Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ideas about renewing Detroit, from a Detroit area native

Actually, ideas about why Detroit has not been renewed. I have to say that it's at times amusing to me to see "revolutionary" concepts like urban agriculture (on polluted land) and other radical strategies for developing and strengthening Detroit. Quite frankly, conventional investment in Detroit would work---loans to start businesses, build or rebuild subdivisions, that sort of thing. But there's one large problem there, one that's been passed over in the media, one that's been a part of Detroit's decline for decades: hostility to white businesses and white folks living in Detroit by black Detroiters.

Though in other cities passive white flight lead to urban decline, in Detroit itself black Detroiters---from the post-riots mayor on down made it explicitly clear that they did not want white people living in their city, and that they didn't want businesses that were owned by people who didn't live in the city. Consequently, lots and lots of white people left Detroit and took their money and businesses with them, and moved both to the suburbs. The idea lots of people in Detroit had after the riots was to create a black owned and operated economy that would be self sufficient, however, in our society it's mostly people who are white who have access to money and capital.

I have to say this again---it was explicitly stated on many occasions by people in Detroit that they did not want white people living there, not even if they'd lived there for generations. This was not simply white people taking up and moving out.

People in Detroit are, to my knowledge at least, still hostile to the notion of integrated neighborhoods in the city, still hostile to the presence of white people in Detroit for anything except maybe a show or a ball game. With an atmosphere like that, what business is going to want to relocate itself in the city? What company is going to want to send their employees there, with the possibility that they'll be assaulted on the way home because of the color of their skin? These are very real questions in Detroit.

Plenty of people in the Detroit area would love to go back and do more things in the city---in fact, they regularly did lots of things in the city before the riots---they would like to invest, would like to support it---and may have wanted to not just in the past decade but in decades before, in the '90s and in the '80s, but if you get the message---not just implicit but explicit---over and over again that you're not wanted, why exactly would you pursue a masochistic goal like that?

My feeling is that Detroit, now quite a ways out of the formal end of the North Korean style Juche ethos of Coleman Young, the mayor for life of the city post-riots, will have to tolerate, not white control, because that isn't even an issue, but simply white presence and an integrated city for development to happen in ways short of "urban agriculture" revitalizing the whole thing.

*on edit: none of which isn't to say that the anger that fueled the riots wasn't justified, but instead to say that the wake of it destroyed the heart of a city that didn't just serve black Detroiters but the whole Detroit and Metro Detroit area. 

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