Archive for the 'urban living' Category



Where Detroit ends…

Can you tell which side of the map is Detroit and which side is Grosse Pointe?


View Larger Map

The abandoned house of the week, and G.M. finally files for bankruptcy

12150404_03_xl.jpg

The big news out of Detroit this week is G.M.’s bankruptcy filing. The fourth largest bankruptcy in U.S. history was a long time coming. There’s already plenty of analysis on the reasons for G.M.’s failure available for reading. Most of the reasons have been far too easy to figure out. For most of us, cars are like many other parts of our lives. They are necessary, expensive, and we just want them to work. For the vast majority of us, cars have become simply another commodity. P.J. O’Rourke feels that the romanticism related to automobiles is gone; that Americans have fallen out of love with cars because of “bureaucrats, bad taste and busybodies”. Apparently cars aren’t “sexy” enough anymore. Has he seen or driven a Corvette, Viper, or GT? Unfortunately it’s an over simplified analysis by someone who grew up in the Big Three’s glory days of fins, muscle cars, drag racing, cruising, drive-ins, and 427 big block’s.

A more thoughtful analysis would be something along the lines of this article in USA Today. G.M. isn’t headed for bankruptcy because Americans don’t love cars. G.M. is headed for bankruptcy because they failed to position themselves for the future. Toyota and Honda haven’t been so successful because they make muscle cars, or sports cars of any kind, for that matter. They have been successful because they’ve made reliable, efficient, and price competitive cars that we wanted to buy. Consumer’s desires and needs change. Failure to supply your customer with what they want or need, at a price that is competitive with the rest of the market, is an indication of bad management.

Meanwhile, Detroit, and along with it Michigan, continues on a downward trajectory. Besides G.M.’s, there have been over 137,000 personal and business bankruptcies in Michigan over the past three years. The layoffs and plant closings resulting from the big G.M. bankruptcy will have a devastating effect on communities such as Pontiac and Orion, Michigan, both on the list of of planned closures.

Additionally, The One D Scorecard came out, and one can guess how Detroit did. Even though the Free Press says, “Detroit area receives a mixed report in survey,” the results were hardly mixed. Years of ignoring glaring problems, and dysfunction, by the industry, our political leaders, and much of the general population, have lead to the problems Detroit, Michigan, and the U.S. auto industry face today.

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 Abandoned House of the Week

07150801_16.jpg

A new kind of crazy?

12260702_03.jpg

I recently received a comment that stated, “What Detroit needs is a Free Zone with absolutely no taxation for at least a decsde in the worst part of the city. No city, no state or federal taxes of any kind.The hardest hit area of Detroit would become the most vibrant area of the country in no time.”

I sometimes wonder if people really think things through before making comments like this. I do agree that absolutely no taxes would be quite a draw to the area. But who would it attract and what would the area be like? Does this commenter believe that it will be all God fearing Christian Republicans? It’s not just conservatives that don’t like to pay taxes. Just like it’s not only liberals who like to break the law.

A completely tax free haven in the center of Detroit. Just think about it for a second… Detroit is one of poorest cities in the country with sky high crime rates, 22% unemployment, and rampant vandalism and arson. Let’s just plop a bunch of enthusiastic hippies, libertarians, and a smattering of curious liberals and conservatives in the middle of said city. And since there would be no taxes, there would be no services. No water, no sewer system, no garbage pickup. Where are you going to get a clean source of water from? Where is your human waste going to go? Are we going to have a third world city with human waste flowing through the streets? No taxes, no police. Who do you call when the roving bands of criminals come to your house. The libertarians will claim they’ll defend themselves. I’m sure the wild west would be a big draw for visitors and potential businesses. People come to this country to escape that, not to be part of it.

12260702_06.jpg

What happens when the arsonists set your house on fire? Who will you call? The fire department. There won’t be one. No taxes, no fire department. Maybe you can get a bucket brigade going with the non-existent water from the non-existent water supply. I suppose you could start your own police and fire departments, build your own water and sewer infrastructure, but then you’d have to collect taxes to pay for them. If you’re going to collect taxes, you’ll have to form a government.

The fact of the matter is, the wild west makes for good stories and movies, but probably wouldn’t be enjoyable for more than a very small and very anti-social segment of the population. Think of the uni-bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and Terry Nichols. Sounds like good company. I bet the block parties would be fun. Which one of the neighbors would you let your kids play with?

Maybe I’m making assumptions though. Maybe the commenter meant that there should be no taxes but that services should still be provided. I certainly hope not though, since the commenter is dead set against wealth redistribution, which is, of course socialism, and making the surrounding population pay for his social experiment would certainly violate his own principals. It’s okay though. I know people make these types of comments because they know they’ll never happen.

