Archive for the 'economy' Category

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

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“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein can be credited with that quote. He was a pretty smart guy, and the quote seems pretty obvious, but for some reason so many seem to keep using a bad process in hopes of a good result. It seems like Michigan and Detroit are guilty of this. How long has the auto industry been in decline? How long has manufacturing been in decline? A lot longer than this recession. How long have we known that a good education is a great predictor of economic well being, and how much does an educated workforce contribute to to economic growth? A long time, and a lot, respectively.

By now, I thought that there would be a lot less about Detroit to be found in the news. Instead it seems like articles just keep coming. Since I’ve had a baby, and had three jobs in the last six months, I’ve found I’m a bit behind on consuming Detroit related news, and articles. Here are a few interesting pieces I’ve come across lately:

Michigan has an inflated view of the quality of its schools according to Michigan Radio. In other words Michigan’s schools aren’t doing very well, and neither are it’s students. The inevitable, looming budget cuts should help.

Also, people just keep leaving Michigan. The upside is this has helped the unemployment rate. This can’t be good for the long term. Housing prices won’t be going up in most of metro Detroit if a trend of declining population continues. The same can be said for services, retail, and a host of other business sectors.

It’s amazing that the debate over mass transit continues. If you read the comments it’s apparent that some believe our roads are not only not subsidized, but are actually profitable, and any other form of subsidized transportation is just the tip of the socialism iceberg.

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Michigan has 800,000 less people employed people now than it did in 2000, has lost half of it’s manufacturing jobs in ten years, and has a $2 billion shortfall. So what does an MSU economist think? Does it matter?

Apparently, “there is more money to made in tearing Detroit down, around 2011, than building it back up…” That’s according to a New York Times review of Paul Clemen’s new book called, Punching Out, One Year in a Closing Auto Plant. Some interesting quotes that should bolster many people’s stereotypes of auto workers include, ““I drank 32 beers the other night”, and “Hell, I don’t even know what e-mail is.” Oh, and of course he hates, like so many others, French photographers who come to shoot “ruin porn”. I hate the term “ruin porn”.

And yet more hating on photographers of “ruin porn”.  The argument that photographers are contributing to Detroit’s problems is most certainly a red herring. As if Dorthea Lange contributed to the Great Depression. People will say bad things about Detroit, photographers will show bad things about it, and the media will report on bad things that happen in it. The author admits that photography of abandonment may raise awareness, but says, “but raising awareness is only useful if it provokes a next step, a move toward trying to fix a problem”. Using that requirement, all of those photographers who showed us the horrors of the wars, and other atrocities committed around the world, could have done some good, if only they’d come up with some solutions. Is it time for observers of Detroit to move on to new subjects? Perhaps. But it is definitely time for Detroit supporters to move beyond what others have to say about, and show of, Detroit. Photographers will photograph disasters, man made or natural, as long as they exist. Until houses and buildings are no longer abandoned faster than good things happen, the “bad” talk, photos, and reporting will continue.

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But, according to the author, at least Johnny Knoxville loves Detroit. There’s not doubt Detroit’s got some pretty cool things going on. It’s not enough for me to move back, nor most people for that matter. But, for those who do move there, and do something special, I’m willing to give credit where credit is due.

Andrew Moore is a photographer mentioned in the above piece in The New Republic. I like his work, and found this video to be pretty interesting. Another interesting video is Views of Detroit by three Danish students. You can see the full film on Vimeo. Interestingly the film states near the beginning, “The film uses a strongly subjective narrative, with no aim to point out answers to the challenges Detroit is currently facing.” Uh, oh…more artists who point out Detroit’s flaws without trying to fix them.

And just as it seems things couldn’t get any worse, Mayor Bing has announced no Robocop statue…What else does Detroit have without Robocop?

One industry that does seem to be doing well, is the film industry, and of course we can’t have that. At least one politician wants to rain on that parade. Not that I’m against a flat tax, but if we’re talking about removing incentives, we’re going to be affecting a lot more than the film industry. Might want to think through the consequences before making that recommendation…unless you’re a Libertarian of course.

