Will The Last Person To Leave Detroit Please Turn The Light Off?

We have been following the political and economic demise of Detroit for years. Its leading officials from city council members to the former mayor to judges to lawyers in the city have been the source of endless scandals. They have coupled a shrinking economy with expanding levels of corruption and cronyism. Now, the city is planning to simply turn off half of the street lights to try to force citizens into a small living area — leaving much of the city abandoned and dark. We previously saw how the city’s fire chief suggested just let many buildings burn down to save the cost of firefighting.

Detroit covers 139 square miles but holds 60 percent fewer residents than in 1950. Some 40 percent of the 88,000 streetlights are broken and the city does not have the money to fix them. The solution is to have citizens effectively fall back into a small enclave of living area — a perfect symbol of a city that is de-evolving back in time.

Other cities have decided to turn off some street lights, but not to this extent. This may be the best option in the short term, but Detroit has been in a free fall for decades. While other cities lost key industry, Detroit has long lacked competent leadership to try to lure people back into the city. The council did little to stop the gradual flight of both whites and affluent families to the suburbs. Politically, the city council and mayor were content with maintaining their political bases as the city’s economy fell and crime rose. Now the place looks like a sequel location to Escape from New York.

It is truly shocking and sad. Having grown up in Chicago, I remember Detroit when it was a thriving city. It was one of the world’s great cities. It is a wonderful location near the Canadian border and has some beautiful areas. I love the history surrounding the city. For that reason, I am very angry over its demise and frankly blame a long line of shockingly bad politicians. It is not that any politician could stop the economic slide due to the decline of the auto industry, but the Detroit leadership has lurched from one criminal investigation to another over the years. It now stands as a cautionary tale for all cities, particularly in losing their tax base and diversity in population. Many black and white families moved out of Detroit to avoid rising taxes and crime rate in what became a downward spiral for the city. That reduces jobs in the city and led to more people fleeing the city (in addition to the loss of auto jobs). With whole areas of the city now being abandoned, it is hard to see how the city can recover significantly in the near future. With much of the city being pushed into darkness and whole areas effectively a

A truly sad symbolic moment.

Source: MSN

46 thoughts on “Will The Last Person To Leave Detroit Please Turn The Light Off?

  1. Who Killed Detroit?

    Cities: Poor Detroit. It hasn’t had any good news for decades, and now, despite a $77 billion bailout of the auto industry, its population continues to implode. The No. 1 reason: the United Auto Workers union.

    Census data released Tuesday show Detroit’s population has plunged 25% since 2000 to just 713,777 souls – the same as 100 years ago, before the auto industry’s heyday. As recently as the 1970s, Detroit had 1.8 million people.

    What’s happening is no secret: Detroiters are fleeing an economic disaster, the irreversible decline of the Big Three automakers…

    As recently as 2008, GM, Ford and Chrysler paid their employees on average more than $73 an hour in total compensation. The 12 foreign transplants, operating in nonunion states mostly in the South and Midwest, averaged about $42 an hour.

    Guess which manufacturers are healthiest and expanding their market today?

  2. Notwithstanding puzzling’s claim, the unions did not destroy Detroit. His article uses data from 4 years ago that is no longer true. GM and Ford are doing well and hiring. Even Chrysler is much improved. Those companes are producing a better product using union workers. Politics and political greed are two of the big reasons Detroit is a much less desirable place to live.

  3. On the flight to the suburbs…

    This is an interesting example in the history of planned neglect. The suburbs we have today were ultimately made possible by ripping up economically successful black neighborhoods to make way for interstate expansion, connecting downtown areas to the suburbs directly. One consequence was that commuters no longer went *through* the city, but *over* it. The cities were gutted for the suburbs, which eventually contributed to riots across the country.

    These policies have artificially created a situation that is fundamentally opposite to what naturally occurs in most parts of the world: the inner city is typically the most valuable real estate, while the suburbs are the slums. Some racist planning wrapped in a Jeffersonian mythology led us in this direction.

    Over the next couple decades, large parts of many cities were essentially left to deteriorate. By the 1980’s a lot of this inner city real estate was essentially worthless, and wealthy developers snatched it up. They sat on it for a decade or so, profiting from the tax writeoffs their depreciated real estate afforded them.

