Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vanishing Detroit

"If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?" — Frédéric Bastiat (The Law)

Last night the Minnesota Vikings and New Your Giants played their professional football game at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. This was due to the Viking’s home field, the Metrodome in Minneapolis, collapsing under the weight of two feet of snow.

An advance team of Viking’s officials and field maintenance staff were sent to Ford Field, a domed stadium, to prepare the stadium to appear as a home game for the Vikings. Viking signs were posted throughout the venue, a giant Viking logs was painted on the 50-yard line, and the end zones were painted with Viking and Giants colors and the team names. The tickets were given out free to anyone who showed up for the game with a preference to the Viking ticket holders for the best seats.

It was reported that thousands were lining up on Monday morning to get their “free” ticket for the game. I don’t know who profited from the concessions for hot dogs, beer and souvenirs; but I venture to guess it was the Ford Field folks. This was a big deal for the citizens of Detroit, a city on the verge of total collapse.

Detroit was once a city that was a big player in the economic growth of America. It was an engine of wealth and employment. Millionaires filled its wealthiest suburbs like Grosse Point. Detroit was home to the “big three” automakers; Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. The city produced millions of vehicles each year and employed thousands of workers in good paying jobs.

During World War II Detroit was a major player in the Arsenal of Democracy. The auto plants easily converted to the manufacture of tanks, guns, jeeps, trucks and other armaments needed for the war effort.

So many of Detroit’s young men left their jobs in the auto plants to join the military and go off to foreign shores to fight against the NAZIs and Japanese. This caused such a tremendous shortage of labor that women were brought into the war effort to take the place of men in the factories and at other jobs needed to run the city’s economy.

Even the enlistment of women was not enough to fill the demands of the labor required by the war. Poor migrants, many of them black, came to cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Gary and Pittsburgh to fill the unskilled jobs that were needed to produce the tanks, guns and planes needed to win the war.

This went well for a while until the tensions between the white and black workers reached a boiling point. In the summer of 1943, in the midst of World War II, tensions between blacks and whites in Detroit were escalating. Detroit's population had grown by 350,000 people since the war began. The booming defense industries had brought in large numbers of people with high wages and very little available housing. 50,000 blacks had recently arrived, along with 300,000 whites, mostly from rural Appalachia.

The altercations between black and white youth started on June 20, 1943, on a warm Saturday evening on Belle Isle. A fist fight broke out between a white man and a black man. The brawl eventually grew into a confrontation between groups of blacks and whites and then spread into the city. Rumors had started that a black woman had been assaulted by a white man. Another rumor was that a white woman was raped and killed by a black man. Stores were looted and buildings were burned in the riot, most of which were in a black neighborhood roughly two miles in and around Paradise Valley, one of the oldest and poorest neighborhoods in Detroit. The clashes soon escalated to the point where black and white mobs were assaulting one another, beating innocent motorists, pedestrians and streetcar passengers, burning cars, destroying storefronts and looting businesses. Both sides were said to have encouraged others to join in the riots with false claims that one of “their own” was attacked unjustly. More than 1,800 were arrested for looting and other incidents, the vast majority being black. Thirteen murders remain unsolved.

The Riots lasted three days and ended once Mayor Edward Jeffries, Jr. and Governor Harry Kelly asked President Roosevelt to intervene. Federal troops finally restored peace to the streets of Detroit. Over the course of three days, 34 people were killed, 25 of whom were African Americans. Out of the approximately 600 injured, black people accounted for more than 75 percent and of the roughly 1,800 people who were arrested over the course of the 3 day riots, black people accounted for 85 percent.

After the riot, leaders on both sides had an explanation for the riots. White city leaders including the mayor pointed the finger at young black “hoodlums.” The Wayne County prosecutor believed that the leaders of the NAACP were to blame as the instigators of the riots. Detroit's black leaders pointed to other causes ranging from job discrimination, to housing discrimination, police brutality and daily animosity received from Detroit's white population. These riots were not exclusive to Detroit. There were 242 racial disturbances in 48 cities throughout the country, but Detroit was the worst.

