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Oh, Detroit.

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Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Thanks for that blast from the past. So many things I remember about the Detroit from my childhood--Jerry Cavanaugh, DIA, zoo, Fisher Building (where my uncle worked and took us hicks to the tippy top to look at the golden fountain below), Masonic Temple, Belle Isle. My kid's English teacher took all her classes to the DIA this year to impress on the kids what would be lost if the assets sold off. And I don't know anyplace but Detroit where those Rivera murals even make sense.

Those interested in the up-close news about the budget might be interested in following coverage in The Michigan Chronicle, a weekly published by and for the African-American community since the 1930s. If nothing else, you get a sense of how beleaguered the Detroit population feels at this time. Of special interest is a scathing analysis of George Will's comment that unmarried mothers created the bankruptcy problem.

Mickey Lolich, Al Kaline and, in autumn, Dick "Night Train" Lane -- all much smoother than the jerky film.

Lotta white people in those old video clips.  Racism has been really hard on Detroit.

Jim, that's true, and it gets worse in bad times.

Michigan is a highly segregated state. Most of us learn at an early age and can name the five or six "black cities." A former Detroit student, who stopped by my dinky town (part of Michi-tucky, where they blast C&W music out of the gas stations and fly Confederate flags off the back of pick-ups), said, "This is the kind of place I have nightmares about my car breaking down in."

And then there was Dearborn mayor, Orville Hubbard, whose segregationist ideas were pretty much on par with Lester Maddox's.

We love our idealized Detroit--Motown, Joe Louis, the Tigers, the auto industry, the hell-no UAW labor movement (which really started in Flint), the Wings, and (sometimes) the Lions. We see our real Detroit as a big messy problem that seems to elude any solutions, and outstaters can be pretty cold about it, largely because it's one of the "black cities."  

Meantime Mike Ilitch is getting a bunch of money for a new Wings hockey stadium, an irony that a lot of liberal commentators like Bill Moyers have decried:

Snyder is not a "tea partier" as Moyers calls him; he's usually at odds with the TP faction in the legislature, but he has caved in to them at times (e.g., on the "right to work" legislation, which Snyder personally opposed). But I don't think Moyers' sense of outrage is misplaced.

Jean - I think I commented recently that when I lived in Royal Oak and Clawson in the 1968-'69 period, most of our neighbors were white families who had recently moved (fled) to the 'burbs.  Clawson was being constructed at that time; I'm sure suburban home builders and realtors made a killing by selling to white families getting out of Detroit.

That was a long time ago, but the basic configuration of mostly-white (and some black) and relatively thriving suburbs ringing a mostly-poor and now bankrupt urban core still holds, as far as I can tell.  

I don't know what the solution is to this configuration.  I moved to a suburb myself after living in Chicago during my younger adult years, because it's more safe and friendly for our children and is populated by people who are more or less like us.  Chicago is an occasional playground for us, and I have history and friends there, but I don't work in the city, and I cross the city limits relatively rarely.  There are plenty of people who live in my community who haven't  ever lived in Chicago and have no reason to ever go into the city except insofar as the Interstate takes them through the city on the way to somewhere else.  I could make a case that they benefit from having a still-living-although-ailing city nearby, but I'd think there are a lot of folks around here to whom that's not intuitive and who would question that they have any responsibility for whatever goes on in Chicago (much less agree to paying additional taxes to sustain Chicago).  

As a public minister of the church, I can do my best to make that case of mutual responsibility and solidarity, and to support church initiatives that do cross the borders.  But from the point of view of public policy, it's a tough row to hoe.


Jim, my Aunt Florence lived off Vernor Avenue in the house she was born in until she had a stroke at age 95. She said the one thing that screwed up the city most was the loss of cheap, plentiful, and pleasant mass transit. She didn't drive, but she and her sisters could take busses wherever they wanted to go as late as the mid 1960s, and could hop the frequent trains that ran from Detroit to Ann Arbor and back--trains that brought a lot of folks in for shopping and cultural events. The city ran shuttle busses when big events were happening. 

A big impediment to transportation in Detroit is the fact that there are large wastelands of blight and empty buildings between populated areas. The city is going broke partly because it has to plough and maintain infrastructure through the wastelands to reach populated areas. That means less money for actual transportation. Somebody (Dave Bing?) suggested that the geographical area of the city be reduced and residents in outlying areas be relocated to "right size" the city and reduce costs of services. 

Just looking at the ripple effects of the loss of good transportation shows you what a domino effect one problem has on a city's well-being. Throw in the multiple problems Detroit faces and, yes, it does seem overwhelming.

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