Skip to comments.The City Where the Sirens Never Sleep (Detroit is dying. But, it is not dead yet)
Posted on 01/01/2009 8:10:59 AM PST by SeekAndFind
"This is the place where bad times get sent to make them belong to somebody else, thus, it seems easy to agree about Detroit because the city embodies everything the rest of the country wants to get over."
--Jerry Herron, AfterCulture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History (1993)
Detroit My plane hadn't even finished descending through the snow-drizzly sheets of December gray, when already, I heard someone crack on it. "Ladies and Gentlemen," a Northwest flight attendant announced, "Welcome to lovely Detroit, the one and only home of the Detroit auto worker of America. Happiness is a way of travel, not a destination."
The lawyer sitting next to me sniggered. He was only buzzing in for a day or so, but knowing I was a reporter, come to write a story on the city, he asked, "How long are you in for?"
"About a week," I responded.
"Good luck with that," he said, piteously shaking his head. "It sucks."
Before I'd left, I'd asked an acquaintance if he was from Detroit. "Indeed I am," he said, "Give me all your f--ing money." Another colleague, always mindful of my desire for maximum material, suggested, "You should go when it's warm, you'd have a better chance of getting hurt."
Somewhere along the way, Detroit became our national ashtray, a safe place for everyone to stub out the butt of their jokes. This was never more evident than at the recent congressional hearings, featuring the heads of the Big Three automakers, now more often called the Detroit Three, as that sounds more synonymous with failure. Yes, they have been feckless and tone-deaf in the past, and now look like stalkers trying to make people love them with desperation moves such as Ford breaking the "Taurus" name out of mothballs, or Chrysler steering a herd of cattle through downtown Detroit for an auto show (some of the longhorns started humping each other in front of reporters, giving new meaning to the "Dodge Ram," which they were intended to advertise).
But with millions of jobs on the line, including their own, the Detroit Three honchos went to Washington to endure the kabuki theater, first in their private jets, then in their sad little hybrids. All to get their slats kicked in by Congress (and who has been more profligate than they) in order to secure a bridge loan to withstand an economy wrecked by others who'd secured no-strings bailouts before them. The absurdist spectacle was best summed up by car aficionado Jay Leno: "People who are trillions of dollars in debt, yelling at people who are billions of dollars in debt."
It happens, though, when you're from Detroit. In the popular imagination, the Motor City has gone from being the Arsenal of Democracy, so named for their converting auto factories to make the weapons which helped us win World War II, and the incubator of the middle class (now leading the nation in foreclosure rates, Detroit once had the highest rate of home ownership in the country), to being Dysfunction Junction. To Detroit's credit, they've earned it.
Before arriving, I conducted an exhaustive survey, reading everything I could about Detroit, including and especially the journalistic labor of the diligent if shell-shocked scribes of the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. How bad is Detroit? Let's review:
Its recently resigned mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, he of the Kangol hats and five-button suits, now wears jailhouse orange as he's currently serving a four-month sentence as part of a plea agreement for perjuring himself regarding an extramarital affair with his chief of staff, which yielded soupy love-daddy text messages that would make Barry White yak in his grave. Those in Detroit who are neither recipients of sweetheart contracts nor Kilpatrick family members on the city payroll at inflated salaries think he got off easy. Because what led to the perjury was concealing an $8.4 million payout from city coffers to settle a whistleblower suit brought by cops who'd been fired for investigating, among other things, the murder of a stripper named Strawberry who, prior to her death, was allegedly beat up by Kilpatrick's wife when she caught her entertaining her husband.
In a city often known as the nation's murder capital, with over 10,000 unsolved murders dating back to 1960, the police are in shambles through cutbacks and corruption trials. (They have a profitable sideline, though, as one of the nation's largest gun dealers, having sold 14 tons of used weapons out-of-state.) Their response times are legendarily slow. Their crime lab is so inept that it has been closed. One Detroit man found police so unresponsive when trying to turn himself in for murder that he hopped a bus to Toledo and confessed there instead.
