Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

More Decline in Detroit

The decline of Detroit holds an odd fascination for me. The abandonment of so much beautiful architecture rips my heart out -- I've longed all my life to live in such houses, and to see them fall into irreparable decay saddens me in a way that the meager offerings of modern housing are incapable of doing. Fortunately, the WSJ reliably runs a death-of-Detroit piece every few months; today's article is about the urban flight of Detroit's professional black class:
DETROIT—This shrinking city needs to hang on to people like Johnette Barham: taxpaying, middle-class professionals who invest in local real estate, work and play downtown, and make their home here.

Ms. Barham just left. And she's not coming back.

In seven years as a homeowner in Detroit, she endured more than 10 burglaries and break-ins at her house and a nearby rental property she owned. Still, she defied friends' pleas to leave as she fortified her home with locks, bars, alarms and a dog.

Then, a week before Christmas, someone torched the house and destroyed almost everything she owned.

In March, police arrested a suspect in connection with the case, someone who turned out to be remarkably easy to find. For Ms. Barham, the arrest came one crime too late. "I was constantly being targeted in a way I couldn't predict, in a way that couldn't be controlled by the police," she says. "I couldn't take it anymore."

Ms. Barham's journey from diehard to defector illustrates the precarious state of Detroit today. The city—which has shed roughly 1 million residents since the 1950s—is now losing the African-American professionals who had stayed steadfastly, almost defiantly, loyal.

Through decades of white flight and economic distress, these diehards have sustained the city's cultural institutions and allowed prime neighborhoods such as Indian Village and Palmer Woods to stave off the blight that infects large swaths of Detroit.

Today, frustrated by plummeting property values and high crime, many diehards have hit their breaking point. Their exodus is consigning borderline neighborhoods to full-blown blight and putting prime residential areas at risk. By some estimates, this year's Census will show a population drop of 150,000 people from the 951,000 people who lived within city limits in 2000. That would be roughly double the population loss in the 1990s, when black, middle-class flight began replacing white flight as the prevailing dynamic.

There are other signs the middle class is throwing in the towel. From 1999 to 2008, median household income in Detroit dropped nearly 25% to $28,730, after growing 17% in the 1990s, according to Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit that analyzes Census data for the city. Over that period, the proportion of owner-occupied homes fell to 39% from 49%, while the proportion of vacant homes nearly tripled to 28%.
A serious problem? A police force so understaffed and busy with major crime that petty theft, break-ins, and even arson fall through the cracks. Architecture is one thing, but how can any city survive if the people who pay the taxes don't feel safe enough to live there?


RL said...

here is Newt Gingrich talking about Detroit a couple years ago. He's really only scratching the surface of Detroit's issues, but you imaging the many implications.

RL said...

Poor editing yet again. "you can imagine the many implications."

Roz said...

Detroit has been spiraling down for years, and the reasons are complicated. Taxes in the city are very high - understandable since the tax base fades by the day, but a huge obstacle to reversing the outward flow. Some of the city is even being reclaimed by nature, that is, when the city finally gets around to knocking down the many abandoned houses.

It seems to me that most of SE Michigan cheers for Detroit and hopes for the best, but for decades, the city's leadership sang the tune of "everyone outside the city limits is gunning for us". (Dennis Archer was a notable exception, but he was succeed by the infamous Kwame Kilpatrick.) There is a genuine crevasse between the needs and viewpoints of Detroit vs. "outstate".

For a while Cleveland and Detroit seemed to be running neck and neck in the "last one turn out the lights" sweepstakes. Somehow, Cleveland has managed to turn it around. I only hope Detroit finds a way to do the same. The slow decay of the American auto industry has been no help, as you can imagine. Ideas, anyone?

Go Tigers!, by the way.

JMB said...

My family is from Detroit. My grandfather, a German immigrant, came to Detroit in the 1920s and as a tool & dye maker by trade, set up a little shop in his garage. Years later he won a huge contract with the US Gov't making grills for the army jeeps during the war. He moved his family to the fancy burbs - Grosse Pointe. In my grandfather's eyes, the signs of decline started in the 1950s when the labor unions started winning huge concessions against mananagement. Very few companies were able to sucessfully fight back. Then the 60s came and the residents of Detroit burnt down blocks and blocks of residential housing. Coleman Young took office as mayor and it was one big giant screw up after another.
We saw the writing on the wall when none of my older cousins returned to the city after going to college in Ohio and the east. There were no jobs in the 1980s, or at least none with a future for white collar workers. It seemed to bounce back a little in the 90s and early 2000 with car industry advertizing and what not. But I don't think there is much of a future for Detroit.
According to my cousins, some of the large mansions on Lake Shore Dr. in Grosse Pointe have been abandoned and ransacked by gangs. The cops are incapable of stopping it. It's so sad.