Archive for May, 2009

More of the same, or, why I continue to beat a dead horse…

metropolitan_night.jpg

I know I say the same things over and over. I guess I just feel I can’t say them enough. One of my favorite topics is the need to make the Metro Detroit area an attractive place to live. The usual xenophobic reaction is to resist any kind of change.  The typical mindset seems to be something like the following: If something worked 75 years ago, it’s got to work now. We didn’t need mass transit, bike lanes, or parks then, so why would we need them now. In fact people only go to cities for jobs, right? So we need to get some big corporation to relocate to our sad, depressed area, and give us jobs.

In reality, highly educated, creative, young people go where they want to go. And guess what? They don’t want to go to Metro Detroit. They want to go to cities they may actually enjoy living in, not just one that provides a job. A good urban area can, and usually does attract educated, creative, and entrepreneurial young professionals, so important to economic growth. And young, creative, educated types start companies, and create jobs. Corporations are also much more likely to locate where they can pick from a large qualified workforce.

The metro area, and Michigan as a whole, has not been very forward thinking. In fact it’s pretty much been in reverse, while the vast majority of the country was in drive. Now, believe it or not, G.M. is planning to cut even more white collar jobs,  we are having to loan G.M. $4B more, GMAC is getting a $7.5B loan, and the automotive industry’s pension funds appear to be on life support.

10150302_08a.jpg

And to top it all off, Detroit’s got an image problem, largely due to the darn media. Constantly painting Detroit in a bad light; how could they? If only they new the truth; it’s a safe city, with lots of job opportunities and a bright future… Heck, even I am getting hate messages. Apparently I am a “disgusting human being” for taking photos of abandonment, and I surely “could’ve chosen a different subject matter.” Shoot the messenger. Always a good idea. In fact maybe if we say, “Detroit is good enough. Detroit is smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like Detroit”, maybe the abandonment and corruption will magically vanish, jobs will appear, and the economy and unemployment won’t be the worst in the nation anymore. Maybe I can pretend my house is worth more than my mortgage too.

Detroit does have a future of some kind. Most likely though, it’ll never look like it did 4o years ago. It’ll almost certainly be something very different. Hopefully, at the very least, it’ll look very different than it does today. Some possibilities include urban farming, green spaces, giving away land to entrepreneurs and urban villages. It’s obvious that Detroit can’t provide traditional services to the area it currently encompasses. It is time for a change.

Finally, while I feel very bad for the subject of this story, you just have to ask, “what were you thinking?” or “were you thinking?” It’s not like the Metro Detroit areas outlook suddenly went from promising to bleak overnight.

The truth hurts…

07150801_04.jpg

I wrote this a while ago, so many of the links go to older (well, weeks old anyway) articles, but this one article made me think about actually publishing this post. A quote from the 25 year old report called “Path to Prosperity” that caught my attention: “‘We said we had to either get smart, get out’ of manufacturing ‘or get poor,’ Ross said. ‘We got poor.’” I was considering a new tone at The Motor(less) City, but what the hell; I guess it’ll have to wait.

Sometimes I get angry comments and emails about the content I put on my blog. Often times the comments are very defensive about the Metro Detroit area, and hence angry at me. In the past my rantings were really just the online equivalent of screaming into the wind. Now that some people actually read the blog, I’m confronted with the fact that not only do people not agree with me, but some are really mad at me. Not sure if I’m really comfortable with this, but I guess it’s a little late now. Yeah, the truth hurts.

Speaking of the truth hurting, it seems that people from the area, even the defensive ones are going to have to deal with some uncomfortable facts about the state, and city…and the region. Everyone (I hope) knows that Michigan’s unemployment rate is 12.6%, and Detroit’s is 22.8% (and future estimates even worse), but of course that’s not surprising. I think many in the area want to pretend that Metro Detroit is better than it is, and in fact often point out only moderately unique aspects of the area as proof of greatness. “We’re a great sports town”, people often say, or, “we’ve got great architecture.” There are two really good professional sports teams in Metro Detroit (and two pretty bad ones), and there are some very nice buildings in Detroit (the Penobscot, the Guardian, etc), but so what. What major city doesn’t have a couple of good sports teams, and some good architecture? And, really, neither of those things makes the area a good place to live.

I think this is becoming exceedingly obvious as people flee the state at a record pace. As the article clearly points out, the “young and college-educated” demographic that is leaving, is exactly the demographic that is needed to save Metro Detroit. As the population becomes older, the costs that will burden those that actually work will go up. The fight will continue over taxation, investment, and education, but it’ll all be for naught if we can’t figure out a way to attract people who create jobs instead of just those who need jobs. We aren’t going to be able to convince enough companies to come to the area to make up for all of the manufacturing jobs that have been lost, but we can make the environment more inviting to those who are the job creators.

harmonie_park_alley_wall.jpg

Some other painful truths:

The Big Three are mostly to blame for their problems. It is not just a symptom of the recent economic crisis, that no one could have seen coming. And the people in charge have not been the right ones either.

The problems in Detroit are very complex and deep rooted. Our past still haunts us. Lowering taxes isn’t a magic bullet.

The entire state is hurting, not just Metro Detroit. A quote from the article: “Michigan’s dependence on low-skill, high-paying manufacturing jobs is driving the state to the poorhouse, a new study shows.” I was a “bad” person for saying this recently.

It’s still one of the most dangerous cities in the country.

The citizens of Detroit constantly elect crooks. This one is not often disagreed with.

Good news? Well, there may be. It depends on your political persuasion.

There are some young entrepreneurial types that are doing their part to keep their own demographic from leaving the state.

The large tax incentives given to film productions in the state appear to be attracting larger and larger productions, bringing some jobs with them.

Immigrants could be the area’s future if we are open and inviting.

Stimulus dollars may help with high speed transit between Detroit and Chicago.

The Abandoned House of the Week

07150801_16.jpg