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Old October 16th, 2005, 10:41 PM   #1
NWside
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Detroit - The Broken Heartland

A somewhat lengthy article that discusses what we already know about Detroit, but seems to put it in more of a doomsday scenario... Is the city in the actual stages of a breakdown as the pieces keep falling apart?



A gulf of our own
Decades of job losses in the auto industry and racial tensions keep Detroit on decline

By Stephen Franklin
Tribune staff reporter
Published October 16, 2005




DETROIT -- THE BROKEN HEARTLAND

Detroit, Michigan

The same week Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, exposing a shocking level of poverty and racial inequality, the U.S. Census Bureau released a shocker of its own.

Despite four years of steady U.S. economic growth and the most aggressive government stimulus effort since the New Deal, poverty nationwide grew for a fourth year in a row in 2004, and the Midwest took the hardest hit of all.

Detroit and other cities had higher percentages of poor people and lower median incomes than New Orleans. Ravaged by the loss of industrial jobs in the face of ruthless global competition, the Rust Belt was exposed as a cistern of poverty and hopelessness for a distressingly large number of its residents.

If the region's old, blue-collar communities go on losing good paying jobs, the glue that once bound generations together and gave the region its verve, the Midwest will continue its downward slide. Its big cities will become citadels of those left behind. And the gap between the poor and everyone else will surge.

Putting more people to work and breaking out of the cycle of poverty will require adapting to this harsh new reality and finding new solutions. Is the Midwest up to it? The Tribune set out to take the temperature in several hard hit communities and found stories of hope and hopelessness.

- - -

Amid the casino's roar, Ed Howard eyes another gambler on a winning streak at a 5-cent slot machine. Howard stares at the flashing numbers, savoring what it must feel like to have some good luck.

Having blown his nightly $10 bet limit, the 33-year-old former nightclub bouncer is just watching and dreaming about not being poor and jobless and hanging out with guys too lazy or trapped by circumstance to work.

Howard's escape into casino fantasies is how many of Detroit's poor have witnessed the city's struggle to survive. They can revel in the excitement of Detroit's two new stadiums, three casinos, new office buildings and sprinkles of residents living in the long-abandoned downtown. But it's from afar.

They are stuck in the nation's poorest and most shrunken big city, located in one of the country's most racially segregated major metropolitan areas. While business and city leaders boast of new tax revenues and ambitious projects, the poor talk about dead buildings, dead factories, dead-end jobs and deathly fears for their safety.

Detroit is a city that can't seem to fix itself, damaged beyond repair by two powerful counterpunches--poverty and race.

But Detroit's well-known despair is more than a terribly troubling situation. In the factory-driven Midwest, Detroit is a warning sign. It has been four decades since the last good era in Detroit, back before the race riots of the late 1960s and the hollowing out of the city following the Rust Belt recession of the 1970s and 1980s.

If they cannot reinvent themselves, or just stay afloat, what is to become of Midwest cities like Detroit in the future, when the full force of globalization rears up?

In previous times, industrial cities in the Midwest lost out to more attractive, ambitious cities in the West and the South. Now the competition is not just from them but from cities in India and other countries where people will work for far less than American wages.

The failure to replace good-paying factory jobs is why the Midwest led the nation last year in an increase in the number of people living in poverty and declining family incomes, according to recent government figures.

And the bad news seems to pile up daily. This month, the auto parts giant Delphi Corp., based in suburban Troy, Mich., went into bankruptcy proceedings; thousands of jobs likely will be lost. A few weeks before that, Northwest Airlines, which has a hub in Detroit, also sought bankruptcy court protection.

The search for answers to the problems that bedevil the industrial Midwest has been ongoing for decades, but it has never seemed more timely or more desperate.

The issue was raised anew in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which re-exposed the underclass of New Orleans. But the average family income last year in New Orleans was higher than in Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cleveland.

Chicago has fared better than these troubled Midwest cities. But Chicago cannot afford to ignore the region's hollowing out.

