Archive for the 'decay' Category



The abandoned neighborhood of the week

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They got chains, but they all tucked in…

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More Detroit vs. The Media drama, and What Detroit has, what Detroit’s losing, and what Detroit needs

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This was supposed to have been posted a week, or so, ago. But thanks to my old job, four days out of town, jury duty, and a new job to start, none of what’s here is new. But, since I went to the trouble to write it, I’m posting it anyway.

Detroit vs The Media

The drama never ends for Detroit. NBC hates Detroit, and now ABC as well. ABC’s new crime drama set in Detroit has got some all bent out of shape once again. As always there were some interesting comments including:
“Why must the media prortray Detroit is such a bad light.” - Do we always have to ask this question? Seriously, is there any question as to why the media portrays the city the way that it does? Besides, did anyone complain about Law and Order making New York look bad, or CSI making Vegas look bad? Detroit deserves a break because it really is that bad? If only the media would give Detroit a break, surely things would improve. There were, as always, so interesting comments.

“Perhaps a chat with the directors of ABC would change their mind.” - Doubt it. Why do Detroiters always want to have a chat with the media about the way the city is portrayed? And, anyway how would that conversation go? Detroiter - “Will you to stop portraying Detroit in a negative light?” ABC exec - “No.”

“And I think the promo is wrong in saying that Detroit is the murder capital. I think we are up there, but more like number 3. New Orleans is #1″ - Yeah, take that ABC. They really ought to get their facts straight. Oh wait, according to ABC Detroit was the murder capital in 2008…hmm coincidence or conspiracy to paint Detroit badly?

“Was anything truthful said? Or is it Americas’ loss of integrity personified.” - Huh?

“I’m as sensitive to Detroit’s image as anyone, but I think that viewers will be able to decipher this as fiction.” - One might think so, but judging by reactions, that sentiment is not shared by many others.”

“So i can understand why ABC is doing a crime series set in Detroit.It’s about time. What took so long? I think I’ll send them some story ideas. I have many, too many, & these are all true, nothing make-believe.” - This one makes sense..

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What Detroit Has

What does Detroit have, beyond high unemployment, high crime rates, and bitter defenders? Well according to POP City, Detroit has a few things Pittsburgh ( and presumably, other Rust Belt cities ) could use. Of course POP City is owned by Issue Media Group, which also just happens to publish Model D and Metromode as well, booth of which ardent Detroit boosters. Nonetheless, perhaps there are some good things that Detroit has, that other places could use. According to POP City, Detroit has:

The Greening of Detroit:

I can imagine that almost no other city in the United States has an organization quite like the Greening of Detroit, of course no other city has the amount of abandoned land that Detroit has. I like the Greening of Detroit and what they do.

Tech Town:

Tech Town is a great idea, and I hope some great things come of it. Bringing smart, creative, and innovative people together is exactly what Detroit needs. Technology may make it possible to work in isolation in Bad Axe, but in reality innovation comes from people pushing the envelope, and building on one another’s successes. This doesn’t often happen in isolation. It’s the reason Silicon Valley, Boston, and NYC keep creating new companies, and why they get so much of the investment dollars.

The M-1 Rail Project:

Detroit doesn’t have this yet. It is hoped that construction will begin before the end of 2010. Unfortunately, it takes several years to complete a section of rail through an urban area, and in an area that continues to lose population, it’ll will be difficult to make it happen.

Art:

Detroit does have this, and some good stuff at that. But projects such as the Heidelberg Project are products of an extreme situation that nobody wants. I really like the Heidelberg Project, but I’d rather not have the massive amounts of blight and abandonment that has to go along with it.

A Food Scene:

I can’t comment on Pittsburgh’s food scene, but Detroit’s food scene is decent, but not incredible. I love Slow’s but, even cities with lower populations, such as Denver and Portland, have better food scenes than Detroit. Five or six places…even a dozen good places aren’t enough for an area the size of Detroit.

Regardless of whether or not I feel this list is a good example of what other areas need or not (I don’t), the metropolitan Detroit area does have somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.5 million residents. That’s a significant amount of people, who could be customers, and employees or employers. Whether or not the area can capitalize on that depends on the decisions the residents, businesses, and politicians make over the next decade or so. If we were to look to the decisions of the past 40 years the outlook would be rather grim. Perhaps though, the next generation of policy makers can make better decisions than the last.