12260702_12.jpg

I only got on this topic because of my recent use of Twitter in which I can view a bizarre stream of consciousness in which I see things like:

“Liberals believe anyone with a gun might go crazy at any minute..”

” The law is never settled when liberals are involved”

“vermont legalizes the redefine marriage. liberals need there own country. lets start today to divide the nation into 2 or 3 nations.”

“Hey liberals, You didn’t win the 2008 elections, the GOP lost them; there’s a VERY BIG DIFFERENCE in the two!!!”

“Will the conservatives of this country ever band together? Obama is setting up this country to be destroyed by our enemies!”

“Conservatives have VALUES, MORALS, PRINCIPLES Lefties don’t. “EVERYTHING GOES” SOCIETY! Losers, complainers”

I tried to find tweets where liberals were bashing conservatives, but couldn’t find any. Oops…correction. One just popped up:

“Conservatives had 8 years to destroy civil liberties & legislate morality. Now it’s our turn”

Maybe the overwhelming number of bitter political tweets comes from conservatives (at least from my very short experience), because they’ve lost what they perceived  as control of the political direction of the country. I suppose if I’d used Twitter while George W. Bush was president, the bitter comments may have been overwhelmingly liberal. Who knows. It’s easier to relax, when your party is in power.

My point was going to be the absolute political division that our country faces today. Maybe it’s always been this bad  but has become more obvious due to modern day communication. Now you can berate your neighbor on Twitter and never have to say it to their face. You can hate “them” virtually, and act civil while you are around them physically. Pretty sad when so many think that all of the problems they, or their country face has been caused wholly by someone else. One tweeter actually supposed that the stock market went down because
Barack Obama came back to the country. Uh…that’s just dumb.

Update - I had to add links to two videos that relate to this post. Both are very good.

Baracknophobia - Very funny. Did Michelle Bachman wear her aluminum foil cap on the campaign trail, or did she only become paranoid/delusional after winning election?

Jonathan Haidt: The real difference between liberals and conservatives -  Very interesting, and to be serious, I could probably take a lesson away from this talk.

The abandoned house of the week…cheap houses, a smoking ban, and mass transit?

04210601_15_xl.jpg

I’ve just begun using Twitter. I’m really just kind of eavesdropping on other peoples conversations, or at least parts of conversations. According to my eavesdropping the hot topic regarding Detroit is cheap houses. With NPR, Anderson Cooper, The New York Times, CNN, and other news organizations reporting that houses are selling for as low as $1, artists are buying up neighborhoods, foreigners  are snapping up real estate for investment, and Detroit’s rebirth is right around the corner, it seems everyone wants to buy a house in Detroit.

Some of the Tweets I saw on the topic of cheap houses in Detroit included:

“They just said on NPR that you can buy a slightly run down house in Detroit for 100 bucks.”

“foreign investors flocking to detroit for cheap houses. me want in!”

“We should all move to Detroit. $100 houses. We could live off our savings for years.”

“Are you buying a house in Detroit? Are the $8000 houses habitable, and in safe neighborhoods?”

“I think I am going to start investing in Detroit too, and so should you. Houses for $12K, thats crazy!”

A few of the articles really make it sound like a great opportunity to get in on a creative revolution in the Motor City, but if you read more than a few of the articles, and listen to some of the reports, you quickly learn what most Metro Detroiters already know; that it’s not so simple.

Listening to the NPR report you find out that even as some are moving in to a neighborhood, others are desperate to get out. Even the two artists, who are the story’s focus, admit their house has been broken into three times, and one of them has been threatened.  Detroit’s poverty rate is about as high as it gets in the developed world, the unemployment rate is above 20%, and the crime rates are equally high. Furthermore getting a house up to code in Detroit is a test of anyone’s commitment, and insuring that house, and your car (which can’t get by without in Detroit)is ridiculously expensive.

And then of course there’s Detroit’s wonderful city services. Will your garbage get picked up? How long will it take to get power back after desperate thieves steal the transformer off the pole down the street? What happens if you’re robbed, shot, or otherwise injure…how long will it take to get police (when I was trapped by a pack of wild dogs, the police operator told me it would be a couple of hours), or EMS to arrive? Where do you go for groceries? Kids? …forget it.