    Here’s the real kicker: so with all the money these developers made off the dot-com bubble, they “redeveloped” all this land they had been sitting on to build fancy, high-end downtown condos so that retiring baby boomers can leave their suburban dream homes and spend their golden years in walkable neighborhoods with all the “amenities” that a disneyfied urban environment has to offer.

    http://www.google.com/search?&q=condos+baby+boomers

    Then the suburbs — where the housing stock is relatively poor, property values are depreciated, and a high cost of commuting will keep the property values low — will become attractive to first-time home-buyers looking for a bargain: the relatively poor, propagandized, and minorities, looking for the disney version of the jeffersonian american dream. These people will be stuck with a list of repairs to these cheap, aging houses, and American cities will at last come to resemble most cities around the world in that the affluent live in the inner-city, and the poor and “unassimilated” live at the margins.

  4. […] Jonathan Turley laments the whole darn thing: It is truly shocking and sad. Having grown up in Chicago, I remember Detroit when it was a thriving city. It was one of the world’s great cities. It is a wonderful location near the Canadian border and has some beautiful areas. I love the history surrounding the city. For that reason, I am very angry over its demise and frankly blame a long line of shockingly bad politicians. It is not that any politician could stop the economic slide due to the decline of the auto industry, but the Detroit leadership has lurched from one criminal investigation to another over the years. It now stands as a cautionary tale for all cities, particularly in losing their tax base and diversity in population. Many black and white families moved out of Detroit to avoid rising taxes and crime rate in what became a downward spiral for the city. That reduces jobs in the city and led to more people fleeing the city (in addition to the loss of auto jobs). With whole areas of the city now being abandoned, it is hard to see how the city can recover significantly in the near future […]

  5. Indigo Jones:

    I dont think it is like you say. People started leaving the cities for the suburbs in the late 40’s and early 50’s for cheap housing, the automobile made that possible. And builders like Levitt provided the cheap housing to GI’s returning from WWII.

    From what I can tell, cities go through a process of decay and renewal. But renewal is not funded by old rich retired people, most of them are in Florida at the Villages. Typically urban renewal is brought about by young middle to above middle class professional people wanting to get closer to their work and finding good deals in parts of a city which have run down over time through neglect.

    I used to do construction in St. Louis City, the west end area, rehabbing old town homes. This was back in the late 70’s. The people doing the rehabbing were young 30 somethings and they were selling to young 30 somethings. I now live in the DC area and the same thing happened here in the mid to late 80’s, the properties were mostly bought by young upwardly mobile professionals. They are now starting to move to the suburbs for various reasons, crime and tax rates being among them.

    A city like Detroit is ripe for redevelopment. All they have to do is get rid of the corrupt city government and give business a reason to come back to the city. Some of those buildings are in such bad shape they will have to be imploded.

    If I was young, I would be buying property in Detroit. By the time I was 50, I would be a wealthy man.

    From my perspective, I see Detroit as a typical result of collectivism and corruption. I have friends who come from Africa and the stories they tell me sound hauntingly familiar to what has happened in Detroit. Corrupt government with a Marxist bent is what killed Detroit.

  6. When the great migration of blacks moved from the cotton fields of the south and moved up north to where there were plenty of job opportunities and good wages in Detroit, the whites started moving out. From that era on,Detroit was starting decline.

  7. @Bron: People started leaving the cities for the suburbs in the late 40′s and early 50′s for cheap housing, the automobile made that possible.

    Basically true, but the automobile was around for 40 years before that. What really made it happen was the combination of the automobile and the invention of the highway, and Eisenhower’s big collective project to build a national highway system, which he believed after seeing similar collective works in Europe, was a necessity for national defense to move troops and equipment, and incidentally a boon for industry (free roads meant faster and cheaper transportation of goods).

    Both of those things turned out to be very true, and a side effect of the highways was “geographic shrinkage.” Many places that could only be reached by dirt (10-15 mph) and local roads (20-30 mph) were suddenly, time-wise, half as far away, or less.

    Suburbs were just one result of Eisenhower’s collectivist creation of a national transportation system. All in all it has returned hundreds of times over the total investment in taxes for creation and maintenance, in saved time, saved money, increased market penetration and distribution, and greater mobility leading to greater economic opportunity.

  8. Tony C:

    I have no problem with an Interstate Highway System which was built for the defense of the American people. That is a legitimate function of government. That it has other benefits is just icing on the cake, an efficient use of tax dollars, like the buy one suit get 2 free sales at Jos. A Banks.