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What Detroit’s Losing

Unfortunately this is an easy one. Detroit’s losing everything from people to money. What is really bad, is that metro Detroit is losing young college grads. I recently read this article about college education rates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Scroll down to the section titled, “By the Numbers”. My guess is Detroit doesn’t compare very well, even considering Milwaukee’s meager numbers.

What Detroit Needs

What Detroit needs is pretty much the inverse of what it’s losing, including a young, educated workforce, immigrants, Innovation, and, well…pretty much everything. Recovery seems to be a tricky, chicken/egg situation. Hi tech businesses locate where the talent is. Talent locates where the jobs are. Jobs are found where the hi tech businesses are. With each being a prerequisite for the other, how do you attract either one to Detroit? This is one of the arguments many make against authors such as Richard Florida. Reading what urban theorists such as Florida have to say make many feel that the”in” places, such as Chicago, D.C., and Silicon Valley, have already won. There’s no possible way to beat them if you take Florida’s theories without actually reading far enough. And that’s true to a certain extent. Nobody was able to beat Detroit as the automotive capital for 75 years or so, even with such bad management decisions. However, that didn’t stop Chicago, D.C., or Silicon Valley, and many, many other places, from thriving. Detroit doesn’t have to be Chicago, but it does have to be something other than the same old Detroit we’ve all known for far too long.

The abandoned house of the week

Over the years I’ve received plenty of email from former Detroiters. Recently one asked if I would visited his old street. On this very long block, only about a half dozen houses still stood, and only one appeared to be occupied, although it was in only marginally better condition than the unoccupied ones. This was one of the abandoned houses on the block. Painted an optimistic blue and yellow color combination, it, along with several others appeared to have been recently abandoned.

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Detroit’s abandoned house of the week

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A man died here…

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Who understands how Detroit needs to change?

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After living and working for the past two years in D.C., and Denver, Colorado, coming back to the Detroit area is a real eye opener. What was once a maddening and frustrating place to live is now just plain depressing. With the real unemployment rate estimated to be near 20% for the state, and a ridiculously high 50% for the city of Detroit, still falling real estate values (down 40% in my area, and including our house), a crumbling infrastructure, financially strapped municipalities and school districts, and a apparent 50% commercial vacancy rate (just judging by what I can see..), the metro area seems to continually worsen. Each time I come back it seems that things couldn’t get worse (even though I don’t believe the area’s hit bottom yet), yet it always does.

Living in the area, one becomes accustomed to things residents in most other areas would never imagine. Roads that get complaints in other areas, metro Detroiters can only dream about. The public transit that others complain about being crowded or expensive, doesn’t even exist here. Same with the practically non-existent bike lanes. In Denver I ride my bike everywhere, only getting in the car to make longer distance trips. It’s something that I found to be unacceptably difficult here in southeastern Michigan. When I did make a trip by bicycle here, I was that strange person riding their bike on the road carrying grocery bags; presumably some poor sap who’d had his license taken away, or who didn’t have enough money for a car. In Denver, I’m just one of many using a bicycle for, believe it or not, transportation. Imagine that… Our neighbor here in metro Detroit would drive one block to buy cigarettes.

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Driving around metro Detroit, it’s rare to see more than one or two people out getting exercise of any kind. In Denver it would be rare to see less than a dozen people exercising on my two mile ride to work. The weekly Wednesday night cruiser ride in Denver attracted up to 850 riders on a single night this past summer. Of course one has considering how many other options there are for socializing, entertainment, and outdoor activities. On any given week there will be rides, runs, creative Meetups, art openings, and just about anything else an active person under the age of 95 might enjoy. I know some of these things exist in metro Detroit, but the often long distance between them isn’t just inconvenient, but a huge waste of time, and dangerous when you consider all of the different highways one would have to travel to get from, say, Royal Oak to Ann Arbor on a weekday evening.

