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All thriving cities are alike; every dying city is dead in its own way. Places like San Francisco, New York City and Austin may not have the same architecture or attractions, but they share an atmosphere—a feeling that what happens here matters. These are the cities where youth and all its attendant beauty congregate like ants on a dropped popsicle, drawn there by some migratory urge ingrained in them during adolescence. The scenery will change and the demographics will shift, but wherever you go in this bustling substrata of society, that sense of purpose stays. Nashville and Seattle might be two drastically different places in terms of political leanings and cultural proclivities, but the core of each city is filled with the same basic hope that comes from knowing you’re desirable. Thriving cities are like quivering lipped lovers so engrossed in the possibilities of one another that they forget to dwell on their partner’s faults and foibles.

Dying cities have no possibilities. Well, technically they do have possibilities, but they’re all just gradations of horrible that nobody can bear thinking about for too long. These are places where the older generations live in the past and the younger ones don’t acknowledge the future. As their former glory slowly seeps out into the suburbs and beyond state lines, the brick and mortar remnants of their lives remain as an ever present reminder of what they’ve lost, like folds of excess skin hanging from the arms of people who’ve had successful lap band surgery. What makes one dying city distinct from another is not so much what they lost, but how they lost it. A person can only be born in a couple of ways, yet there are an infinite number of ways to die. So it is with cities. The main difference is that where people only get one shot at death, cities die in increments. Each death digs a little deeper—exposes the rot a little more clearly. A factory may die one day, a neighborhood block the next. Death eats at cities bit by bit in such a way that the still living sections see their death foretold in the decay creeping toward them.

Haunting photo from Detroit Urbex of the gym at Cass Tech High School in 1988 and today.

Like many of its rust belt brethren, the city of Detroit has been dying every day for more than four decades. Each morning, Detroit awakes chained to the burned out hulls of the auto factories that once gave it life, an American Prometheus waiting for that day’s atrocities, drinking in the morning because it knows it won’t have a liver by nightfall. Greek myth tells us that Prometheus provided humanity with the basic buildings blocks of modern civilization. He taught us medicine and agriculture. He endowed us with the knowledge of science, mathematics and the written word. He also gave us fire. So it was that Greek immigrants descended upon Detroit at the turn of the century and, along with men and women from every crevice of the western world, built a city with those gifts. They came closer than any other place in our nation’s history to fulfilling the promise of the American Dream and validating the belief that effort and outcome were proportional in nature. I don’t know which one caught fire first, the dream or the city, but after 45 years of burning there ain’t much left but embers.

The first time ever saw Detroit close up was in 2007. This was right before the bottom dropped out on the Kwame Kilpatrick era and the country found out that Detroit’s mayor had been using the city’s coffers as his own rainy day fund (it rained a lot) and ushering political sex scandals into the digital age by sexting his chief of staff with taxpayer funded cell phones and then lying about it under oath. It was also about a year before the big three automakers were cold-cocked by the recession and flew to Washington on their private jets to ask Congress for billions of dollars to stave off bankruptcy, but without a tangible plan of what they were going to do with the money. However, at the time I visited, I had trouble imagining how Detroit could get much worse.

The corner of 12th Street/Rosa Parks Boulevard and Clairmount, the starting point for the 1967 Detroit riots

A buddy of mine had driven us into Detroit from Ann Arbor in a half-assed attempt to try and catch a Sunday afternoon Tigers game, but mainly we were going just to drive around and see how bad things actually were in The Motor City. We pulled off I-94 at an exit about 3 or 4 miles away from the stadium and decided to take “the scenic route” into downtown. I wanted to see the spot where the 1967 riots started, so we turned down Rosa Parks Boulevard in my friend’s beige Nissan and made our way over to the corner of 12th and Clairmount. When we got there, we found that there was really no there, there. The intersection looked no different than any of the intersections we had passed on the way over. It took us several minutes of searching to find anything acknowledging that this little piece of land served as the flint that set Detroit ablaze and marked the beginning of the city’s end: in front of an empty, overgrown park was a rock containing a small plaque commemorating the tragic events that had originated there. Across the street was a vacant lot surrounded by vacant houses and vacant storefronts.