  9. Raff, its worse than that – those numbers were not correct even at the time the were smeared around.

    The administration of St. Reagan got a package of tax breaks passed to promote moving jobs out of the US. During the 80’s they held a large conference, paid for by US tax payers, in Mexico to help large American companies move jobs to the third world. GM, Ford and Chrysler were in attendance and took the advice.

    They won’t be happy until we have not worker protection, no environmental or safety rules and we are earning the same kind of money as the drones at Foxconn. The part they have not figured out yet is who is going to buy their shit when nobody has any money except our overlords.

  10. @bron

    It is true that the highway system was begun in the 50’s, but it was the 60’s that saw a major expansion of the insterstate system into cities. “Beltway” systems were built on top of successful black neighborhoods across the country, contributing to the sense of disenfranchisement among blacks that lead to nationwide riots in the late 1960’s.

    This story was repeated across the country:

    “Bronzeville was an African-American neighborhood that historically was situated between what is now the Harambee neighborhood and the North Division neighborhood. Specifically, Bronzeville was bordered by State Street on the south, North Avenue on the north, 3rd street on the east and 12th street on the west.[6] Much of this former district was centered along Walnut Street (essentially halfway between State Street and North Avenue) until it was razed to make room for the Interstate 43 and other arterial road expansions. After that the community was displaced.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neighborhoods_of_Milwaukee#Bronzeville

    More to the point at hand:

    “Black Bottom endured the Great Depression, with many of its residents working in factories. Following World War II, the physical structures of Black Bottom were in need of replacement. In the early 1960s, the City of Detroit demolished the Black Bottom district as part of an urban renewal project. The area was replaced by the Chrysler Freeway (Interstate 75) and Lafayette Park, a residential development designed by Mies van der Rohe and intended as a model neighborhood”

    or this, in Oklahoma City:

    “Like many urban interstates, I-81 demolished a black neighborhood. The interstate has created a tale of two cities: thriving Syracuse University on one side, struggling downtown on the other.”

  11. Outsourcing, white (and now black) flight, crime, corruption, post-industrialization, bad schools, bad planning, -basically a perfect storm of bad luck and bad decision making for decades all over the place. The most pressing problem is crime. Nobody with choices is going to live or stay or live in an area where there is a better than slight chance of break-ins, home invasions or shootings. Fix the crime first and other solutions start to become possible.

  12. There are sister cities of Detroit that have experienced the phenomenon of large sections becoming Unmemorials, for instance, New Orleans has lost about 400,000 citizens due to catastrophe.

    There is one Unmemorial that would turn the lights out in all our cites.

  13. indigo jones:

    are you saying black neighborhoods were razed on purpose? If so, I disagree, many white neighborhoods had highways cut right through them. Many more whites were displaced as a result of the interstate highway system.

  14. Having lived in Detroit for a few years in the late ’70s and working as an executive in the automobile business during that time I feel somewhat qualified to speak on the subject of the American automobile downturn of that period. First, it wasn’t due to union pay scales. No one in the industry believed that seriously. Second, lethargy on the part of management was the principal cause of the decline of the industry: management refused to believe that the Japanese auto firms could take a significant percentage of the market and they refused to improve the quality of their offerings to match the Japanese product. No matter how much or how little union members would be paid, auto buyers were inexorably moving to the better designed Japanese cars. The value equation hugely favored Toyota et al.

  15. Mayfly:

    I think the Chrysler K car proves your point. What a POS that was, in fact most cars from that era sucked. The Gremlin, the Pinto, the “new” Ford Mustang [a supreme joke], the Chevy Nova, the list of lousy cars is endless from that era.

    I find it interesting that the 70’s was a time of economic repression, Nixon’s wage and price freezes and the oil embargoes. Cars started getting better toward the middle of the decade of the 80’s. The first convertible Sebring was pretty good or at least on the right track.

  16. When the Detroiters are all gone and live in suburbs or Florida, then the land should be given back to Native Americans. Of course Birthers will want papers from them.

  17. @bron

    Yes, more or less.

    Some white neighborhoods were razed too, but these tended to be ethnic minorities (like Italians). I’m not saying that the interstates were devised as a means to target black neighborhoods, but I certainly think that, when the interstates were being planned in the 1950’s, especially given that many facilities were still segregated and that the civil rights movement had not yet produced the Civil Rights Act, public officials had few qualms about planning routes that affected black neighborhoods disproportionately, and that these planners gave little thought to what these decisions would do to the people who were affected. I think a certain conception of “progress” played a part too, but I think certain aspects of interstate planning and most aspects of planned neglect were essentially racist policies that have contributed to structural inequality in subsequent decades.

