Monday, August 05, 2013

Detroit--what happened?

Detroit's recent bankruptcy and Charlie LeDuff's book Detroit: An American Autopsy got me thinking. There is no one culprit for Detroit's immolation. The automobile encouraged people to spread out of the cities--including out of Detroit. Competition from Japan and Europe cut into Big Three market share, who fled to southern states to evade unionized labor costs. Detroit was never going to operate forever at a fever pitch as it was in 1950. As a one-industry town, it was as vulnerable as those silver mining ghost towns out West. The solution would have been to bring the local economy in for a soft landing, trying to diversify and deflect the coming blow. This pessimistic approach would have been a political impossibility in the boom years of the Sixties, even if city politicians had been visionary enough to perceive it. Segregation festered for decades and the '65 riots decided the issue: whites fled, and blacks turned the city government into a banana republic, with politicians money-favoring cronies, pastors getting rich on grants for their phony-baloney "block projects", and funding for infrastructure and services going into the playahs' pockets. One possible thing to do now, beyond gaping at the ruins, is to sell off the blighted neighborhoods to the urban farmers. Let the locavore hipsters buy their produce, and if they're successful let it expand into regional agri-business. Or just bulldoze the entirety and let the prairie come back.