The Windy City is the Midwest's commercial capital, and its fortunes remain tied to the Midwest's farms and factories. Not long ago, Chicago seemed on the way to becoming a global city insulated from its regional woes. But Chicago has yet to escape the Midwest's embrace.

"It's clear we're still greatly intertwined with the region," said Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago senior economist William Testa. "Chicago's struggle is to outgrow the Midwest's legacy of manufacturing and farming and to be a leader for regeneration."

A matter of race

No other Midwest city has stumbled as badly as Detroit. From 1.8 million people in 1950, the city's population has collapsed to less than 900,000, with its black middle class and working class now fleeing too.

One out of three Detroit residents is poor, making it the major city with the highest concentration of poverty. Nearly half of its youngsters below 17 years old live in poverty-stricken households, federal statistics show. Its jobless rate in August was 14.2 percent.

"We don't have any benefits from those things downtown," snapped Carmen Smith, 34, as she and her 5-year-old son, Anthony, finished their dinner at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen on Detroit's East Side. Her husband earns just above the minimum wage as a construction worker, so the family recently moved into a $200-a-month room to save money.

"It's big enough to live in," she said defensively in the dining room filling with families like hers.

Rescuing Detroit may be a tougher challenge than elsewhere because its fate remains as bound as ever to the auto industry.

"We always said we live and die with the auto industry and so we are dying now," said Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit's mayor.

Then there is the matter of race. More than eight out of 10 Detroit residents are black, making it the major American city with the largest black population, but only one of seven suburbanites is black.

"Race is choking us. Race defines everything, and it is debilitating," said George Jackson, head of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a quasi-public organization that helps guide the city's economic renaissance.

Race is the reason, said Jackson, that there is no mass transit system effectively linking the city to the suburbs, and James Gurna, a middle-aged factory worker, knows what that means.

At 6 p.m. on a recent night Gurna was glumly waiting downtown for a bus. He would have to take two more to get to his night job as a machine operator in Pontiac. The trip takes hours. By car, the 30-mile distance takes just over a half an hour, but his car needs repairs.

Though Gurna and other Detroit residents travel far beyond the city for work, some blacks say they still fear crossing Eight-Mile Road, the physical and mental border between Detroit and its northern suburbs.

Consider Bridget Crutchfield, a 47-year-old office worker in Birmingham, an upscale suburb where she is often infuriated by the way she is treated, and where there is a tiny handful of black residents.

"If I am sitting outside on my lunch hour, and parents with young children see me, they'll grab the kids' hands as they approach me and then let go when they pass," she said with an angry shake of her head.

She can't wait to move to the suburbs because she thinks her life will be better there, but that is not necessarily the case.

When officials in Livonia, a mostly white, working-class suburb, recently were considering a plan for a new Wal-Mart store, some residents publicly complained that the store would attract black Detroit residents. That set off a furious debate, again, about racism.

A front-page article in the Detroit Free Press asked recently: "Why can't we all get along?" The article talked about growing racial tensions, the Livonia incident, attacks on blacks moving to the suburbs and the despair of activists who have been trying for years to mend racial wounds.

A city built on wheels

This isn't where Detroit seemed headed when it was the place to be for a worker with two strong arms and a powerful back. At the turn of the 20th Century, it was a city of strangers, answering the siren call of the auto factories.

It grew so fast it never developed a real downtown business district. It grew flat and straight out because workers wanted their own houses. And Detroit skipped a well-planned regional transit system because it was the Motor City.

Only New York, Chicago and Philadelphia were bigger in 1920, as workers poured in from everywhere. Detroit was one of few places where a black man could get a decent factory job.

But whites and blacks lived separately. Then came a sweltering day in July 1967 when racial tensions exploded in the nation's most violent race riot of the time.

Leaving behind a city saddled with growing crime and joblessness, whites fled to the suburbs. Coleman Young, Detroit's first black mayor, elected in 1973, initially locked arms with Detroit's business moguls to keep the city alive.

But in more than 20 years in office, Young grew critical of the white, suburban-dominated business community, and the two sides distanced themselves from each other.