Where we went from there, I really couldn’t tell you. There was nothing around to serve as landmark; nothing to differentiate the varied manifestations of misery that were flashing past us. Some blocks would have long stretches of occupied houses and some blocks held nothing but squatters and the charred husks of houses that used to be. In places, the lawns had been left to grow for so long that they made two story homes look like ranches floating atop a sea of grass. For the most part, the only business to be found came in the form of liquor stores, fast food joints, payday loan sharks, gas stations and pawn shops. We had stepped into some unwritten Cormac McCarthy novel—a post-apocalyptic, post-industrial wasteland consuming itself from the inside out. The thing is, we could step out of it whenever we wanted. Currently, Detroit is the exception and not the rule, but that might not be the case for long. There are some people who are adamant that Detroit is leading the way in failure just as it did in success. The long slow death of Detroit has produced a thousand Cassandras shouting at the top of their lungs from caved in rooftops that this is our future—this is our fate. They may well be right, but no one inside the beltway is really paying them any mind. Dead men tell no tales and dead towns grease no wheels. The only time the living tend to listen to dead is when they become dead themselves.

Originally posted to Virally Suppressed on Sun May 26, 2013 at 04:18 AM PDT.

Also republished by Motor City Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Points for poetry, but... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wonton Tom, Wednesday Bizzare

    Detroit never really led the nation.  It was just a Company Town, and the company left.  It was, in other words, an illusion organized not just around a single industry but a single product, and its basic economic and cultural foundations were always tenuous.  

    It's a lot harder to kill a city like New York or San Francisco.  You would basically have to reenact the fall of the Roman Empire to destroy them, because they have a large spread of industries deeply woven into a particular location, its geographical and political advantages, and is intimately tied into fundamental economic and cultural foundations.  

    To get at California's Bay Area, you would have to eliminate the universities and National Labs that feed into Silicon Valley, biotech, clean tech, and the healthcare industry, and those companies that are already established in those industries would need to have a reason to stop supporting the economic ecosystem in which they operate.  

    To destroy Los Angeles, Chinese imports would have to be redirected to other ports, people would have to stop consuming any form of entertainment whatsoever, and it would have to stop having ideal weather 80% of the year.  For New York to die, you would have to rip out the entire global economy by the roots.  People thought it was dying in the '70s, but its intrinsic advantages ultimately proved something important: When a city has no real foundation, trying to protect it against entropy is futile, but when a city goes straight down to the bedrock, entropy itself is futile.

    Look at all the Old World cities: London and Paris have been big-time for the better part of a thousand years, Rome for more than two thousand, and Beijing is practically primordial.  How many Great Cities in all the world have ever died?  Try and name them.  Teotihuacan, Babylon, Samarkand, that's about it...it only ever happens when the environment stops supporting the population or an overwhelming invader completely wipes them out.  

    The city Constantine founded is still thriving because it was built on an ideal geographical foundation.  No end in sight to the city Bugsy Siegel founded either despite its arguably being less than useless to civilization, because degeneracy is always a growth industry.  But for a while there was a flourishing economy in a Midwestern city, and then there wasn't.  Detroit's rise and fall was hardly epic compared to Carthage.  Its "success" was built on the delusion of corporate benevolence, and the fantasy was shattered within a couple of lifetimes of its birth.  I don't see it as a harbinger of anything.

    Austin, however, might die.  It has culture, but then so does New Orleans, and so did "Motown."  Time will tell.  

    Process defines product.

    by Troubadour on Sun May 26, 2013 at 05:44:35 AM PDT

    •  Why did Detroit have its reputation? (6+ / 0-)

      It's not the city but the city formed a hub. Flint, Toledo, Windsor, Dearborn and other areas were not only manufacturing centers but close proximity to the engineering.

      When the war came, it was Willow Run that stopped building cars and built the tanks. That's maybe 10 miles south.

      Detroit is an idea and a center, not the center of the auto universe. And the brains are still there.

      Why did Detroit "fall?" Because the congress (chiefly GOP) declared that a car that had every single part imported, was assembled in a non-union tax haven in the south, and sent every dime of its profits back to Asia, was a domestic car and didn't need to pay duty.

      •  And that's my point right there. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wednesday Bizzare, OIL GUY

        If a single act of Congress can destroy a city, there was never really a city there in the first place.  Real cities only die when Mother Nature won't allow them anymore, or when a foreign general has them burnt to the ground and their people completely exterminated.  Otherwise, nothing else can destroy them: Not huns, not Mongols, not the Black Death, not WW2.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki are thriving cities today a mere seven decades after they were incinerated, because the survivors continued.  

        Detroit is still a tragedy though: If US politics had continued to support intelligent economic policies for another few generations, it might have grown into a real city with real foundations.  But its time came and went too fast for that to happen, like Tulsa or St. Louis (once thriving urban centers praised as the future of America).  About the only general pattern one could deduce from this is that the Midwest is fucked.