After the war ended and the men returned from their military service and wanted their jobs back the first to be laid off in favor of the returning servicemen were the women and the next were the blacks. Even with the post-war economic boom many of these blacks were never rehired and Detroit began to enter a death spiral of welfare, poor schools and gangs.

67 years after the riots of 1943 Detroit is a city embroiled with political corruption and hackneyed politics. A city where crime rules the streets, with Detroit ranking number 2 on the worst cities list right behind Camden, New Jersey. A city where only 25% of students graduate from high school

Business Insider reports; “Detroit has been bankrupt for years. It simply refuses to admit it. Detroit's schools are bankrupt as well. A mere 25% of students graduate from high school.

Yet, in spite of hints and threats from mayors and budget commissions, and in spite of common sense talk of bankruptcy, Detroit has not pulled the bankruptcy trigger.

In a futile attempt to stave off the inevitable one last time, Mayor Bing's latest plan is to cutoff city services including road repairs, police patrols, street lights, and garbage collection in 20% of Detroit.

“City officials suggest this will not shrink the size of the city. Perhaps it won't shrink Detroit on Google Maps. However, Bing's plan would effectively surrender 20% of the city to gangs and the homeless.”

The Wall Street Journal report states; “More than 20% of Detroit's 139 square miles could go without key municipal services under a new plan being developed for the city, with as few as seven neighborhoods seen as meriting the city's full resources.”

“Those details, outlined by Detroit planning officials this week, offer the clearest picture yet of how Mayor Dave Bing intends to execute what has become his signature program: reconfiguring Detroit to reflect its declining population and fiscal health. Yet the blueprint still leaves large legal and financial questions unresolved.”

“Until now, the mayor and his staff have spoken mostly in generalities about the problem, stressing the need for community input and pledging to a skeptical public that no resident would be forced to move.”

“But the approach discussed by city officials could have that effect. Mr. Bing's staff wants to concentrate Detroit's remaining population—expected to be less than 900,000 after this year's Census count—and limited local, state and federal dollars in the most viable swaths of the city, while other sectors could go without such services as garbage pickup, police patrols, road repair and street lights.”

“Karla Henderson, a city planning official leading the mayor's campaign, said in an interview Thursday that her staff had deemed just seven to nine sections of Detroit worthy of receiving the city's full resources. She declined to identify the areas, but said the final plan could include a greater number.”

“Ms. Henderson said her team amassed hundreds of data—on household income, population density, employment, existing city services, philanthropic investments and housing stock —in its effort to identify the neighborhoods with the brightest outlook—those that could be stabilized with additional city, state and federal resources.”

"What we have found is that even some of our stronger neighborhoods are at a tipping point with vacancy," Ms. Henderson said. "Vacancy adds to blight and blight is a disease that takes over the whole neighborhood. So the sooner we can get those homes occupied, the better for the city.”

This is a condition not limited to Detroit. Cities such as Oakland, St. Louis, Cleveland, and many others are approaching the same precipice of economic bankruptcy. With the massive costs for welfare and social services, shrinking tax base, poor schools, unfunded liabilities for public service workers pensions, teachers unions with the protection of underperforming teachers and increasing demands for higher wages and guaranteed pensions and a political class that panders for votes we are approaching a time in our history when cities are beginning to fail.

Until now cities have been relying on funds from state and the federal government to bails them out of their financial woes. With states experiencing the same malaise and the rising deficits of the federal budgets money for these cities are no longer going to be available. Perhaps the time has come for these cities to realize the mess they are in and declare bankruptcy rewrite their public service and teacher union contracts and tighten their belts in all areas of spending so they can survive. No more promises, no more pandering to special interest groups and no more fountains and stadiums unless they are totally financed with private money.

No comments:

Post a Comment