Doug Rothwell, the president of Detroit Renaissance, recently said “we can’t win as a community if we don’t have confidence in ourselves.” He meant the entire metropolitan area. Or as Daniel Howes, the astute business columnist for the Detroit News, put it, the Detroit area is “mired in a kind of pessimistic self-loathing that simply doesn’t reflect,” the very real assets it has.
Well, that’s about right. To a large extent, Detroit’s problem is the same as Iraq’s problem, although maybe not quite as severe.
Iraq’s problem is that there is no Iraq. There are Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds, but there are no Iraqis, unless you count some rented politicians. Detroit isn’t that bad, but almost. Describe your average Farmington housewife as a Detroiter, and she gets offended. If she is over 50, chances are that she used to be a Detroiter. If she is over 60, she has fond memories of Detroit before “they” ruined it.
Ask teenagers and twenty-somethings in Sterling Heights if they consider themselves Detroiters, and they look at you as if you are crazy. They see the city as having nothing to do with them. True, their grandparents lived there, and in fact came to Detroit to get a job in the plants. But that’s ancient history. Now ask a member of Detroit City Council if they feel at home in Birmingham.
Here’s another big myth you ought to lose. The idea that the suburbs pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, and that the city could be just as nice if people worked harder.
Metropolitan Detroit has evolved the way it has because of big government; because of federal policies that have encouraged urban sprawl and discouraged reinvestment and mass transit. Detroit has gotten far less federal support than the suburbs or the SunBelt. Millions of us live on the edge of the pond our parents polluted. We are people who exist only because the pond called Detroit came to be, and saved us from picking cotton or starving in Moravia. Yet we are fine with saying no, it’s not my problem.
Think of what we could have done with this entire area for a fraction of the billions our government has spent destroying Iraq.
After a lifetime studying history and sociology, Thomas Sugrue says “we need to think about public policies that put the needs of the disadvantaged over the desires of the advantaged.’
I am older than he, and have less patience. So what I would say is, we’ve made a mess; we are all in this together, and let’s clean it up for all of our sakes, as fast as possible. Please inform our congressmen we expect help, or they can expect to be fired. And now let’s get to work.