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I don’t understand why this complaint keeps coming up. It’s like some in Michigan just don’t get it. Why is anyone surprised that a company is having trouble finding qualified tech workers in Delta Township, Michigan? First of all Michigan is not a hotbed of tech workers. And secondly, Delta Township is going to be even less of a tech worker haven. If you look at a map of Delta Township, you’ll see that’s it borders Lansing (no metropolis mind you), and just to the west is farmland. If you need tech workers, you’d best be located where tech workers live. Michigan may have a high unemployment rate, but if it’s anything like the rest of the country good tech workers aren’t having a very hard time finding work. Being located in Delta Township won’t make finding good tech workers any easier.

According to a study from MSU, “build it and they will come” doesn’t quite work out. It turns out that the people come first, then the jobs. But why would people come? That’s the question. The study is talking more about business travelers, particularly those traveling by air (strange study), than the creative types Richard Florida often talks about. Interestingly, the article says, “the finding does not contradict more direct job-creation strategies, including the construction of office and retail spaces”. Huh? So build, don’t build…what? Of course business travelers won’t come to metro Detroit without a reason. The article also says that the cities least likely to benefit include Detroit. Not so helpful…

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I have an idea. I’ve mentioned it before. Not that it is a new idea, or isn’t already happening, but there is a driven, entrepreneurial, and hardworking population that could reinvigorate Detroit. The group of people would be called immigrants. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ve also linked to an article on Model D about Steve Tobocman before as well, but it’s still a really good idea. Model D has another article by Steve regarding the importance of embracing immigration in Detroit. I personally know some who have trouble with this idea, because gosh darn it, they aren’t just like me. Never mind, that their own ancestors were immigrants too. And they weren’t always welcome either. They were different too.

I recently came across a couple of interesting maps. The first shows the best and worst metro areas for jobs. Of course the Detroit metro area was one of the top five worst. The second is the map of “State Superlatives”. The bad superlative for Michigan is “unemployment”. Not surprising. And the good superlative is “best freshwater access”. There’s no denying that one either. Michigan has got freshwater, and lots of it. The third map shows the concentrations of adults with college degrees. While Michigan looks better than, say, Louisiana, it certainly looks worse than states such as Colorado, or areas on either coast.

And finally a couple of arguments for cities. In any discussion about urban vs. suburban vs. rural living, you’ll find many naysayers who have nothing good to say about cities. Say what you will about them, they are central to the economies of pretty much all nations. Not surprisingly, without a strong city, metro Detroit is, and has struggled for a long time. Turns out concentrations of smart, educated people are good for innovation, and innovation is good for the economy. Who’d have thought?

Fear over downsizing

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Some people can’t help themselves, some can’t accept the help of others, and some will never be happy. The latter category is apparently the camp some Detroiters fit into. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, a lot of residents fear what downsizing…I mean “right sizing” will mean for them and their neighborhoods. Because as things stand now, a plan to actually do something is more scary than the present plan, which is to allow the city to continue its long decline towards oblivion.

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Yes, some may have to move from the home they love. And no, the gestapo will not drag you from your house. But once the city consolidates services, your one house neighborhood may be, by all intents and purposes, abandoned (like it isn’t already?).  “Of course you don’t have to evict people to force them to move…” That statement is true of course. At some point some residents may have to move. Like it or not, the road ahead is going long and rough. Many will not be happy, but is anybody happy with the present circumstances?

The abandoned house of the week

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City of Highland Park: Working For You

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The photo above was take in October of 2004. The below image is, presumably, somewhat newer.


View Detroit Photos in a larger map

Updated map of abandonment

Many houses have been torn down since I last updated the map.


View Detroit Photos in a larger map

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.

Selling a house in metro Detroit and Bob Daddow says, “We’re screwed…”