I’d love to go down, and buy a cheap place, fix it up, and be a part of a renaissance, but unless a couple hundred of my friends decide to do the same thing, at the same time, I’m likely putting myself, and my family in a bad situation. Is it worth it to be an urban pioneer with all of the risks involved, simply to get dirt cheap housing? The thousands that leave Detroit each year would say no. Many have struggled for years, to make the situation workable, and most have failed. Not all of the areas in Detroit are not bad, but you won’t find $500 houses in those areas. The prices in the nicer areas aren’t that high compared to other urban areas in the U.S., but they’re much higher than the prices thrown around in the recent reports.

I hope this trend continues, and some creative oases arise from the urban rubble of Detroit. I feel there are some opportunities for some special people, and maybe someday, some areas will actually attract average people who don’t want to be burglarized on a regular basis, who don’t want to pay several thousand dollars per year for auto insurance, who don’t want to have to drive back out to the suburbs for groceries, and who actually want to feel somewhat safe in their homes.

04150406_11.jpg

Warning: From this point down, large amounts of sarcasm will be used.

Other topics being mentioned on Twitter include Metro Detroit mass transit, and another attempt at passing a smoking ban in bars and restaurants. Mass transit is still a ways away from reality in Metro Detroit, but at least our regional politicians are getting on board. Less than eight years ago, L. Brookes Patterson, stated on Michigan Public Radio, that “we can’t afford to invest a dime in an experiment like mass transit.” Apparently after eight long years of testing around the world, he’s concluded that mass transit is no longer experimental. Whew…glad that’s been determined. Fortunately our leaders are only about 40 years late on making a decision that the are needs a comprehensive transit system. Maybe if they get it running in another 15 years, we can really attract that younger, highly educated demographic we’re looking for.

And bar and restaurant owners, against most widely available studies on the subject, are dead set against joining the rest of the country in banning smoking indoors in public eating and drinking establishments. Obviously the ban has been detrimental to the local economies in New York, California, Italy, Chicago, and many other major cities, and countries around the world. In fact the ban is probably the cause of this world wide recession. Smokers have just stopped going to bars and restaurants. Good thing Michigan dodged that bullet.

The abandoned house of the week

02070801_16_xl.jpg

Detroit…

12260701_09_xl.jpg

I recently came across two articles that speak of feelings many from Detroit currently feel. Feeling both torn between hating the area for it’s many short comings, and loving it for some reason as well. Maybe it’s what Detroit represents (or used to anyway): hard work and ingenuity. Or maybe it’s more simple than that. Maybe it’s just that it’s home.

Either way, questions such as, can Detroit become what it once was, or more simply can it survive, are constantly asked? Survive, it will, but become the major center of a new economy, like it was before, is next to impossible. It is what it is, and through the hard work, perseverance, and creativity of those who choose to stick it out, or who have no choice, Detroit can, and likely will, become a much better place.

Motor City Breakdown

The Detroit Dilemma

More Kwame…Detroit’s future…and of course, an abandoned house

03150501_10_xl.jpg

It’s hard to let go of the whole Kwame Kilpatrick thing. He (supposedly) holds a party with strippers in his mayoral mansion when his wife was out of town. The stripper is killed. Police officers investigate. The mayor fires the investigating officers, who sue the city for wrongful termination. During the trial, the mayor commits perjury, over an affair with his chief of staff. The city settles with the officers for $8.4 million, and Kwame goes to jail. Kwame gets out of jail. Kwame gets six figure job with a division of Compuware.

Now you may think that given the state of the economy in this country, that it would be very easy to find a qualified sales person (who gets paid anywhere from $120,000 to $360,000 annually), who isn’t a convicted ex-mayor. So it’s not surprising that Peter Karmanos finds himself having to defend his decision to hire a corrupt, former politician, who’s just gotten out of jail after committing perjury, while having an affair, and costing his city over $8 million. Peter must owe somebody big time.

To all the unemployed, non-perjurying, non-cheating employees, who haven’t cost their bankrupt employers over $8 million in wrongful termination suits, and who would make perfectly qualified sales people…it must be your honesty and hard work that’s preventing you from finding that quarter of a million dollar per year paycheck you’ve been looking for. My faith in corporate America has been restored.

As Detroit becomes largely an abandoned wasteland, it can be difficult to imagine a different, and hopefully better future for the city. But with all of this abandonment comes a clean slate. Land is cheap. Housing and commercial space is cheap too. At one time, Chelsea, SoHo, and the Meat Packing District of New York, were places only the poor and creative wanted to inhabit. Now of course, neither the poor, nor the creative (save the few who made it big) can afford to live in these areas anymore. Where are the adventurous, creative souls, who make art, start businesses, and generally make a place into a place that the less adventurous want to live in, to go next? How about Detroit. We’ve got room, it’s cheap, and no one cares what you do.

The abandoned house of the week

03150501_01_xl.jpg