Saturday, August 29, 2009

Detroit: a leisurely disaster

The people who publish Forbes must think exclusively in list form. Top 10 cars that are hard to find at dealers, The Top 10 majors for college students, Top 12 foods you shouldn't be eating...
As we mark the anniversary of a year of economic despair I keep being bombarded with lists of cities down on their luck. I take issue with these lists because they're low on substance, basic data ranked in a simple method that consistently make the front pages of Yahoo news. I'm shocked people get legitimate paychecks for such shoddy journalism. These list makers shouldn't even get paid for all 10 of the most depressed metro areas because...
You'd be hard pressed to find a city in the US that has had such a consistent run of bad luck. New Orleans has had a rough spell, but because it's steeped in culture and a tourism hot spot I am confident they'll make a full recovery. The obvious choice for #1 Detroit, is worse than I expected. In late Summer of 2008 I passed through on business and it was really rough. A year later I pass through to find things have gone from worse to the absolute worst.
The building above was a train station that had been fully restored in the mid-1980s. Today not a single window remains intact. If this happened all at once by way of a natural disaster it would be front page news. Below is what remains from the old Tigers stadium, surrounded by bars full of history but overwhelmingly empty on game days.
What happened to Detroit was a leisurely disaster. A slow moving decay that began in the 1960's, as residents fled the city bad times crept on in. This is a city that wasn't destroyed by a hurricane, fire or earthquake. It was destroyed over time as the rest of the world changed and it didn't. I've run across people, assuredly not from Detroit and likely never to have visited, who suggest letting it die, accuse it of digging its own grave and assessing the damage as not worth fixing. How would these armchair economists go about telling the man below walking past the former Hotel Eddystone that his town is not worth saving.
Detroit has fallen from being the 4th largest city in the United States to being the 11th. Despite the decades of crime, drugs and poverty there's still nearly a million people left. I hope the worst is behind Detroit. What was once a prime example of the American Dream is too big to fail, but after spending a few days on its crumbling streets it could be argued that it already has.

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