Detroit schools haven't ordered new textbooks in 19 years. Students have reported having to bring their own toilet paper. Teachers have reported bringing hammers to class for protection. Declining enrollment has forced 67 school closures since 2005 (more than a quarter of the city's schools). The graduation rate is 24.9 percent, the lowest of any large school district in the country. Not for nothing did one frustrated activist start pelting school board members with grapes during a meeting. She probably should've reached for something heavier.
An internal audit, which was 14 months late, estimates next year's city deficit to be as high as $200 million (helped along by $335,000 embezzled from the Department of Health and Wellness Promotion). With a dwindling tax base--even the city's three once-profitable casinos are seeing a downturn in revenues (the Greektown Casino is in bankruptcy)--the city has kicked around every money-making scheme from selling off ownership rights to the tunnel it shares with neighboring Windsor, Canada, to a fast food tax. It's perhaps unsurprising that Detroit now has the most speed traps in the nation.
It also has one of the highest property tax rates in Michigan, yet has over 60,000 vacant dwellings (a guesstimate--nobody keeps official count), meaning real estate values are in the toilet. Over the summer, the Detroit News sent a headline around the world, about a Detroit house that was for sale for $1. But it's not even that uncommon. As of this writing, there are at least five $1 homes for sale in Detroit.
The city council has been such a joke that one former member demanded 17 pounds of sausages as part of her $150,000 bribe. Its prognosis for respectability hasn't grown stronger with Monica Conyers, wife of congressman John Conyers, taking the helm. She has managed to get in a barroom brawl, threatened to shoot a mayoral staffer as well as have him beaten up, and twice called a burly and bald fellow council member "Shrek" during a public hearing. But with all the problems facing the city, the council still found time to pass a nonbinding resolution supporting the impeachment of George W. Bush.
How bad is Detroit? It once gave the keys to the city to Saddam Hussein.
Over the last several years, it has ranked as the most murderous city, the poorest city, the most segregated city, as the city with the highest auto-insurance rates, with the bleakest outlook for workers in their 20s and 30s, and as the place with the most heart attacks, slowest income growth, and fewest sunny days. It is a city without a single national grocery store chain. It has been deemed the most stressful metropolitan area in America. Likewise, it has ranked last in numerous studies: in new employment growth, in environmental indicators, in the rate of immunization of 2-year-olds, and, among big cities, in the number of high school or college graduates.
Men's Fitness magazine christened Detroit America's fattest city, while Men's Health called it America's sexual disease capital. Should the editors of these two metrosexual magazines be concerned for their safety after slagging the citizens of a city which has won the "most dangerous" title for five of the last ten years? Probably not: 47 percent of Detroit adults are functionally illiterate.
On the upside, Detroit ranks as the nation's foremost consumer of Slurpees and of baked beans on Labor Day. And as if all of this isn't humiliating enough, the Detroit Lions are 0-14.
The best description of the feel of the place came to me from Jason Vines: "We're all Kwame-fatigued, the economy is crap, and the Lions suck. We're tired." A former executive with both Ford and Chrysler, Vines spun me around the decimated, half-abandoned neighborhood of Highland Park, which Chrysler left in the early '90s for the greener pastures of Auburn Hills. It's hard to fault them, he notes, since bullets used to occasionally whiz into the Chrysler buildings from the surrounding neighborhood.
Like many Detroiters (he lives in a posh suburb, where houses on his block have remained unsold for six years), he's bracing for one or all of the Big Three going down. He predicts millions will be thrown out of work, right down to the diner owner in Utah who serves lunch to the people who produce the screws which are bought by the widget manufacturers who produce a component that goes into a seat of a Ford automobile. The diner owner thought he wasn't in the auto business. "But he was," says Vines. "He just didn't know it."
Precisely what caused all this mess is perhaps best left to historians. Locals' ideas for how it happened could keep one pinned to a barstool for weeks: auto companies failing or pushing out to the suburbs and beyond, white flight caused by the '67 riots and busing orders, the 20-year reign of Mayor Coleman Young who scared additional middle-class whites off with statements such as "The only way to handle discrimination is to reverse it," freeways destroying mass transit infrastructure, ineptitude, corruption, Japanese cars--take your pick.