07180901_04.jpgNot too long ago, I wrote about what I saw as the unlikely chances of us selling our house in metro Detroit. Well, we did. And even though we had to pay the “buyer” to take it, I am happy to have it off my hands. I’ve recently read a few articles that made feel even more fortunate to have sold the house. Talk about depressing the articles paint a picture of doom and gloom (summed up at Time’s Detroit Blog). In The Detroit News, Bob Daddow of Oakland County says Michigan “is screwed.” Let’s hope he’s not holding back. Apparently short sightedness is to blame…ya think? Sadly, it sounds like corporate Michigan is going to have to take charge. At least according to another article in The Detroit News. That’s scary. Not only did politicians use Michigan and Detroit as personal piggy bank, but the were often working with our corporate leaders (see Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, and especially, Poletown).07180901_14.jpgSo, yeah. We’re pretty happy we sold the house. What was the secret? Luck. Our house was recently remodeled (by us), in a very modern style. And in the area we lived, modern was not generally desired. Even though it was urban, I get the impression most of the residents wanted to live in the country. Think ducks, yellow, shaker style furniture, flowery wallpaper trim, and wrought iron. Our house had none of that. Inside it was white on white. Unstained hardwood throughout, with white walls, white cabinets, white toilet, sink, and tub, along with modern fixtures. I thought it had a snowball’s chance in hell of selling. But sell it did. And to the first couple to look at it. I don’t know what else to call it but luck. Sure, we lost money, but in Michigan especially, who isn’t? I guess our house stood out from the rest, and the buyers said they’d looked at dozens of houses before ours. Ours was perfect, they said. Damn, do I feel lucky. To anyone else trying to sell in Michigan, well, I wish you luck too. You’re going to need it.

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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The Big Three: A case study on the reluctance to change

09150204_09.jpgNot too long ago, I heard The End Of The Line For GM-Toyota Joint Venture on NPR. I had already heard about the closure of the plant, but knew very little (actually, nothing) about the history of the plant and what it represented for the American automotive industry. This paragraph pretty much sums up the whole piece:

“In the mid-1980s, Toyota took over the Fremont plant, one of GM’s worst, a factory known for sex, drugs and defective vehicles. And as part of an historic joint venture, Toyota turned the plant into one of GM’s best, practically overnight.”

NPR reported on the history of the plant. At one point the assembly line output cars with engines in backwards, missing steering wheels or brakes, and cars with with front ends from other cars. Booze was common on the line, and nobody dared stop the line for anything. Eventually Toyota and GM partnered up to run the plant. But first they sent employees to Japan to learn Toyota’s way of doing things. Of course Toyota’s way was very different. It was pretty much the complete opposite of how GM had been run the plant. Upon reopening, the plant began producing some of the highest quality cars in America. So what did GM do next? Did they take what they had learned and apply it elsewhere? Ahh…no. In fact one of the NUMMI “Commandos” quit in frustration.

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A year later GM did try to apply what they had learned at NUMMI to other plants.  At a plant in Van Nuys nobody wanted to change.  I wasn’t shocked by the resistance to change from rank and file workers.  After all, the initial reaction by most people to criticism is defensiveness. Most do not want to be told they are doing something wrong, or even that they could be doing something better. I wasn’t even shocked to hear how one plant manager asked a NUMMI Cammando to leave the plant after a presentation on doing things the NUMMI way. Even after plants across the country began closing and GM began losing market share quickly, the resistance remained. What did shock me was the fact that upper management at GM allowed management at the plants to not change. “Who was in charge?”, one might be inclined to ask. According to the NPR story, the “plant managers were king.” I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, as this is the kind of dysfunctional leadership I’d experienced for decades in the metro Detroit area, and to be truthful, in my corporate experience elsewhere. The Big Three were just bigger and perhaps more dysfunctional than most. And unfortunately they were this dysfunctional during a profound shift in the world economy. It’s bad enough when the average person refuses to pay attention to the writing on the wall, but downright idiotic and shortsighted when leadership ignores it.

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Unfortunately this seems to be a common theme in American corporate culture. I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked about any of this. The shareholders at public companies frequently reward pathetic leadership. There is rarely any incentive lead a company toward a long term course of profitability. Instead they give big bonuses for short term profitability. Any sports fan knows that teams go through periods of mediocracy as they build toward long term competitiveness, yet in the world of high paid corporate cronyism, no one seems to give any thought to a few years down the road.  In corporate culture almost any cut seems to be rewarded. Even cuts that will harm company for years to come seem to be rewarded. Seemingly, as long as a company beats the next quarterly projection the stock goes up. And if stock goes up, shareholders are happy. And if shareholders are happy, execs get big bonuses.

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Is it any wonder my confidence in our corporate leadership ranks right down near that of our political leadership?  Now that the Big Three have possibly hit rock bottom, do they have the leadership in place, and the will to make the necessary changes? It seems that perhaps the threat of extinction has shaken enough people, in at least two of the three, that perhaps things are headed in the right direction. Too little, too late for so many. Sad that the ship has to begin sinking before the will is there to fix  the problems.

The abandoned house of the week

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