        Process defines product.

        by Troubadour on Sun May 26, 2013 at 06:11:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  What a lousy attitude. You need a better guide. (8+ / 0-)

    If you go looking for poverty, you'll find it. If you go looking for steel and guts and plenty of Detroit spirit, you'll find that too.

    If you got in a car with me, I'd show you some of the best neighborhoods, from the biggest Arab community in the United States, Chaldean, Mexican town...A great art museum (if that $%^& Snyder and his minion doesn't sell it off), fanatic sports teams with three of the best stadia in the country, all connected by a little tram (which should be bigger) and great restaurants. I'd show you perfectly groomed neighborhoods.

    Yeah, you wanna see blight? I can find you some. But I won't.

    Think back two Superbowls ago, with Eminem driving north on I-75 until he hits mile marker 45. Detroit needs more than this diary.

    •  your comment hit just as I posted mine (0+ / 0-)

      so thank you for offering some balance.

      "For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best." V. Frankl

      by Wonton Tom on Sun May 26, 2013 at 06:00:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  thank you (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lehman scott

      I worked for Hudson's in the 80s and 90s and made it my mission to find the good things about Detroit, the fabulous Institute of Arts, which is a national treasure, the music, the incredible creative below-the-national-radar art scene, the grim cynical humor of the kids who are sticking it out, the many garage machine shops who still make parts for anything you could possibly dream up, all built with no help from anyone and nothin but contempt from the GOP and the fat suburban Americans.
      Well... sacrifice zone yes, and a lab for what COULD happen...
      "Don't forget the Motor City" Exene Cervenka and John Doe.

      I buy and sell well trained riding mules and American Mammoth Jack Stock.

      by old mule on Sun May 26, 2013 at 07:22:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not Alice's Restaurant (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mideedah

        You could get ANYTHING you want at Hudsons. You could match any set of china, find any part or access almost any  service.

        Frankly, I find this diary really offensive. Detroit is strong; its people are resillient. Granholm did a lot of good in her years, but the fruit of her endless quest for jobs is just ripening and that idiot Snyder is taking credit for it.

        The fallacy in this diary is thinking of "Detroit" as the small area within the city limits. Dearborn, Bloomfield, Flint and other areas are all part of "Detroit." When Obama saved the auto industry he didn't just save a small few square miles but a network of support industries, millions of folks who make seat belts, batteries, gizmos and gadgets that go into cars.

        •  maybe, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Sylv

          but I don't think it's offensive. "Detroit Disaster Tour-journalism" is offensive, yes, but thinking about our future needs to happen.
          Just commented on another diary here about the depth of talent and skill in urban Michigan...but if our country doesn't want or use it, then what?

          I buy and sell well trained riding mules and American Mammoth Jack Stock.

          by old mule on Sun May 26, 2013 at 08:51:20 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The entire attitude is negative (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mideedah, Sylv

            The tone is that it is Detroit's fault. First, "Detroit" may be primarily minority residences, but it is also the hub of a manufacturing system that led the world for half a century. The system was deliberately undermined by international influences to weaken not only the US manufacturing industry but the unions.

            When you live in Michigan you get used to the right wing GOP "dog whistle" that is "Detroit."

            You mention a very great point; the area is full of very talented and underemployed potential consultants. When health insurance is available through exchanges to enable some of these older engineers to go back to work in their own industry, it is a very good place for business.

        •  Kudos for your line about (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Sylv

          Snyder taking credit for Granholm's groundwork. Although anyone could see THAT coming a mile away.

          I love sports. Whenever I can, I always watch the Detroit Tigers on the radio. -- Gerald R. Ford

          by mideedah on Sun May 26, 2013 at 06:33:09 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Detroit's great! Thanks for jogging a good (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Hanging Up My Tusks, mideedah

      memory.  Although I grew up in Mt. Clemens, later in life I lived for a number of years in a beautiful 1920s home in Rosedale Park just off Outer Drive and McNichols.  Although the blight of Brightmoor was just a short drive away, an equal distance took me to the best Middle Eastern restaurant I've ever eaten in.  It was a little side street place just off 7 mile in the Chaldean section of town.  Not in any phone book; my wife and I just stumbled on it one day while exploring.  The only advertising was a faded plastic sign jutting out from the front of the building with the lettering "City Chicken" above and below a yellow chicken.  Inside, the place had maybe six booths which were usually filled with locals all smoking unfiltered Camel cigarettes.  No one spoke a word of English.  The food was to die for - - the only hummous I ever had that had more of a bite than my own.

