Monday, April 28, 2008

How long before they act?

In an article in Monday, April 28, 2008's Detroit News, entitled "Jobs expected to migrate with workers to suburbs" the author, Mike Wilkinson does an excellent job in describing the migration of jobs and residents from the factories and urban center of Detroit into the suburbs. He references SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments) that about 35,000 jobs and roughly 185,000 people would be moving out of Detroit, into the suburbs between now and 2035.

That's 35,000 jobs and roughly 185,000 taxpaying citizens lost for Detroit. My question is, "How long before RESIDENTS AND LEADERS stop acknowledging that something must be done and begin taking action to MAKE Detroit lovely again?"

When I married and moved up here in 1999 I wanted to buy a home in the city; become an urban pioneer. There were really beautiful brick homes just south of Eight Mile Rd. that were for sale for $30,000-$40,000 less than a comparable house between Eight and Nine Mile. Then the houses increased $10,000 for each Mile Road you went north.[1] But my husband, a Warren native, refused to buy south of Ten Mile.

I couldn't understand this, so I purposefully took jobs that put me in the city of Detroit to get a sense of why my 6'4" husband was reluctant to go anywhere but Greektown or Eastern Market. I couldn't believe what I saw, but the words decay, neglect, vandalism, and apathy come to mind. Did you know some of the 2,000 buildings that were burned out in the race riots of 1967 are still standing there, burnt out windows and doorways gaping open like dead, black eyes. This is 2008, folks![2]

Why? Why can't they grow past it, and into the 21st century?

In an article entitled: ”A gulf of our own” by October 16, 2005 Chicago Tribune, Mr. Franklin used Detroit as a warning to Chicago residents of what their future could be if they don't take care. A warning, an admonition- how the mighty have fallen!

"But Detroit's well-known despair is more than a terribly troubling situation. In the factory-driven Midwest, Detroit is a warning sign. It has been four decades since the last good era in Detroit, back before the race riots of the late 1960s and the hollowing out of the city following the Rust Belt recession of the 1970s and 1980s.

If they cannot reinvent themselves, or just stay afloat, what is to become of Midwest cities like Detroit in the future, when the full force of globalization rears up?"

and: "The issue was raised anew in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which re-exposed the underclass of New Orleans. But the average family income last year in New Orleans was higher than in Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cleveland.

Chicago has fared better than these troubled Midwest cities. But Chicago cannot afford to ignore the region's hollowing out.

The Windy City is the Midwest's commercial capital, and its fortunes remain tied to the Midwest's farms and factories. Not long ago, Chicago seemed on the way to becoming a global city insulated from its regional woes. But Chicago has yet to escape the Midwest's embrace."

Like the "Midwest" is a guy you are embarrassed to be seen with in high school. Man!

Mr. Franklin believes Detroit’s problem is:

"A matter of race" "No other Midwest city has stumbled as badly as Detroit. From 1.8 million people in 1950, the city's population has collapsed to less than 900,000, with its black middle class and working class now fleeing too.

One out of three Detroit residents is poor, making it the major city with the highest concentration of poverty. Nearly half of its youngsters below 17 years old live in poverty-stricken households, federal statistics show. Its jobless rate in August was 14.2 percent."

He goes on to say,

“Then there is the matter of race. More than eight out of 10 Detroit residents are black, making it the major American city with the largest black population, but only one of seven suburbanites is black.”

The migration out of Detroit is by whites AND blacks. It seems to me that blaming the suburbs for the loss of jobs and businesses has become a mantra for Detroiters. I ask, why or how can Detroit expect businesses to open stores in neighborhoods where their shops are vandalized and their employees fear for their lives? One store owner said to me, "The people in this neighborhood act like animals. They steal my supplies, damage my property without regard, dump the garbage from their car on the ground, three feet from a garbage can, and shoot at each other in my parking lot. Why should I care about keeping my place clean? For them?"

Most of all, I believe the citizens of Detroit have forgotten the "Golden Rule"- "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." I realize there are economic issues- I'm talking about keeping your yard clean and looking out for your neighbor, or reporting someone stealing a lawn mower or copper pipes from your neighbor's home without trying to stop them, I'm not talking about hiring a landscaper or spending billions to rebuild.

I would still love to move to Detroit, and become a part of the solution, but I would have to see property taxes lowered and see that the people who live there have decided they want to live in a better place by working to make their own homes better, and respecting the property of others rather than just complaining about how someone should be doing it for them. These are the things that I believe will stop the migration out of Detroit, and bring jobs and people back in. How long before they act?

[1] For example, for $57,000 I found a three bedroom, 1 1/2 bath brick home with a two car garage and a full basement south of Eight Mile. A similar home (one car garage, three bedroom, horrible basement) between Eight Mile and Eight and 1/2 Mile was selling for $87,000, between Nine and Ten Mile Roads, it went for $97,000, and between Ten and Eleven it was $107,000. Of course all those values have dropped $20 - 40 thousand today, but you see the pattern.

[2] (I couldn't remember when the riots were so I looked it up in Wickipedia and found that Detroit has lived through two riots: Detroit Race riot 1943, July 1967 12th street riot, both race-related. Wickpedia also lists the 1975 - Livernois-Fenkell riot, which was considered an incident, not a riot by Detroiters.) But, apparently Detroit only recovered from the 1943 riot.