Archive for January, 2009

Dead body frozen in ice…

A disturbing article in the Detroit News:
Frozen in indifference: Life goes on around body found in vacant warehouse
While this could happen in many American cities, it does say a lot about Detroit. The level of indifference in the area is incredible, and won’t change any time soon. Detroit won’t improve until enough people care.  Until enough people care, Detroit will not attract the kind of people needed to bring the right kind of change to area. And the attitude won’t change until a majority of those living in Detroit have some hope. And as long as poverty rates hover around 40%, unemployment rates continue to climb, and the education rates remain low, hope will remain illusive for many Detroiters.

Below are two iconic structures owned by Matty Maroun (mentioned in the preceding article). It’s amazing that an individual such as Matty is allowed to leave many of his structures unmaintained. In most cities, the buildings would have been condemned long ago by city or county agencies. Somehow Matty is able to get away with actions that no one else would be able to pull off.

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Everyone wants to live somewhere else

This shouldn’t be a surprise:

Pew: Almost half of Americans want to live somewhere else

Surely the grass is always greener somewhere else. Though I do have to agree that Denver is a much better place to live than Detroit. Detroit wouldn’t be last on my list, but there are certainly plenty of other places that would appear higher on my personal list of places to live. Gary, Indiana is probably lower on my list…actually, probably all of Indiana is lower on my list. As would be the entire Southeast, and Southwest sections of the country. But that’s just me.

As I’ve said before, Detroit’s problem is not it’s location or weather. And if you don’t know what it’s problems really are, then you probably are the problem…at least partially.

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Abandoned, burned out, house in Detroit, Michigan

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Preaching to the choir…

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A discussion with my sister-in-law, regarding the inevitability of change, facing change, and dealing with change, somehow made me think of Detroit. Detroit’s like some people I know who refuse to face up to the fact that change is inevitable. And not only that it’s inevitable, but that you’d better prepare for it, and make the most of it. Once change is accepted, it can become an opportunity. Anyone who knows me, is well aware of how irritated Michigan’s, and Metro Detroit’s, resistance to change makes me.

As an individual, I, like so many others, had to face up the reality that the opportunities that my previous career choice, and my location in Metro Detroit, offered were limited. I mourned the loss of what I once had, and moved on. I learned new skills, used my spare time to build up some experience in my new industry, and, along with a move to a new, more economically viable location, am making a good living in an industry with a lot more current and future potential.

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For Metro Detroit, it’s time to mourn and move on. The past is past. It’s time to look towards the future. Time to figure out how to become relevant in the 21st century. When I talk with friends,with similar sensibilities, I always realize how we are simply preaching to the choir. More and more, people are coming to the realization that we are in the midst of a dramatic shift away from our industrial past. When will a Critical Mass emerge, that will force the change upon the area, that is necessary Detroit’s survival? Talk is cheap, and as these articles suggest, there’s plenty of talk…plenty of preaching to the choir. How can we convince the skeptics that change is not only inevitable, but necessary, potentially the best thing that can happen to the area?

New Detroit: A Radical Vision of America’s Greenest City

Immigrants in the 313: This is where the future begins

Essay: Is mass transit in Metro Detroit for real this time?

Detroit’s abandoned house of the week

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New Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church

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Return to Detroit

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I made two separate trips to Metro Detroit recently, and was reminded of both why I miss the area, and why I hate it. First, we made the usual holiday family visit to Detroit, followed shortly after by a business trip to the area. During both trips we experienced the usual irritants such as only seeing the sun twice in a week, and driving on some of the worst roads on the planet.

The first trip back started with an evening of food and drinks with friends at the Royal Oak Brewery. Even though most of the restaurant is non-smoking, the entire place filled with smoke fairly quickly. By the time we left, we reeked of smoke, and my throat was scratchy. The next morning both my wife and I woke up with terrible headaches which developed in to full blown migraines. The next night, while laying incapacitated, and doped up on anti-nausea and migraine medication, I was already cursing my return to Detroit. In most major cities (at least the ones I like), you can enjoy dinner and a drink without smelling like an ashtray, but not in Detroit.

During our trip we constantly heard how Detroit’s automotive legacy was responsible for making this country what it is today, so therefore the (not so) Big 3 deserve loans. Guess what? Nobody cares. The Big 3 have had a broken business model for years, didn’t control their costs, gave away the automobile market to their foreign competitors, and failed to conceive of rising gas prices (how could gas get more expensive). The rest of the country doesn’t care much about the Big 3, because they’ve been aware of the industry’s problems for years. Why is Detroit still trying to avoid the inevitable?

