July 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Detroit

On this day in 1701, French military commander and minor nobleman Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac founded a fort at the narrowest point on the river connecting Lake Erie and Lake Huron, between what are today Michigan and Ontario. It's been almost all downhill since then. Detroit is 308 years old today and home to some of the nation's highest murder rates, least valuable urban property, and most perennially underperforming football teams in the NFL.

Detroit represents to me a symbol of the biggest challenge facing America today -- a major city rotting from the inside. Can Detroit be saved? Sure, the outlying suburbs can actually be quite nice, if you're lucky enough to have some money. But that's true everywhere. Can middle- and working-class Detroit be saved? Can urban blight and crime be replaced with something livable and sustainable? Can our major industries be revitalized and made globally competitive again? Can race relations heal? How long will it take, how much money will it take, what kind of ideas and effort will it take? No one has good answers to these questions -- I don't think anyone has ever really even tried to answer those questions.


Fern Driscoll said...

"I don't think anyone has ever really even tried to answer those questions."

I'd like to think that Young, Archer and Kilpatrick have given the matter some thought... not to mention Obama, but perhaps I'm naive. Detroit is surely a prime example of the dangers of a single-industry economy.

Burt Likko said...

Respectfully, I disagree but perhaps I'm not as aware of all of the dimensions of their efforts as I should have been before commenting on the issue.

My larger point is that not only is a single-industry economy a dangerous way to build a city, but pervasive and extensive big-government intervention within the social and economic structure of a city can go very, very wrong. Detroit is a symbol for the failure of so many well-intentioned efforts to make the city better, and it seems any time anyone tries to do something else, it just gets worse.