In the 1960s Detroit had 16 auto plants. By the early 1990s there were only three. Yet many waited for the past to return.

"There was the misguided notion that we were going to revitalize the city and bring it back to the way it was," said S. Martin Taylor, a former head of the state's Division of Labor and a former leader of New Detroit, an organization that has tried to soothe Detroit's racial tensions since the ashes of 1967.

Eventually, the idea took hold that Detroit would never hold nearly 2 million residents again, though the city would have to serve a community built to serve that many.

When Dennis Archer, a former Michigan Supreme Court justice, followed Young as mayor, he re-established links with the business community, improved ties with the state's political leaders and sought federal help and private dollars to get projects done.

Money flowed, and so did projects, such as the opening of three casinos with 8,000 jobs and a new heap of revenue for the city.

Offering tax breaks as a lure, the goal became rebuilding a downtown that had turned into a weedy necropolis littered with dozens of dead or sleeping buildings.

Build a downtown with high-paying jobs, and restaurants and nightclubs and hotels will follow. That was the mantra. From there, money would flow into small businesses and, eventually, to the neighborhoods.

"I had some big challenges. I didn't complete everything I wanted to do," said Archer.

A downtown that becomes a ghost city when workers go home turned off commercial investors. That inspired Kilpatrick, who was elected mayor in 2001, to boost the drive for more downtown housing, and now over 1,000 people live in the downtown, city officials say.

Mike Marolla, who grew up on Detroit's West Side and left the city 15 years ago for a cottage on a lake in a northern suburb, is one of these pioneers. He was sitting at noon drinking coffee in a newly built park downtown, where there used to be a large hollow-seeming square, and people now skate in the winter. Facing the park is the 2-year-old headquarters of Compuware Corp., which moved to the city from the suburbs, bringing 4,000 employees with it.

"People who live out that way, they were telling me I was nuts. You know, there are some people out there who've never been here," said Marolla, 56, a building contractor, who rented a downtown apartment two years ago and recently bought a condo nearby.

"They are finally making it a people city," he said, looking around.

Loyal benefactor

In a meeting room atop an atrium that opens to offices on the top floors of the Fox Theatre building in downtown Detroit, Chris Ilitch spins a slide show, making exactly that point. He is the 40-year-old chief executive of Ilitch Holdings, the Detroit-focused empire created by his father, Mike Ilitch, founder of the Little Caesars pizza chain and chairman of the holding company.

Few families have been as great benefactors to cities the size of Detroit.

The family owns the Detroit Tigers, who play in a new ballpark facing the Ilitch-owned Fox Theatre, one of the nation's busiest. The family also owns the Red Wings hockey team, the Motor City Casino and various other businesses.

They have invested $356 million into Detroit over the years and plan to spend another $275 million in the next two years. And their attractions draw 9.5 million people annually into the city.

"Detroit has been a good place to do business," said Ilitch.

An image-conscious businessman, Ilitch is loath to join in the debate about Detroit's problems. At most, he says his businesses would do better if there were "more integration" between the city and suburbs.

But Mayor Kilpatrick is not so cautious.

He complains about Detroit's "defunding" by lawmakers in the state capital in Lansing and in Washington, laments the thousands of abandoned buildings that the city has yet to tear down and describes some prior city business dealings as "corporate welfare" that do not "pay much property tax."

While praising new employers like Compuware, he points out that such firms do not create the kinds of jobs unskilled poor can apply for. For the time being, factory jobs are the city's best hope for them, he said. For the future, however, the city has to make sure workers are better trained and educated, he added.

That is not so easy, however.

With a shrinking population and vanishing revenue, he said he will soon have to consider cutting deep into services. The city has been trimming workers, and Kilpatrick has warned that far-reaching cuts will be needed if the city employees' unions do not make concessions.

Freeman Hendrix, a deputy mayor under Archer, who faces Kilpatrick in a November election, thinks the situation is worse than the mayor says. He also contends it has worsened because of mismanagement, a claim disputed by Kilpatrick.