We also heard how auto workers have hard jobs, and are hard workers. Unfortunately how hard your job is does not determine pay. Sorry, but, most of the time, it’s true. The market determines pay, and if you are easy to replace the market pays less. If you are difficult to replace, the market pays more. Simple enough. Workers for the Big 3 (both management and union) were often paid rates much higher than similar jobs in other industries. The wages had to fall to what both the companies can pay, and what the market will bear.

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On the second trip back, while doing a job at the North American International Auto Show, I experienced the, seemingly never ending, incompetence of Detroit. When we went to park at Cobo Hall, the ticket machine wasn’t working, so one worker would remove the ticket from the machine, and give it to the driver. The driver would advance two feet to the toll booth where another worker took that same ticket, and ten dollars. That seemed strange, but it got worse. When attempting to leave, the same worker that took the ticket and your money at the booth, asked for our ticket again. We had to explain to him how he took our ticket, and our money, when we entered. Eventually we convinced him that we’d already paid, and we headed home.

The final kick in the teeth came from a publisher of several prominent magazines in the area. I had provided photography for use in an issue of one of their magazines. After agreeing to an amount, and running the images in the magazine, the editor, after several weeks of back and forth emails and phone calls attempting to get my invoice paid, told me that the person who agreed to an amount for reuse of the images had no authority to negotiate, and therefore they would not be paying me. Thanks for nothing. I’ve been asked many times why I haven’t worked for this particular publisher in the past. Well, this is the reason.

I’m always torn, when thinking about whether or not I want to move back to Metro Detroit at some point. We still have our families, friends, and a house in the area, but going back is like beating your head against a wall. The big question is always, what will happen to the area. The problem is that, collectively, the question wasn’t asked until it was too late. If Detroit hopes to remake itself, it’s got to do better.

The abandoned house of the week

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Fisher Auto Body Plant

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Suggested New Year’s resolution for Detroit

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With 2009 upon us, and the current economic situation not looking good, it’s time for Metro Detroit to make some New Year’s resolutions of its own.

Everyone knows about Detroit’s problems, and by the looks of things, the entire state is in big trouble. Detroit is not alone, however, and just like individuals, small businesses, and corporations, the city is in competition with other Metro areas, to attract (and keep) the best people and companies. Many states and cities around the country are facing very tough financial outlooks. There’s no way for Detroit and Southeastern Michigan to avoid the tough times ahead. What the area can do, however, is work together to make smart investments and chart a course for a better future. As individuals we can, in tough times, hide our money under a mattress, or make investments in our future. We can keep our fingers crossed that the job we’re in will exist beyond next week, or that the social safety net we’re relying on will be there tomorrow, or get additional training to prepare ourselves for better paying jobs in the days ahead. Corporations that fail to invest in new technologies, stop marketing, or fail to invest in there employees will be far behind their competitors that do make those investments when the economy recovers. Similarly, an area lacking a decent education system, infrastructure, and basic services, will lose out to the areas that have been making smart investments over the years.

Detroit’s got crumbling infrastructure, a pathetic school system, unreliable city services, and lacks a comprehensive transportation system. In fact the whole state has infrastructure problems and no mass transit other than a hodgepodge mix of bus systems. The area’s rapidly aging population is going to have problems getting around, particularly in the winter. Services and housing are far apart with few options for moving between them. Michigan’s mantra could be “No car?  Tough shit!” Most areas in the state lack any kind of cohesive urban center, and most have no viable plan to create one.

I could go on, but I, and others have regularly bitched, moaned, ranted, and reported on the area’s problems. So what will Detroit and the rest of Michigan do about it? Who knows…probably not much judging by the past, and the unwillingness of most to embrace change. Detroit, and Michigan, are in desperate need of change. The area needs to become better. A plan needs to be formulated and pursued, no matter how difficult. Michigan needs more than just slackers who have high tolerance for mediocrity, more than a population heading quickly for retirement (if such a thing exists any more). Detroit needs young, energetic, motivated, entrepreneurial and educated individuals who will not only embrace change, but make it happen.

So my suggested New Years resolution for Detroit is: “Stop being such a crappy place.”

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