  18. Bron, I can only go by what I have seen in my own city and a couple of others where I noticed it (being white I never have to give a thought to how race affects the world unless I feel like it)

    Of the 4 major highway projects in my cities 2 went straight through the heart of black neighborhoods – I was old enough to remember one being called “urban renewal”. One went entirely through rural and sparsely populated suburban areas, few people uprooted most if not all white. And one went through an old immigrant neighborhood taking about equal amounts of black and poor white homes.

    The couple of cities where I have noticed neighborhoods with highway construction they were both predominant black.

  19. “When the great migration of blacks moved from the cotton fields of the south and moved up north to where there were plenty of job opportunities and good wages in Detroit, the whites started moving out. From that era on,Detroit was starting decline.”

    @Roger Gunderson… Maybe I’m reading this post wrong, but if I’m not, it has to be the most racist thing I’ve read on Turley’s blog comments. I haven’t read anything anywhere near this bad on here.

  20. I can accept Mayfly’s assertions about the decline of the auto industry, but what she does not address is: (1) were the unions doing anything to improve quality; (2) were the unions also lethargic in their approach; and, perhaps more to the point of this post (3) did the union wages impede a recovery in Detroit (one might also ask about the union work rules as 3′).

  21. JCTheBigTree,

    Worse comments than that have been made in the past, but yep, that reads as a racist comment on Roger’s part without doubt.

  22. Got news for all except Woosty and Barkin’.

    You missed the apocalypse. The post-apocalyptic world is emerging before your eyes. And you stand there with your shovels and don’t understand that you are countering invisible social dinosaurs who will destroy the old.
    But who needs it. This is progress, at least they say so.

    Fumbel away. The system is broken. The levers are broken too. Only the attachment to corporatism and the holy dollar keeps us floating. I said us, not the rich.
    They will soon have their own (more actually) gated islands, fully guarded. And you and I won’t be there.

  23. “They will soon have their own (more actually) gated islands, fully guarded. And you and I won’t be there.”
    —————————————
    idealist, this may not be a bAd thing. Those gated communities are as much a prison as a haven. A good apocalyptic read is Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. It is, like Jules Verne, looking more and more prophetic as time goes on.

  24. JC and Gene, While I consider white-flight to the suburbs one of the things that helped with St. Louis’ decline, even if not the only thing, I don’t see Roger’s comment as racist. It was a fact in St. Louis. People talked about moving to the suburbs to not have to live in a neighborhood that was, or threatened to become, integrated. Many people that could afford it did so on the basis that black people wouldn’t be able to afford the same move. In St. Louis the County is not part of the city tax base, there are dozens of little township bedroom communities each with their own taxes and government. Some of them became part of an incorporated St. Louis County and some are part of a non-incorporated St. Louis County.

    A lot, A LOT of money left the city (tax base) for the suburbs and Illinois in the 60’s and 70’s simply due to integration. I was there, I saw it. Roger isn’t that far off base. In St. Louis it took laws being passed to keep Realtors from “steering” and banks from “redlining” to maintain discrimination.

  25. LK,

    Consider the tone as well as the fact. Sure, white flight helped create the suburbs in many cities, but “cotton fields”? Really? The Civil War was many years before the industrialization of Detroit. Also, as you note, it’s a gross oversimplification of the cause for Detroit’s decline. I don’t think the original statement was (as Mel Brooks might say) “The Sheriff’s a nigger!” blatantly racist, but it certainly read as having a racist overtone to me. I even stipulated it wasn’t the most racist thing ever posted here because, let’s face it, over time there have been some really off the wall posts here.

  26. frankly,
    you are right. The destruction initiated by the Reagan administration continues to this day.
    Gene,
    I agree that the comment by Roger was a bit nasty. But you are also right that there have been worse ones.

  27. I lived and worked in and for the City of Detroit. I was born there and my Mother was also born there, she too worked for the City.
    Back in the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and seventies Detroit had White Mayor’s and every one of the department heads where all white. The City grew and services were great. I remember the streets were swept at least 4 times a year, trash/garbage was picked up twice a week, when you took the bus it was only a 30 second wait (on main roads).
    Now the Mayor’s have been black sense Coleman A. Young and the dept. heads are all black and part of the “Cronies” that “Buy” their titles.
    The city now has the streets swept maybe once a year, garbage maybe picked up on your day, the bus just might get you to work an hour or two late.
    Coleman stole money hand over fist and Kwami was a thief that got caught.
    If you worked for the city you had to live in the city unless you worked for D.D.O.T or the water board. They had so many that didn’t live in the city they ended up changing the rules just so certin folks wouldn’t get fired.
    Glad I was able to get the heck out of “Dodge” when I did. I wished I could have done it sooner but……..I did have a job to do and I did what I could do when I was there.