      There are thousands of places just like that all over the city.

      Except for a few inconveniences (like very few decent produce stores at the time, I hope that's changed) and having to be careful about one's personal safety in terms of certain neighborhoods one just shouldn't wander around in for no good reason (like one should in any major urban center), I loved living in Detroit.  It is a wonderful city unlike any other.

      Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

      by lehman scott on Sun May 26, 2013 at 10:39:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hummus is one of my faves. I have a good recipe, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lehman scott

        but I'm always experimenting with others. I'd love to try yours if you're willing to share.

        The world is not interested in the storms you encountered, but did you bring in the ship.

        by Hanging Up My Tusks on Sun May 26, 2013 at 11:13:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'd love to try your recipe, Sir/Ma'am! (0+ / 0-)

          My own is nothing special or unique, just the standard ingredients (plus some coriander root/leaves and a dash of garam masala), except I use a LOT of garlic!

          Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

          by lehman scott on Sun May 26, 2013 at 11:28:24 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Took me a while to find it - here 'tis. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lehman scott, Sylv

            Hummus

            1 can (14-16 ounces) chickpeas, drained (reserve 5-6 Tablespoons liquid)
            2-3 T lemon juice
            3-4 tablespoons tahini
            2 cloves garlic
            ½  t sea salt

            Directions:
            Drain the chickpeas and reserve liquid. Process the chickpeas in a blender (or food processor) with the lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt and enough of the cooking liquid to obtain a soft creamy consistency. Serve with pita bread for scooping.

            For the record, I always use max lemon juice and tahini. This dish seems to be popular. When I take it to an event the bowl is empty at the end of the event.

            The world is not interested in the storms you encountered, but did you bring in the ship.

            by Hanging Up My Tusks on Mon May 27, 2013 at 02:51:02 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  thank you, HUMT! (0+ / 0-)

              that's pretty much the same as mine except i use more tahini and garlic and add a splash of tamari and the other spices i mentioned previously.

              Thanks again!

              Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

              by lehman scott on Mon May 27, 2013 at 03:32:19 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Garam masala differs a lot. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                lehman scott

                I have Indian friends and each friend has her own special mix. Do you use a commercial mix? Something that I might find in CA?

                Also, how much is a LOT of garlic? 4 cloves? 10? And, approx how much tamari? Just looking for general amounts. Thanks!

                The world is not interested in the storms you encountered, but did you bring in the ship.

                by Hanging Up My Tusks on Mon May 27, 2013 at 03:47:29 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  That it does (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Hanging Up My Tusks

                  and I make my own, although I don't have a set formula for it - - each time I grind up a batch it's always a little different than the last and the ingredient mix depends on what I have on hand at the time.  As to the garlic, it totally depends on my mood and cravings at the moment.  Sometimes when I'm wanting a good bite I'll throw in ten, other times more mellow and only four or five.  And again, it depends on how much of the other ingredients I have on hand, too.  Same with the tamari (and the lemon and or lime (try lime sometime), too).  Sometimes my body is craving salt and I'll gurgle a goodly portion in, other times none at all.

                  As you can tell I don't pay attention to recipes all that much, HUMT.  My kitchen has always been more of a playground to me than a food preparation station.  ;)

                  Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

                  by lehman scott on Mon May 27, 2013 at 05:44:42 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I hear you loud and clear on the playground (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    lehman scott

                    philosophy. I rarely try recipes I see in mags, but I've gotten a couple of real hits with my family and others when I did. One is a "cornbread pizza", essentially. The other, and I pass it on because it's gotten raves, is what my family calls asparagus sandwiches. Here's how:

                    In layers:
                    Toast (I use multi-grain bread usually)
                    Fried bacon
                    Steamed/boiled asparagus spears
                    Swiss cheese

                    Assemble the layers in order given, then put in oven at approx 350-400 degrees. When cheese melts sufficiently, it's time to eat.

                    We almost cry when asparagus season is over - these are that good. Enjoy!

                    Thanks for the limey suggestion for hummus.

                    The world is not interested in the storms you encountered, but did you bring in the ship.

                    by Hanging Up My Tusks on Mon May 27, 2013 at 07:14:30 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

      •  Biggest Chaldean Community in the World (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lehman scott, Sylv

        Biggest Arabic population in the US

        I could go on and on.

        My husband graduated from Mt. Clemens High School, so we aren't far apart in background.