What's clear, though, is that Detroit has failed, that it's broken and cracked. It is dying. But it's not yet dead. Although it has lost over half its population since 1950, 900,000 people still live there. I went to Detroit to experience a cross-section of those who live between its cracks, who either choose or are stuck with living among the ruins.
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Wow... surprised the author of this piece wasn't lynched for using such "language."
related to the above thread about the two EMTs who thought the patient was not worth saving-Detroit-not worth saving.
8 years of Obambi will bring us all to this level.
Detroit is not an American city, it is a middling African one.
A friend of mine actually died in the parking lot on the way in to see a Lions’ pre-season game a few years back while he was up there visiting relatives. He had all his various ID in his wallet, etc., etc. After his wife hadn’t heard from him for a few days, she called his relatives there who eventually found him in the morgue. Yep, those folks up there must be real sharp and caring civil servants!
Somewhere along the way, Detroit became our national ashtray, a safe place for everyone to stub out the butt of their jokes.
I like these not-so-subtle hints that Detroit's predicament is somehow the fault of everyone in America.
I, for one, don't think of Detroit as a "national ashtray" where I can "stub out the butt of [my] jokes."
That's because I try not to think about Detroit at all. Ever since they kicked out every vestige of responsible government because it was too white, I didn't think I had to think about Detroit any more. Their glorious experiment in diversity would take care of itself, and usher in a new age of order, plenty, and fairness for all peoples.
Detroit is also the most liberal city in all of America...even more the Philadelphia, which is saying something. Detroit has also been run by Democrats for the last 50 years - a detail the author could not bring himself to report.
the city has kicked around every money-making scheme from selling off ownership rights to the tunnel it shares with neighboring Windsor, Canada, to a fast food tax. It's perhaps unsurprising that Detroit now has the most speed traps in the nation.
Except, of course, REDUCING government, REDUCING spending, REDUCING taxes, REDUCING unions and letting people who work hard keep more of what they earn...etc.
The graduation rate is 24.9 percent, the lowest of any large school district in the country.
Yet no one will mess with the teacher's union or the way the school system is run.
Not true! We have Dearborn with all the Muzzies. They are protesting for Palestine.
Detroit is where the New Dealers, Fair Dealers, and Great Socialists got everything on their wish list, and where the Maoist Jihadist Illegal Alien Baby-Killer will take the United States—a hell on earth.
Holy carp! Brings a whole new meaning to "we're moving and taking the whole family with us!"
I agree. I don’t know why anybody has any expectations for the place. Its human capital is worthless, and only the weather prevents the populace from returning to their loincloth roots.
Detroit is the “new” Cleveland, all they need is the Detriot River to catch fire and seal the deal.
Detriot also has as many abandoned or destroyed homes as New Orleans, which is saying something..
The socialist utopia of Detroit.
“The graduation rate is 24.9 percent, the lowest of any large school district in the country.
Yet no one will mess with the teacher’s union or the way the school system is run. “
I imagine the real problem is that, since it has been so long since the school system last updated the text books, the books may not be dumbed down to today’s modern standards. They might be too hard to read and study. There may be some real, accurate education related information still sprinkled among the pages.
I’ve lived in a Detroit suburb for a few years. I never go into the city.
You really think the problem is the teachers?
Posted a week ago:
Those text books may actually have some educational value, being devoid of all the social engineering crapola that is fed to kids these days.
This was already posted, but it’s an important piece.
The pit bull story from later on in the article is one of those things that you can read but not un-read, even though you wish you could.
No, he wasn’t murdered - which is against the odds for Detroit - I do know that. I never really learned the actual cause of death, but it is my guess that it was a heart attack brought on by the fact that he was kind of living on borrowed time and in need of a liver transplant. He was going to “live” whatever time he had. By the time his body was returned to Nashville for the funeral, he was the deadest-looking dead person I’ve ever seen. But, hell, what he would have said is, “As long as I’m dead, why try to look like I’m not?”