At a meeting at a nursing home recently, an elderly woman asked Hendrix what he will do to make Detroit's streets "safe again."

"Fighting crime will be my No. 1 priority, besides solvency," replied Hendrix, who brought a meal that his campaign aides served to the residents.

"We don't have enough money to do the basic things in this city," said Hendrix, who, according to Detroit newspapers, leads in the polls.

The problem is, it is a bad time to be closing doors.

"We are still in the middle of figuring out what works," said Douglas Diggs, former director of community and economic development for Detroit Renaissance, who recently joined Detroit's Department of Planning and Development.

"How do you replace industries? ... We are creating new jobs, but it happens 200 jobs at a time," he said. Such jobs, he explained, are geared to better-educated workers with technology or bioscience skills.

Jobs, in other words, for people unlike Michael Hall.

He had just sat down to dinner at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, where he stood out because he was wearing a blue, button-down Polo shirt from when he was a store manager. The kind of shirt, he said, that costs about $65.

The dining room was full of people, not just the homeless but those barely scraping by on low-wage jobs and others recently out of prison.

In his wallet, Hall carried a resume and a much-wrinkled copy of a W-2 income tax form. They prove he once had a career and was not "a derelict," he said.

Hall has been out of work for eight months and does not get unemployment because he was being paid under the table, he explained. He lives on $150 a month in food stamps.

Because getting to the suburbs is so difficult, he said he has walked eight miles at a time, wearing a suit and tie, for job interviews. But he never tells interviewers about his hikes because he is sure they'll write him off as a bum.

Asked why he doesn't job hunt in Detroit, he lowers his head and leans forward.

"There are no jobs, no jobs here," he said. "I'm 44 years old and I'm talking about a $10-an-hour job, and I can't find it."

He spreads his documents on the table.

"I'm not making this up," he said. "And here I am, a store manager, eating in a soup kitchen."
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Old October 16th, 2005, 11:18 PM   #2
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Quote:
It grew so fast it never developed a real downtown business district. It grew flat and straight out because workers wanted their own houses. And Detroit skipped a well-planned regional transit system because it was the Motor City.
Then what the hell was this?





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Old October 19th, 2005, 06:06 AM   #3
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yeah, good article, about as comprehensive you can be for the typical newspaper reader. And as hudkina stated, mass transit wasn't disregarded back in the boom days, where the blame lies for dismantling it notoriously falls on the big three and their purchases of the old lines and subsequent replacement with the more "effecient" buses.

Also, Illitch said he is planning 275 million in investment in the next two years? wtf? huh? whaa? is 274 million going to be on parking garages?
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Old October 19th, 2005, 04:32 PM   #4
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Detroit had the largest streetcar system in the United States at one time.

What needs to happen here is an effective regionalization. Establishing a policy will lock in the different interests in the region so that they are forced to work with Detroit and all of its declining suburbs. I say this because that's the way it is now. We're all dependant on e/o, but the way the system works currently, it is far too easy for a suburban interest to pull the plug and run away, never to look back. There is no incentive to associate with Detroit in many a mind.
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Old October 19th, 2005, 04:58 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michi
Detroit had the largest streetcar system in the United States at one time.
several other cities like to make this claim, as well:

los angeles
chicago
st. louis

they can't all be right, can they?
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Old October 19th, 2005, 05:18 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steely Dan
several other cities like to make this claim, as well:

los angeles
chicago
st. louis

they can't all be right, can they?
Indy claims the EXACT same thing.

Did you know that the interuban was actually born in Indiana...Anderson to be exact!
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Old October 19th, 2005, 05:33 PM   #7
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THERE IS A POLICE MAN IN A TOWER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD,

Sorry I think that is both hilarious AND SHOCKING,
Was this common? What the hell? I guess this is before traffic signals were put up, Or more specifically it looks like he changes the light MANUALLY,
HOly cow,
Holy shit!

