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Letter from Detroit: Where's the Urban President?

President Obama is zipping across the industrial Midwest lately, touting the budding recovery of the auto industry, and for good reason. His $50 billion investment in General Motors and Chrysler pulled them from the brink of collapse, potentially saving millions of jobs. At a GM assembly plant in Detroit last week, he test-drove Chevrolet's new battery-powered Volt (about 10 feet, after getting reluctant approval from the Secret Service) and swiftly pronounced the ride "pretty smooth." The TV cameras rolled. The crowd of autoworkers cheered, right on cue. Just like a campaign rally: Everything was perfect. Except, it's not. Obama, America's first urban president, was visiting his country's poorest and most populous majority-black city. But the urban crisis unraveling outside the auto plants wasn't on the agenda.

Detroit's official unemployment rate is 24%, the highest among major U.S. cities. But officials here believe the actual jobless rate may be 50%, since the official statistics fail to include people who no longer qualify for unemployment benefits or have stopped looking for work. To put this in historical context: a decade ago, Detroit's jobless rate was 6.7% At the height of the Great Depression, in 1933, about one-quarter of Americans were unemployed. Today in Michigan, an estimated 44% of adults lack the fundamental skills, like reading, to qualify for the high-tech jobs officials are desperately trying to attract. An entire population is ill-equipped to participate in the new economy.

Read the full essay here.

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  • 1

    I still don't get it. Being an architect I was overjoyed that he placed one on the Cabinet.

    What has happened? Nothing, so far as I know.

    The guy should have been running around, visiting the cities and determining what is needed and wanted.

    Did he come to Detroit? No mention in the press.

    Did he look at the travesty of what's happening to King HS? No. Does he understand what's happening here? Nada.

    Has he outlined work that needs to be done and put people to work? Zip.

    It seems that few understand that if an architect sets to work he produces the environment for many jobs.

    Mention the word architect and people say Huh?

    So yes in dee dee, and many of them who would say that are "educated". But they are simply certified, not educated.

    Urban President? Who said that?

    Paying people to hand around and be with their "home boys" really is destructive in many ways.

    So when is O going to show up in this area?

    I worked like heck for him and this is what we get??

    A 500 million bond issue spent on outrageously bad architecture that was designed in a week, that does not meet the needs of the school. Lies upon lies?

    O better get a humping because some very bad things are happening.

    No wonder why the voting public expressed it's disgust.

    They just might do it again and again until it get's right.


  • 2

    Steven.....What a good question. Just where is Os' head? He got locked inside the auto factory and that was that.
    He was on the far North Jefferson Street side of town.
    I grew up on the East side of Detroit. I rode the bus down Jefferson on my way to Southeastern High, where I graduated and which is still in use. I passed several factories along the way.
    We rode under the breezeway across Jefferson that had a BIG clock. That factory is long gone. Some of the space was used to build another factory. That too is gone. He never saw any of that.

    Had he stepped out onto Jefferson and drove toward downtown, past Alter Road, he would have seen the REAL CITY. The one that needs help.
    He would have driven by houses as well as empty lots. Seen beautifully Architecture Design as it was in the midst of decay. Some of which could still be saved.

    The one thing he would not have seen is Supermarkets. There is no major chain of supermarket in Detroit. Why is this? Sure, you can buy food at the liquor stores as you spend your unemployment check to buy lotto tickets and pop at a premium price.

    We need help in the everyday parts of life. Take care of the basic needs, food shelter, protection from thugs and drugs. Fix these things in our cities. The people will stay and others can come back. This will build our city back to her glory, a little at a time.

    The auto factory help is a good thing. The saved jobs are a life saving measure. We just need some help in a few more areas.

    O as well as others need to look a little closer at the basic problems as well as the obious.

    Thanks Steve

  • 3

    Yawn....You have zero credibility in the 'D' ..You lost that when TIME's very first step out of the box was to frame a list of people who can change the city did not have ONE BLACK PERSON ON IT...

    Pack up and rent out that crib...or better yet donate it to the homeless....Now that would be a start....


  • 4

    Wake up Detroit! This is not Obama's problem to solve. It is ours!!

    You do not want outsiders running the schools. Why then do you want the federal government involved in transforming the D.

    Stop your whining and get out and do something for the community. for families or for kids.

    We are the change that we want.

  • 5

    The President's Detroit visit fell far short of what it could have been. Of course, this is a midterm election year and so the visit was more about showcasing the "success" of the bailout to moderate/independent voters, and not really about directly addressing Detroit's multiple crises. I feel that since the US taxpayers are majority owners in General Motors and minority stakeholders in Chrysler, both these companies should be forced to get on board with manufacturing for the transit industry- rail cars, hybrid/electric buses, train tracks, etc. Re-open those factories that were shut down. Open new factories, especially in previously abandoned locales like urban Detroit and elsewhere. I have written letters to officials, appointees and activists from the President on down, but so far this angle has only barely reached public discourse. The whole "quick-wash get-in-get-out" hands-off managing of the auto bailouts has been maddeningly wrongheaded. But at least the American public will get to drive those neat new Chevy Volts, at only $41,000 a pop. Save your pennies.

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