        I have been all over the world. I can guarantee there isn't a city in the country where you can't find blight. One of the problems with Detroit is that the interstate ("ditch") goes through the worst part of town, rather than skirting it and hitting the high points. It's not moving any time soon.

        Snyder is doing everything possible to demean Detroit and bring it down. Let's not help him.

        •  Yes. The story of the removal (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          OIL GUY, mideedah, Sylv

          of the Black Bottom neighborhood to make way for the I-75 freeway is particularly tragic.  That part of the city was incredibly vibrant and resilient all through the Depression until "progress" came along and bulldozed it all into the ground.

          Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

          by lehman scott on Sun May 26, 2013 at 01:16:01 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  when I read this I wonder (0+ / 0-)

    if there is a flip side to the coin you have laid on the table.  I have no knowledge of Detroit, its past or its present.  Your diary appears to maintain that there is no future for the city or its inhabitants.  Many things run in cycles.  

    "For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best." V. Frankl

    by Wonton Tom on Sun May 26, 2013 at 05:59:41 AM PDT

  •  That is the old cass tech... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    stunvegas, Sylv, mideedah

    before they tore it down and built the new highschool next door.
    Detroit happens to be one of the oldest cities west of the allegheney(sp?) mountains. when industry picked up and left they were never made to clean up after themselves.  There are neighborhoods that need razing, and there are neighborhoods that seem to be coming back, and those that are still quite attractive.
    In the last couple of decades downtown through the new center area has experienced quite the regrowth along with various stretches of the waterfront.
    It's economy is also transitioning from blue collar manufacturing to financial, medical services and high tech.  And, much of this new growth is aimed at 100 grand and up crowd, as is advertised by the somewhat expensive condos, lofts and waterfront dwellings.
    Just another perspective from a home towner.  
    I do agree with your overall premise, congress has failed to protect the working middle class, not only in Detroit, but across the nation.

  •  I've read (6+ / 0-)

    in various places about Detroit's attempts to rebound, and it lifts my spirits. It will never be the Motor City it was, but then it doesn't have to be.

    Even though I grew up in NE Ohio I feel like a Detroiter by proxy. I probably knew more about Detroit in the sixties than I did Cleveland. The reason was a radio station with the call letters CKLW. I, and many others in my locale and age group, listened to CK religiously.

    How this was possible was because of two things... well three actually.

    1 Cleveland may be the home of rock n roll now, but back then there wasn't a decent rock station to be found - at least not one whose signal carried out to the sticks where I lived.

    2 Lake Erie was a mile and a half north of me and was a huge expanse of empty for hundreds of miles north, west and east. Nothing at all to block over the air radio waves.

    3, and probably the most important, CKLW's broadcast facility was actually in Windsor Ontario - which was not bound by the rules of the FCC concerning signal strength. Consequently, they were able to pound out 50,000 watts of power. On a good night you could hear CK clear into Oklahoma. I listened to the station all the way to Albany on a road trip with my folks once.

    This also explains why I knew the lyrics to most every Motown song recorded back then (something that always earned this white chick curious looks from the black people when I travelled).

    Long Live Detroit!

    Meddle not in the affairs of dragons... for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.

    by Pariah Dog on Sun May 26, 2013 at 07:25:13 AM PDT

  •  Republished to Motor City Kossacks for discussion (3+ / 0-)

    I hope that's ok with you.

  •  There are so many positive things happening (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mideedah

    in Detroit - and so many parts that have decayed too.  Any large city in the US has these same components - sports venues, cultural activities etc. as well as run-down sections. I've seen them in Chicago, Atlanta, New York City - even Naples, Florida.  The only way to get rid of these blighted zones is by helping raise up those who live there - with better educational, psychological, social and economic help - from local, state and federal sources.  Churches and other civic groups have tried but the problem is bigger than they can handle alone.  If we want to improve these things - we're all gonna have to pitch in and work to make things better... a hand up not just a hand-out.

    Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. - Einstein

    by moose67 on Sun May 26, 2013 at 09:42:15 AM PDT

  •  detroit has no future (0+ / 0-)

    according to their own stats

    http://www.detroitmi.gov/...

    Detroit has an average of 30,000 fires a year. That's 82 fires a day. Bored, directionless, and jobless the youth of the city have taken to burning down the city.

  •  If you want to see how resilient, indomitable, and (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mideedah, Sylv

    tenacious Detroiters are, please visit here.

    Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

    by lehman scott on Sun May 26, 2013 at 01:21:29 PM PDT

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