I’m praying that 4 years(or less)is as long as we have to suffer that fool.I predict Obama’s popularity will tank down to Bush’s level in less than a year.There’s a lot of dirt on him that could ultimately lead to his removal from office too.
Just Wow! What an amazing article.
“You really think the problem is the teachers?”
I believe the teachers statement was within the quote taken from 2banana. My comment was on the text books.
However, I would very quickly add that many teachers and teachers unions play a major part in the dumbing down of our schools, and turning schools into liberal indoctrination centers. The government, of course, benefits from and thus encourages this, and does everything it can to support teachers unions. Society, generally, plays an even bigger role in that it buys liberalism as a way of life. Detroit is merely the distilled version of everything that is wrong with liberalism. Big government benefits from decay and thus fosters it where ever it goes. Teachers unions are a tool of big government. Many teachers enjoy being part of that tool. Most, probably, don’t, but they are caught between a rock and a hard place in the middle of it all.
If ALL the productive people finally leave then the criminal class will be reduced to stealing each other’s government checks and benefits.How long could that possibly last?
I’ll never make another crack about Buffalo
It gets my vote for quote of the day.
In the novel “WarDay,” the main characters visit New York City, which has been evacuated after mistargeted missiles destoyed two boroughs and contaminated the rest of the city. They are assigned a government minder who is supposed to show them the ongoing efforts to salvage basic materials like copper wire and such. One of the characters wonders if the Romans also had smart, young professionals whose job was to oversee the demise of their cities.
I thought about that moment as I read this.
This article sounds like a travel brochure for tourists traveling to Mogadishu, Somalia.
“Those text books may actually have some educational value, being devoid of all the social engineering crapola that is fed to kids these days.”
Exactly. What’s left of them, anyway.
Four years of this stuff coming up!
Cut to the chase the “Bell Curve” is true.
Lengthy, but good read. No solutions offered, but great description of the dying city.
Except, of course, the weather which is much better in Mogadishu. They may also have a good soccer team worth rooting for.
Detriot is where the term “Burn Baby Burn” started, at the time the plan was to let “us” (meaning socialists and angry blacks) have a city of their “own”.
I’ve seen Google Earth maps of Detriot and it is astonishing, whole city blocks look like a WW2 battle rolled through them.
The article talks about abandoned buildings, the Feds had money they were trying to get the city to use to demolish buildings, the city refused to use it because they did not want to use white contractors.
“Cut to the chase the Bell Curve is true.”
Not convinced, myself, about that. Seen too many smart and dumb people in all socioethnic categories to put much stock in it if it is. Now, if someone were to do a bell curve analysis on big government and its proponents, however, the results might be fascinating.
Detroit is America’s first zombie city.
I agree, schools have been turned into liberal indoctrination centers and the unions have been a negative factor. I just don’t understand blaming the teachers for this sorry state of affairs. Would you be a teacher in that school system and put yourself in danger every day? I wouldn’t.
You could take the best teachers in the world and put them in the Detroit school and it would make little difference. IMO
Thanks, this is a wonderful article.
And its not even really political. This could have, and should have, run in the New Yorker.
There are a lot of good folks trying to change things in Detroit and around the area. Corruption in government, police force, unions and a democrat governor that won’t go against the union or the corruption because they’re all democrats are the roadblocks for a comeback. I live in the suburbs and do go downtown occasionally. I was at MGM and Greektown last night and it was great fun and had no problems. In fact, I’ve never had a problem going to any of the sporting events (except 1984 - at Tiger Stadium) or the theater district. It’s not the best city granted, but there are some good things going on down there. Dave Bing may be there best and only hope as far as the mayor’s office is concerned. We’ll see.
That’s actually a very good article, albeit rather long. But the author has drawn some interesting character studies.
“Detroit has also been run by Democrats for the last 50 years - a detail the author could not bring himself to report.”
Well of course it has. Thats pretty much beside the point of the article. And its in the Weekly Standard - they are all about being against Democrats. The author is perfectly able to bring himself to blame Democrats.