I have a point, beyond yet one more rant about the area. And the point is this: does anyone, who hasn’t left, or doesn’t want to leave, understand what needs to change about the metro area? Everyone knows that Michigan needs jobs. But I get the feeling that many who remain believe that those who left were weak, or quitters, or don’t like hard work. Those “quitters” who left the state, left because they had other opportunities…better opportunities, and most likely a chance at a better lifestyle. They didn’t leave because they weren’t up for a challenge. If an area offers jobs, and “opportunities” rooted in the past, and another area is embracing the future, why would I choose that challenge? If you can be on a better team, who wouldn’t choose it? Sure, some would rather be a big fish in a small pond, but this particular pond keeps getting smaller, and dirtier.

The point is often made that the area needs to bring back manufacturing jobs. I wouldn’t argue that manufacturing jobs…heck any jobs, would be good for the area. But maybe what the area really needs is to face reality. Metro Detroiters need to adapt to changing times. An education may be a good place for many to start. The claim is often made that metro Detroiters are scrappy, gritty, and hard working survivors. What mid-west city doesn’t believe that? The question is, what do survivors do when there old way of doing things doesn’t work anymore? They change their way of doing things. What did metro Detroit do when it was obvious the ways of the past were going to end soon? Nothing. Detroit made pretty much all of the same mistakes Pittsburgh has made, but unfortunately, unlike Pittsburgh, Detroit’s had very little of the fortuitous investments in other industries.

The question that should be asked, that often isn’t, is why have our young and highly educated citizens been leaving for decades? If the question was asked of every one of them, that has left the state, one would get a variety of answers from jobs to lifestyle. If you were to ask what it would take to get them to come back to metro Detroit, the answers would be equally varied, but I doubt many want to come back for traditional manufacturing jobs. Nor did many of them leave because of a lack of traditional manufacturing jobs. As a friend said the other night, “the state is a storefront. Why would anyone want to come in?”

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When time Magazine offered advertising space for a campaign designed to draw this very demographic to southeastern Michigan, they asked five large agencies to answer the question, “If I’m young, talented and creative, and open to all kinds of opportunities, why Detroit?” Take a look at the ads… My personal opinion is that these ads do a better job of answering, “if I’m young, talented and creative, and open to all kinds of opportunities, why leave Detroit?” The ads do a great job of pointing out the disconnect that exists between those who have lived here a long time, and made lots of money here, and those of a younger more mobile generation. Outside of the suburbs of Detroit, who cares about Kid Rock? It really makes me wonder, if these people even understand what types of music the target demographic listens to? I can tell you, it’s not Kid Rock. Not a single one touched on any compelling reason for someone from outside of the area, to relocated here. Why are we even asking the old guard how to attract a new generation of creative, enthusiastic, and highly motivated entrepreneurs and creatives? L. Brooks Patterson still wants to stake metro Detroit’s future on the widening of I-75 from 8 Mile to M-59. MDOT and SEMCOG still seem to believe all transportation should be done in an automobile. No bikes, no trains, no walking…again that’s for the Third World poor, such as those in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, Portland, Denver, London, Brussels, and Toronto.

The morning after I arrived back in metro Detroit, we watched part of a round-table discussion on a local news show. The topic was, of course, about the area’s future. It appeared that not one of the participants was under the age of 60. Not that those over 60 have nothing to contribute. But asking only those who lived through a very different time period how we should proceed into the future misses the point entirely. We are in this situation because we (they) thought that what worked in the past would surely work in the future. If it was good enough then, it’s good enough now. Needless to say, watching did not make me feel very encouraged about the future of metro Detroit. Does anybody here, in any leadership position, with any power, or with money, get it yet? Do they understand the real issues? Do they know what it’s going to take to bring people back, or to make them stay?

Updated Map of Abandonment


View Detroit Photos in a larger map

Prayer Mission Baptist Church

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When the wall to your church collapses onto the sidewalk and street, there’s no need to stop holding services. With a pile of bricks and an i-beam laying across the sidewalk and into the street, the name of the church, the pastor, and the service schedule was simply painted on a once interior wall. As singing and sounds of “praise God…” blared from speakers of a church across the street, pedestrians walking along the sidewalk either climbed over the pile or walked into the street without so much as a pause to consider the somewhat strange  situation. It is a testament to what can be considered “normal” in the city of Detroit.

