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Finding the Bad Guy

A few days ago, I caught a television show called, “Apocalypse Man,” on the History Channel. Hosted by armed-forces vet and martial-artist Rudy Reyes, the show attempted to teach viewers how to survive a Doom's Day situation – how to find food, water and shelter without getting eaten by aliens or so lonely you start talking to a volleyball.

The background was truly desperate: Bombed out, decaying buildings, ransacked houses, cracked cement streets with trees shooting out of them. It looked like a true Apocalypse happened there.

The show, as you may have guessed by now, was filmed in Metro Detroit.

Every worthwhile story, I frequently tell my young son, has a good guy and a bad guy.

Later, I wondered…who is the bad guy in Detroit's story?

Some may say the mayor, citing Coleman Young or Kwame Kilpatrick as examples. Their seemingly self-centered administrations brought the city endless grief – and we'll be paying for their hubris for generations to come.

There are many who would name the City Council, the Board of Education, those in the boardrooms across the region who decided to leave the city and never look back at the chaos they caused.

Others say the guilt does not belong to a single person or group. Rather, it is the city's long-term issues. Racism. Isolationism. Disregard for human dignity.

As I have said before, Assignment Detroit has me thinking much more about Detroit than I ever have. And there are so many, many bad guys. But can you blame a single individual for what happened to this city over the past half century? Probably not. It would make for a better story to tell my kid, I suppose, if you could.

One thing I believe the Blog should do is give some history or background on Detroit to those who wade through it on a regular basis. According to the kind folks at Time Inc., about 60 percent of the Blog's readership is from outside of the state. Some of these generous souls may be former residents, curious to see what's new in the city as well as take a few walks down memory lane.

To be fair, then, let's say half of the readers are not from Detroit, Southeast Michigan or anywhere else in the state. How do you explain Detroit's long, drawn-out downfall to these people? There is no blog post, no magazine article, no clever YouTube video that can fully answer the question. Heck, even I'd like to figure out what evil created this mess.

There is no Bad Guy...What do you think?

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  • 1

    Detroit is the canary in the mine shaft.

    We are all now feeling the devastating effects of selling off our manufacturing to the lowest bidder.

    The political shenanigans in Detroit are no different than any big city in the US. The only difference is that Detroit doesn't have any slack left.

    I am a regular reader of this blog. I am from the Boston Metro area. I am planning on moving *TO* Detroit this coming spring.

    You can learn more about why I am doing this and follow my progress at:

  • 2

    I blame race relations - plain and simple. If it wasn't for the white flight of the 60-80's (fostered by poor city planning in the 20-40's) that perpetuated a broken system of us vs. them government, Detroit would have an economic base for recovery. Instead, thanks to crooksters like Coleman A. Young, who championed the idea of class and social isolationism, there is no strong foundation for economic recovery within Detroit city limits. Detroit's core relies on outsiders (read: suburbanites) to restart the engines and that just isn't happening in 2010. Find me a truly integrated city and I'll show you one that can weather recession. Instead we loved the idea of Hamtramck being exclusively Polish and Dearborn being strongly Middle Eastern etc. At the outset we should have diversified because isolationism breeds discontent and lack of oppotunity.

  • 3

    Well Karen,

    If you are a hearty racist, like your comment on Coleman (His name must never be spoken in the same breath as KK) then you would blame Henry Ford.

    Remember that Henry was a good friend of George Washington Carver and Edison and they went camping together and did projects together.

    (Renaming the Edison Institute as the Henry Ford, is one of the most daft ideas that ever came along).

    So Henry didn't give a damn about your race, he cared whether or not you could put in a good day's work. He created the opportunity for Black People from down south to come to Detroit and earn a living wage. And lots of black people took him up on it so that is why Michigan has a hearty population of Black people. Detroit is honored in song from down south and Barry quit Ford when he saw opportunity developing.

    There was a horrible thing that happened, if you are that racist. Black and White People working together became friends and in some cases intermarried. And they joined the unions together to protect their living wages.

    So Detroit Black people played a huge role in the civil rights movement. They weren't going to take it when they went home to vacation.

    And they reached a stage where they weren't going to take it here anymore too.

    It's not just Viola Liuzzo who tried to change things.

    Detroit played a central role in the movement.

    And believe me, there are some very smart and intelligent black people who were involved in trying to establish a decent future for their children.

    And you could put some blame on Ole Joe Stroud who liked to attack Coleman, and Maybe even the wonderful Draper Hill who once was remarked to by Coleman that he had built a whole career in doing cartoons on him.

    Joe specialized in his editorials on goading Coleman and talkin' 'bout his trusty ole dawg, an' his stern ole paw. So when Coleman, who was exceedingly bright and unbelievably funny, mentioned that he had the Freep inspected by a testing laboratory and it was found to be toxic. You couldn't help but laugh but see the point.

    But you must remember that Coleman set up his departments so that if the top manager was one race the second in command was the other.

    And you must remember that Coleman had a pretty awesome presence. When he married my wife and I my best man, a Naval Architect and shipyard owner from Tacoma commented that there was an atmosphere of competence and intelligence and greatness in the man.

    Indeed, he was great and he honored those who fought to save Downtown Hudsons which would have made a wonderful automotive museum, automotve archival center, parts exchange, museum store, and Hall of Fame. Coleman gave up tearing the masterpiece and crown jewel of the city down. Just imagine the draw that it would have had.

    One real culprit is a person who I shall not name but I am ashamed to say is an architect who has absolutely no sense of history and has made it his main purpose in life to demolish any old building in sight. And he has slunk around the city for years selling the notion of Demolish everything.

    And another was Walker Cisler who fell under the spell of Constantin Doxiadis, the planner who got Edison to front a comprehensive mapping of the city and then came in to give lecture on the conclusions that he drew from analyzing the maps and then pronounced that the new center of Detroit would be in either Mt. Clemens or Port Huron. ;D

    But the problem that developed from that effort is that every succeeding top executive at Edison or DTE as it is now called, thinks that they are a planner and knows what's best for the City.

    And look at what has been happening! Demolition is destroying the Downtown. The Civil War era block was destroyed, The Fort Street Union Station, Old City Hall, Hudsons, Tiger Stadium, The Graystone, Olympia and the list goes on.

    Other Cities in America went through fallow periods only to be saved and revived by younger generations who were hip and strong in their beliefs.

    So there are other culprits, and one it the mobility that the automobile brought us, the desire for "new house" like the new automobile, and yes fear of "them", and that plays both ways.

    So also is advancing technology very much the culprit.
    Someone should plot the number of workers and the number of automobiles produced. It should look a lot like the plot of farm families... very much a decay curve.

    Farmers from 60% down to less than 2%... what is it for factory workers?

    That is actually the most telling statistic.

    So the beautiful houses and the beautiful buildings no longer have the incomes to protect and preserve them.

    So in that sense evolving is the greatest culprit of all, no question about it. Evolving technolog is the real culprit. And the ludditic solution is no solution at all.

    Government will have to step in, set priorities, establish projects and get things going again.

    If the Chinese government can build such beautiful highways with no cracks at all and line the expressways with shrubs, staghorn sumac, weeping willows, and locusts, then we must do something similar.

    And downtown needs another college which is what exists in every vital city in America. Time for the U of M to take over some of the wonderful buildings and generate a downtown campus. Get the kids going, they will liven it up.

    And don't forget, Detroit has some of the finest Art Schools in America.


  • 4

    Thanks Bill. Your post makes it so clear that the present Detroit was not created by one person or even by one group of people (easily scapegoated) but by countless entities acting within history. This is the quality of insight that we need and nothing short of it.

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