. Wait until the rest of the people move out.
2. Declare it a nature preserve.
1. Demolition program for abandoned buildings and houses. Regreening of suburban areas.
2. No taxes paid (federal and local) for x years for any startup.
3. Tax breaks for companies willing to relocate some operations to the area.
Don’t stop, people! Keep the ideas coming. We here in Chicago are going to need all the brain power you folks can muster. Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, is fixing to run for mayor. Just think: a union leader as mayor! That’s just a laundry chute slide away from Third World Detroit status.
That’s the rumor I heard from my articulate, talkative, smart, funny, entertaining, likeable and very, very paranoid air conditioner repairman. This reminds me that I was going to transcribe the conversation I had with him into a slice-of-life Ricochet post.
Sell it to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is still the most admirable example of the free market (Brits left it to the Chinese with a multi- year “no conflict with capitalism” clause); it couldn’t or wouldn’t ever make such a poor investment.
Re : comment # 17
Your comment got me wondering what article the young woman whose house I was cleaning was reading out loud to her husband when I partially overheard her. Turns out it’s in Forbes ; China’s Newest City : We Call it ‘Detroit’, by Gordon G. Chang, dated : 12/8/2013.
Maybe your air conditioner repairman does work for the same couple.
Re : Comment 20
Or maybe he’s following me.
A lifelong metropolitan Detroiter, I have a very clear vision of Detroit. I knew it first as a child in the late 1950s – when it was still flourishing and industrious. I’ve watched it from mere miles away over the years as it declined. I’ve worked within and without its borders. Reflecting on your article, I had this anthropomorphic vision of Detroit as your nanogenarian uncle who had a vibrant and purposefully productive life in his youth and aggressive working years, but slowly migrated toward a business model whereby he could extract income by virtue of his personality rather than his productivity. And finding loopholes of obligation for people to keep him housed, fed, and clothed, he has made his retirement and fills his days with punctuated memories of his more strident achievements and “gotcha’s”. His siblings have not gone down this same road of decline. They’ve continued to revitalize themselves, looking optimistically forward. But, this one…his house is run down. His clothes are threadbare. There’s an odd odor about him. And you say you are going to stay there with him? Whatever for? I’d wince too. And I live just next door.
I really like proposal #2 and #3. I don’t know much about urban revitalization, but I’ve got to believe Jack Kemp had ideas on rejuvenating business in inner cities. Also, City Journal and National Affairs have to have some free market writers with some effective ideas.
Dan Gilbert, owner of Rock Financial, Quicken Loans, and the re-Lebronned Cleveland Cavaliers has bought over 14 buildings, and is renovating them. In the last two years, he has hired over 1,500 interns from colleges, and has encouraged these young people to live in the Midtown area of Detroit. He has done more for the city than several mayors since Dennis Archer.
I think Mayor Duggan and Governor Snyder are making headway (albeit it’s an overwhelming situation) to the knock down the abandoned neighborhoods (!!). If you’ve seen the HBO television series the Wire, Detroit is simulating that show.
Rob was right. Detroit would have been a great place for the GOP convention.