Abandoned houses…three in a row

07150802_10.jpg07150802_08.jpg07150802_09.jpgLike always, there has been plenty written about, or relating to, Detroit lately. Here are some that I’ve found interesting:

Learning to cope or what a career coach discovered in Detroit

The article  reinforces the importance of flexibility, and continual education for a successful career. For most, the days of learning something in school, or on the job, and applying it in one career for the rest of your life, are gone.

On the other hand, the recommendation for the church newsletter publisher to put together a portfolio and shop it around at creative Meetups, will likely lead to nothing. A brand new designer at a designer Meetup, will, at worst, meet other new designers with no work, and at best meet successful veterans who don’t have enough work. This is true in most places, and even more so in metro Detroit.

Happiest U.S. states are wealthy and tolerant

I didn’t find this surprising. It actually reinforced my preconceived notions. Unfortunately Michigan didn’t do too well in either category. And  it shows in the results, with Michigan ranking 41st in happiness.

The following quote from the article was particularly interesting: “Of the personality factors, neuroticism took a toll on a state’s cheery count, suggesting people living in the happiest states are more relaxed than their gloomy counterparts.”

From Wikipedia comes the following definition of neurosis:  “poor ability to adapt to one’s environment, an inability to change one’s life patterns, and the inability to develop a richer, more complex, more satisfying personality.”

Steven Rattner: Why we had to get rid of GM’s CEO

When Rick Wagoner was ousted from GM, many people came to his defense. There was anger. How dare a government appointed “czar” (Steven Rattner), with no automotive industry experience, fire GM’s CEO.  “What does the government know about running a car company?”, the defenders would say. I constantly heard how Rick was a “nice guy”. As if that matters. I like nice guys too, but Wagoner had proven his inability to turn GM around.

What does the government know about running a car company? Nothing. What did Rick Wagoner know about running a car company? I don’t know, but it was definitely time for a change. Don’t worry too much though, over his tenure at GM, Rick Wagoner made over $63 million, and left with a $20 million retirement package. Raise your hand if you’d like to lead a failing automotive company…

Clusters of Entrepreneurship 

There were a few points that immediately stood out in their relevance to the metro Detroit area, including the following:

“Economic growth is highly correlated with an abundance of small, entrepreneurial firms.”

“There is a remarkably strong correlation between smaller average firm size and subsequent employment growth due to start-ups.”

“Evidence does not support the view that regional differences in demand for entrepreneurship are responsible for these entrepreneurial clusters. Instead, the evidence suggests that spatial differences in the fixed costs of entrepreneurship and/or in the supply of entrepreneurs best explain cluster formation.”

Automobiles on Steroids

“If weight, horsepower, and torque were held at their 1980 levels, fuel economy for both passenger cars and light trucks could have increased by nearly 50 percent from 1980 to 2006. Instead, fuel economy actually increased by only 15 percent.”

Technology usually makes things more efficient, and cheaper. In the case of the Big Three, they made them less efficient and more expensive.

Slaying of murder witness in Detroit leaves trail of fear

There’s not much to say about this, other than those who feel that the suburbs don’t need to worry about the plight of the city are mistaken. The brutal murder occurred at a restaurant at 12 Mile and Telegraph Rd. The witness to that murder was gunned down before the trial.

Home Builders (You Heard That Right) Get a Gift

It’s great to see a Michigan company who played a large role in the collapse of the real estate market get $450 million in tax refunds. Guess who’ll get to pay for that? With “$1.5 billion in cash and cash equivalents on its balance sheet, according to its most recent financial statement”, it’s not like Pulte was in danger of shutting it’s doors any time soon.

Don’t call  him a Detroiter

A recent post on Time’s Detroit Blog about a letter written in response to a comment by George Jackson, in which he stated, “in a sense we are all Detroiters”, brought out some angry and emotional comments.

“When the city of Detroit begins to embrace the economic models that make great American cities, perhaps then the surrounding counties that are enjoying a modicum of economic success will consider aligning themselves with Detroit.” Unfortunately, modicum is the key word here.

Signs of Hope

Can energy be Michigan’s salvation? What the author, Bob Herber says is, “What we’ve lacked so far has been the courage, the will, to make it happen. ”

One of the recurring sentiments I get from metro Detroiters is not just a lacking will, but a belief that things don’t need to change. “V-8s are good damnit! We’re America!” V-8s are pretty cool…but, it’s old technology, and we need to start embracing the future in this state.