Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Detroit: Not Much Left

From Motown to Ghost Town

It was six AM, and I'd just gotten off the red-eye from Los Angeles. I had a few hours to kill before I could check into my hotel, so I decided to do what is only natural in Motor City, drive around. Despite the fact that it was early May, snow flurries drifted down from the cold gray sky.

I swung out to Ann Arbor and drove past some of the places I had lived when I was attending the University of Michigan. The Apartment near Strickland's market, Brian and Joe's place on Packard, the Kappa Sigma house. Memories flooding back, all pleasant. Jumping back on the highway, I zipped back toward Detroit. Driving by my old house in Livonia, then getting on the expressway to head into the city. It was about 8:00AM.

What's funny is that in DC, or any other city, the roads would be gridlocked at this hour. But here in Detroit (even with two lanes of the highway shut down) traffic moved a pleasingly steady pace. The deeper I went into the city, the lonelier and more apocalyptic the scenery became. Of course this isn't surprising, as the birthplace of the American Automobile industry, Detroit has always been ahead of the curve on urban flight and sprawl. A conditioned aggravated by the 30 year reign of Mayor Coleman young, who alienated the middle class and drove the city into the ground. But what was noticeably absent was the sparks of renewal (loft condos, cafes and clubs) that have been sprouting up in urban centers like DC, Atlanta, and even Cleveland over the last decade or so.

I passed Old Tiger Stadium, spotted a few of the casinos that were supposed to help jump start downtown, then got back on the highway to head out to my suburban hotel. The funny thing is that even heading out to the suburbs and office complexes on Big Beaver Road and towards Southfield, things still seemed a bit empty and shabby. As I pulled into the parking lot of the Embassy Suites off of I-75 in Troy, it was clear that the blight that's plagued downtown for many years is spreading. The shiny office towers were surrounded by empty and cracked parking lots, "For Lease" banners fluttered from the sides of the buildings. It seems that even in one of the nicer suburbs, the decline of America's manufacturing might is noticeably present. But it didn't stop there.

The TV and radio were filled with ads on affordable health insurance for the unemployed, how to train for a new career and a disturbing report from the Governor that indicated less than 3% of Michigan parents feel that computers and engineering are good careers for their children. Holy cow! I can't say that I have high hopes from my hometown....

One can only wonder what will happen to Michigan as more and more manufacturers move their operations to China. Delphi & Delco, the two large parts manufactures for American automobiles will likely move their production overseas in the near future at the cost of a couple 100,000 jobs. Marketing and engineering may remain, but the line guys will be left with stocking shelves at Wal-Mart. So far there doesn't seem to be any plan for transitioning the economy to others areas. Grand Rapids (Michigan's second city) has set its sights on becoming a healthcare Mecca, but Detroit still flounders and what was once America's fourth largest city continues to crumble. Perhaps, if they want to see their future, they should look up the road a piece to Flint.

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