  28. Gene, ‘tone, it’s tricky. I saw it as a bit hyperbolic but not untrue in the arc of my life as in, ‘that’s been going on forever’.

  29. Mahtso

    Respectfully, and to your first point, unions are NOT responsible for quality! That’s a design issue, not an assembly issue [leaving aside industrial sabotage which is a vanishingly small phenomenon occasioned mostly by alcohol–trust me on this one]. The unions built exactly the vehicles called for–and which BRON dissed so knowledgeably (well done, Bron, even I had forgotten those catastrophes of automobile ingenuity). There is no mechanism in union-management relations in the U.S., even today (with only a very few exceptions) for unions to provide input on issues of operational direction, oversight and control.
    To your second point of “union lethargy”. Since no one in management asked them for help and there was no way for them to be heard on their offers of help…well, no… they weren’t lethargic.
    Your third point: did their higher wages impede Detroit’s recovery? Here’s an economics thought experiment: consider a distressed city; would it be better or worse for that city that a significant part of its population had more or less disposable income? If you chose more, you are correct.

  30. Mayfly,

    It is refreshing to see someone from the industry acknowledge both that quality is first and foremost a design issue and recognize that it was Detroit’s Pollyanna-ish refusal to recognize the true nature of the threat from Japanese competition that drove the nose dive of the American automobile industry. Thank you for both of your insightful comments.

  31. Mayfly
    I did not make any points and merely asked questions.

    But if I understand you, it sounds as though the unions stood idly by while the jobs disappeared or went to non-union workers. But, I confess, I don’t believe that there was no way for them to be heard had they made offers of help. (Certainly strikes have worked to achieve some goals.) More income is better, but if too many jobs were moved to non-union factories in other states, that results in less income (than accepting lower wages would have yielded.)

  32. mayfly is right

    i worked at gm dealerships in the late 70’s and early 80’s. it seemed to me the auto companies at the time were pissed at being told to cut emissions and raise mileage by the government right after removing TEL’s from gasoline. they were designed to be cheep and fall apart so the auto companies could blame government regs.

    unfortunately for them the japanese stepped in and built cars that worked well and met emission and mileage standards.

    the big three came very close to engineering themselves out of the market.

  33. While you post I sleep. Anyway…..

    Just goes to show that private can do no wrong. Right?
    And some are too big to fail, which their dogma says they should be allowed to do. Which translates into Omama couldn’t afford for them to do so. Political fallout.

    Now the interesting questions: Will they produce a competitive product? Will it make a difference?

    And here’s straight question: Are there any black dominatied cities worth living in, not because of them, but because the way they were brought down by among other factors racial prejudice, etc.???

  34. Washington DC, a “black dominated city” is obviously worth living in, but has been persistently disenfranchised by its rulers, Congress. Had this not been the case, there would not have been a governmental appointment of George W. Bush in 2000 because there would not have been an “equipoise” in Congress and the Supreme Court could not have stuck W up there against the will of the majority of voting Americans. This is OT, sorry.

  35. Elaine, thanks for the posting the Michigan citizen…..

    From what I understand it was long awaited by the Michigan GOP to destroy Detroit…. Specifically because of Coleman A Young…..

  36. This is what happens when blacks and liberals run a city. It could happen elsewhere. Keep voting those liberal minorities into office.

  37. Insane1, when black get into power in major cities they crumble. It could happen to the entire country someday if blacks keep pounding out kids and become the majority. Liberals would love to see it happen.

    I lived and worked in and for the City of Detroit. I was born there and my Mother was also born there, she too worked for the City.
    Back in the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and seventies Detroit had White Mayor’s and every one of the department heads where all white. The City grew and services were great. I remember the streets were swept at least 4 times a year, trash/garbage was picked up twice a week, when you took the bus it was only a 30 second wait (on main roads).
    Now the Mayor’s have been black sense Coleman A. Young and the dept. heads are all black and part of the “Cronies” that “Buy” their titles.
    The city now has the streets swept maybe once a year, garbage maybe picked up on your day, the bus just might get you to work an hour or two late.

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