Last edited by mohammed wong; October 19th, 2005 at 05:40 PM.
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Old October 19th, 2005, 05:43 PM   #8
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How is that shocking? It was a way to control traffic in one of Detroits busiest intersections.
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Old October 19th, 2005, 07:09 PM   #9
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Well, I don't know. I know Detroit's was ONE of the largest anyway. It was pretty extensive:
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Old October 19th, 2005, 07:15 PM   #10
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Well, that put's to end the Westside vs. Eastside debate. The Westside was (and still is) truly superior in everyway.

Michi, you're right. There are few connections right now where the suburbs can be held accountable to the overall health of the city, and thus the region. I think where this is more evident than anywhere else is how the two areas literally have totally different bus systems that barely connect to one another.
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Old October 19th, 2005, 07:35 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zissou
How is that shocking? It was a way to control traffic in one of Detroits busiest intersections.

I think I remember this photo is it from Yesterday's Detroit?. I have an autographed copy from my stay there back in 99, I was there a month and I loved it there. Its a great book. And a great series.

Well its shocking because its unusual, not because its bad
Personally I would love it if things had persisted that way, and for some reason the cops and government insisted on someone manually controlling the lights, would probably help traffic congestion, but that tower better be built out of something strong, what if a car or a SEMI hit it? dang.
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Old October 19th, 2005, 08:43 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michi
Detroit had the largest streetcar system in the United States at one time.
^Actually, that honor goes to the Los Angeles metro
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Old October 19th, 2005, 09:49 PM   #13
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Detroit's was the largest and than Los Angeles passed it.

You used to be able to get on a streetcar in downtown Trenton and take it all the way to Detroit. (Or so I'm told...)
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Old October 19th, 2005, 10:46 PM   #14
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im sick of all this negative propaganda.

to me, defending Detroit is like defending rap music. Ill tell someone that rap music consists way more than what you hear on BET (much like, Detroit has tons of good things going for it for every catastrophic aspect it has), so i introduce him to the other, underground, and overlooked stuff that you dont get exposed to by mainstream media. Everything that i showed him changes once the mainstream promotes another shitty fad, and everybody is exposed to it. That person will then give up on rap, thanks to BET.

i try to ignore all these negative threads/editorials, but i had to butt in.

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Old October 19th, 2005, 11:19 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zissou
How is that shocking? It was a way to control traffic in one of Detroits busiest intersections.

Silly me I guess that was pretty common in the old days,
Every city had that right? it was totally common to have the old policeman in the traffic tower. "Damn that police tower doohickey, turn that signal MAN," They would cry out ALL OVER AMERICA, as it was so commonplace and normal to have everywhere. Noone ever though it was strange. In some cities the tower was big enough for a cot, so one cop could sleep while the other directed traffic. And one time someone used it to pick off random cars with a gun, thats why they had to tear ALL of them down.
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Old October 19th, 2005, 11:21 PM   #16
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Detroit was actually the first city to use traffic lights. Maybe this was one of the first traffic lights.
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Old October 20th, 2005, 01:58 AM   #17
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Detroit was the first in a lot of things in America. No credit where credit is due though. We get credit for dying off the furtherst though!
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Old October 20th, 2005, 07:39 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hudkina
Detroit was actually the first city to use traffic lights. Maybe this was one of the first traffic lights.
actually detroit and cleveland can fight over that
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Old October 20th, 2005, 08:39 AM   #19
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No! Detroit is the bestest city in the world and having the first traffic light ever proves it!
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Old October 20th, 2005, 09:17 AM   #20
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Detroit...damn.

perhaps there is a way to get "whites" back to the city...I mean, culture, arts and education are HUGE ones...and once they move there perhaps the property market will take off giving the city additional tax revenue.

15 factories to 3...thats insane. Thats a hell of a kick in the teeth, and if the city couldn't stop it...how can we blame them?

Interstate Expressways...they are what is to blame, quick reliable and direct transportation to work from miles away (out of the city) with no real time factors to consider extensive.

I feel for Detroit, wow.
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