Letters

Letters 08-03-2015

Real Brownfields Deserve Dollars I read with interest the story on Brownfield development dollars in the July 20 issue. I applaud Dan Lathrop and other county commissioners who voted “No” on the Randolph Street project...

Hopping Mad Carlin Smith is hopping mad (“Will You Get Mad With Me?” 7-20-15). Somebody filed a fraudulent return using his identity, and he’s not alone. The AP estimates the government “pays more than $5 billion annually in fraudulent tax refunds.” Well, many of us have been hopping mad for years. This is because the number one tool Congress has used to fix this problem has been to cut the IRS budget –by $1.2 billion in the last 5 years...

Just Grumbling, No Solutions Mark Pontoni’s grumblings [recent Northern Express column] tell us much about him and virtually nothing about those he chooses to denigrate. We do learn that Pontoni may be the perfect political candidate. He’s arrogant, opinionated and obviously dimwitted...

A Racist Symbol I have to respond to Gordon Lee Dean’s letter claiming that the confederate battle flag is just a symbol of southern heritage and should not be banned from state displays. The heritage it represents was the treasonous effort to continue slavery by seceding from a democratic nation unwilling to maintain such a consummate evil...

Not So Thanks I would like to thank the individual who ran into and knocked over my Triumph motorcycle while it was parked at Lowe’s in TC on Friday the 24th. The $3,000 worth of damage was greatly appreciated. The big dent in the gas tank under the completely destroyed chrome badge was an especially nice touch...

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Random Thoughts: Motor City Shrink Wrap

Robert Downes - October 19th, 2009
Random Thoughts: Motor City Shrink Wrap
Robert Downes 10/19/09

These days, Detroit is the Incredible Shrinking City.
Back in the 1930s, when my grandmother lived there, Detroit was known as the “City of Trees” for its towering elms and forested boulevards. Although those trees were killed off in the ’60s and ’70s by Dutch elm disease, new fields and forests are taking root amid the ruin of the city.
Writing in a recent issue of Newsweek, Bill McGraw of the Detroit Free Press reported that Detroit has lost half its population since the 1950s. And, although its city limits encompass 138 square miles, “experts estimate that about 40 square miles are empty.”
That trend is increasing.
Thus, vegetable gardens are springing up, along with greenways and bikepaths, and there’s even a proposal for a farm within the city limits.
The decline of Detroit is also changing the landscape of Michigan politics.
For decades, outstate politicians had an “us versus them” mentality regarding the City of Detroit.
Often, this was a barely-concealed racism that sought to deny or punish the mostly-black residents of Motown. In the early ’80s, for instance, then-Governor Bill Milliken pushed hard for the Detroit People-Mover, which was originally conceived as an urban light-rail system running for three miles through the heart of the city. But outstate politicians shot the plan down and Detroit ended up with the rinky-dink equivalent of a toy train downtown, instead of a step forward in mass transit that could have revitalized the city.
On the other hand, there was justification for the rest of Michigan being reluctant to dig Detroit out of its perennial hole: Detroit became symbolic of a bottomless pit of social need, into which endless amounts of cash could be poured without any noticeable result. For instance, today, the Detroit Public School District has an annual budget of $1.2 billion, but the city leads the nation for high school drop-outs, with only 58 percent of students graduating.
For many outstate residents and even its own newspapers, Detroit was a huge “problem” that never seemed to have a solution or an end, no matter how many Renaissance Centers or stadiums or riverfront developments were built. Every few years, GM, Ford and the pizza titans would float new schemes for urban renewal downtown with the help of the State government, but it was always like trying to save a Stage 4 cancer patient who was more inclined towards a hospice bed than wellness.
Detroit’s own media has echoed this theme since the mid-’60s with endless stories along the lines of “Can This City Be Saved?”
But we haven’t heard much talk of “us versus them” in Michigan politics during the ’00s, quite possibly because Detroit is increasingly irrelevant to our state’s future. And the “problem” that no coalition of government and industry could ever seem to fix is solving itself by the city’s evaporation.
During the early 2000s, for instance, white collar workers surpassed blue collar workers in Detroit as industry fled the city. And today (with the exception of Ann Arbor) the robust communities of Michigan are all along the west coast: Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Traverse City/Petoskey. What’s left of the commercial side of “Detroit” is north of town in Oakland County.
Today, you see sad scenes of Detroit and Flint in magazine photo spreads, or in films such as Capitalism: A Love Story. The underlying message is that the “reason” for these cities’ existence no longer exists. No jobs, no cities.
But another way of looking at the situation is the Eastern idea of death and regeneration: something ill has to die before it can be reborn.
Consider that Thompsonville used to be the biggest town in Northern Michigan in the lumber era of the mid-1800s -- a thriving city with a bright future, served by railroads and nearby steamships --it dwarfed Traverse City. But today, it’s a virtual ghost town: after Benzie County’s trees were all chopped down, it turned out that the land around Thompsonville was less than ideal for farming and people moved on.
Northern Michigan is dotted wth such towns: in the Pigeon River Forest you can cross-country ski the Shingle Mill Pathway to an old ghost town called Cornwall Flats. Once, it was a place of lumberjacks, bucksaws and dreams; but today, all that remains is the foundation of an old mill, dimly glimpsed in the gloom of the forest.
So, is it sad that Detroit and other relics of the industrial era of the 1940s-’60s are wasting away? Or should we be happy that the residents of a failed city are moving on to brighter futures?
A more optimistic view would be that Detroit is simply re-inventing itself to the benefit of the entire state by downsizing and “greening” its neighborhoods. As writer McGraw notes: “Surrounded by fresh water, and buffeted by nature reasserting itself on land where factories used to be, Detroit could someday be the greenest, most livable urban area in the country. A city can dream, can’t it?”
That new, green city would be an asset to our state, not a problem.

 
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