Will The Last Person To Leave Detroit Turn Off The Lights?

I had an office in Livonia, Michigan for a couple of years back in the Nineties, thus am well acquainted with the legendary Motor City. Detroit to me was always a mix of the best and the worst in America. On the one hand you had the gleaming downtown towers, the expansive, spotless shopping centers, and some of the nicest, most decent, salt of the earth people I have ever had the profound pleasure to get to know. Unfortunately on the other hand, you also had vast expanses of bombed out ghettos, a considerable percentage of areas of the city that you wouldn't want to venture into even if accompanied by a platoon of Marines, and a palpable constant fear of breaking down on the Edsel Ford Freeway in the middle of the night and never making it alive to the next ramp on foot.

Time has not been kind to Detroit. What was once the industrial heart of the continent, attracting people from all over who wished to work hard and share in the American Dream, has now become the poster child for the collapse of the American Empire. The Big Three followed the time honored dictum of "Aint No Substitute For Cubic Inches" at least a couple of decades too long and ended up eviscerating not only themselves and their shareholders, but also the entire economy of southern Michigan. Given the ripple effect of their failure, untold millions of jobs in related manufacturing and service industries throughout the United States and Canada could vanish, turning the current severe recession into a depression that could savage the entire next decade.

"What is good for General Motors is good for America" no longer equates, and the true surprise is that only a fool couldn't have seen it coming. The GM assembly line worker sucked out $74 an hour when the benefits, pension and "legacy" expenses were factored in, and received this compensation to produce cars of far lower build qualities than overseas competitors who essentially pay their workers pocket change and a bowl of rice a day. Globalization backfired in a drastic manner when the American worker, faced with one of the highest costs and standards of living in the world, had to compete on an even playing field with people who lived in an entirely different economic sphere, where ten bucks a day keeps a family housed and fed.

So what will happen to Detroit? Likely the same fate which formed that infamous dictum about Buffalo, NY: The only people there are the ones too broke or too stupid to leave. The Rust Belt, which was once the manufacturing powerhouse of the world, is now largely irrelevant. Sure, you can live there, but why? Maybe the economic situation wouldn't be too much better south or west, but at least you don't have to shovel the white stuff six months of the year.

Perhaps Detroit can be turned into a solution for the homeless problem of the entire country. Ship the homeless to the Motor City and give them any one of the thousands of houses that have been and will be abandoned. After all, there are Rust Belt cities right now that are tearing up some suburban streets since there is no one left living on them, and that way they don't have to provide expensive city services to what have become 21st century ghost towns.

In the only video game I ever play, SimCity3000, a simulated city's economic vitality can be suppressed by tweaking the settings. Then you watch the entire metropolis gradually crumble and die before your very eyes. It seems that the Big Guy Upstairs has decided to tweak the settings on DetroitCity2009, and the decline is clearly visible. Heck, it isn't just in the city's population and infrastructure. As I write this, Detroit's football Lions are a couple of days away from achieving a low point that no NFL team has ever reached: 0-15. It seems like it isn't just the rest of the league that's beating up on Detroit, but fate itself. Yes, the Red Wings did win the Stanley Cup. But that's hockey. It doesn't count. There is nothing left in Detroit but memories and rust.

Therefore... Will the last person to leave Detroit turn off the lights?

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Comments 21 comments

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area

Sad... but probably necessary...

Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

It's always sad when a city dies, but all of the righteous indignation of the city's leaders and chamber of commerce cannot deny the reality that Detroit is done. Put a fork in it. Well, at least Toronto can get two NFL teams this way! :)

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK


How depressing!

I watched a programme on UK TV about the Honda Clarity last weekend. It's the new hydrogen car that they are trialling in California. The programme I watched was Top Gear which is a very reputable driving programme, and the presenters rated the Clarity very highly, and forecast that it will become the first of a whole new generation of non-polluting cars.

This is surely what Ford and GM need to be getting their heads round. They can't compete in production terms with traditional petrol and diesel engines, but surely they could try to steal a march with something more innovative?

It's just too sad to see Detroit crumble into urban decay.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

So, will real estate prices really go down to reflect the current situation? Will people in Detroit now be able to support a family for ten dollars a week? Why is it that the cost of living remains so high?

Al Sinden 8 years ago

There were riots in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s in Detroit. Some were racially motivated, others economically and politically "inspired." Detroit has been dying for decades. A sad state of affairs for a city founded over 300 years ago (1701).

The motto of Detroit is: "Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus"(Latin for, "We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes")

Is Detroit a potential "Cinderella story?" I doubt it.

Netters profile image

Netters 8 years ago from Land of Enchantment - NM

LOL! I love your wording. I feel the same way. My father who was in WWII would turn over in his grave if I bought a foreign (especially German) car.

Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

Amanda Severn, Ford has been involved with fuel cell technology for well over a decade and they have perfectly well functioning prototypes which have already undergone extensive testing, reviews by the media, etc. The problems with fuel cells are twofold: 1) Where do you fuel them up, and 2) What happens when you get hit? There is no hydrogen infrastructure in North America today and to install one would be an expenditure of tens or hundreds of billions of dollars. Most importantly, there is no crashproofing of a hydrogen vehicle possible which won't turn it into a miniature Hindenburg if the tank is ruptured. For the forseeable future, H stands for Hype.

Aya Katz, the realty prices in the Detroit area are already at bargain giveaway levels, but the problem is that household goods and services cost as much in Detroit as they do in any other USA metro, and that can be dozens of times more expensive than in some Third World countries.

Al Sinden, perhaps Quies Cineribus (Lie in ashes) might be more appropriate. :)

Netters, Thanks! When Mitsubishi first started selling cars in the USA there was considerable resistance from WWII veterans who had served in the Pacific Theater. That was the company that manufactured the Japanese Air Force's Zero plane that was often used in Kamikaze attacks!

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey

Lights out Detroit--thmbs up Hal:-)

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

The situation in Detroit is tough, but we don't give up easily. Detroit's two newspapers, the Free Press and the News announced this week that next month they will be providing home deliveries only three days a week. They will be available online and at news stands, drug stores, etc. seven days a week. Sad.

Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

robie2, thanks for the kind words, and I am sorry about what is happening to Detroit.

Ralph Deeds, Detroiters are tough people and they certainly won't give up without a fight, but the bottom line has to be why bother? Is there really anything left in Southeastern Michigan that is worth fighting for? Might it not just be easier to pack up and create a new and better situation elsewhere?

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

HI Hal,

Thanks for your response. I guess I should have realised that American prototypes might already exist for this technology. I just checked out the California Hydrogen Highway site: http://www.hydrogenhighway.ca.gov/ and that shows the full range of hydrogen vehicles currently using the highway. Admittedly the numbers are tiny at present, but perhaps there is hope for the future of such technologies? The mini Hindenberg scenario does not sound great, but if these cars are already being used, perhaps some of the safety issues have been addressed?

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pgrundy 8 years ago

Great hub, but I hope Detroit comes back. Partly I hope that because I live in Southern Michigan. (Kalamazoo.) I came up here two years ago to take a job with a big regional bank. Out of a training class of 25, only three people were local--the rest, including me, were from far and wide, all over the rustbelt. The job started at $10/hr. When I left in October of 2008 only two people from that training class were left. If GM and Chrysler go down, it's going to be Mad Max bad around here, seriously. I'm scared. But at 55 where am I supposed to go? I may never get another 'real' job--it's a distinct possibility.

Personally I think we will have to see RADICAL social restructuring in the U.S. People are talking hydrogen cars, electric cars, as if we can just make a new car but keep the same wasteful infrastructure. I think ultimately that won't wash. We'll have to go back to more local, centrally organized communities where people can walk or ride public transport to most of the places we need to go. The kind of sprawl that developed since the late 50s into the mess we have now will have to go. Here we expect 30% of the mall stores to be vacant and belly up by the end on January 2009. That business model is DOA. Thanks Hal.

reagu profile image

reagu 8 years ago from Los Angeles

Great perspective. I wonder what it was that made GM scrap its electric car program.

Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

Amanda Severn, the problem with the H Highway is that these vehicles can't easily be dual-fueled so if you end up running short and you're not near the Highway, what do you do? The H Highway represents less than one in a hundred thousand service stations in the USA and Canada. An H vehicle is no darn good to anyone if you're not near one of those stations, unless you fancy a 50 or 100 mile round trip just to fuel up. And what about if you want to drive away from California? This is just pie in the sky and it's at least a decade away from even the most remote practicality. As for the absolute safetyproofing of puncturing the H tank, here is the bottom line. It hasn't been done, it isn't done, and it won't be done. There is nothing short of five or six thousand pounds of steel casing that is going to keep the H tank from puncturing when the H vehicle is hit head on by an 18 wheeler, and causing a real nice crater in the highway from the massive H explosion. Wish I had better news, but right now, anyone promoting H vehicles as a reasonable alternative is a scammer.

pgrundy, my advice remains to get out of SE Michigan while you can. Mad Max is coming and this latest ripoff bailout is only delaying the inevitable by a couple of months. City planners have been gabbing about local communities since WWII and absolutely nothing has been done about it, and likely nothing will, at least until the next World War. It's -27 outside. I'm supposed to walk to... where? There is no substitute anywhere in sight for the internal combustion private vehicle. The automakers that can make small, cheap, reasonable cars will survive and thrive. The ones that are as idiotic as the Big Three will die. It may be Darwinian, but it's the way it works.

reagu, GM killed EV1 because not only was it costing the company thousands for every car they sold, but the batteries were not only a crash hazard, but were all going to die soon. It's more or less the same scenario for the Volt, but that's because GM doesn't learn.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

Hal, Detroit still has plenty to offer--

--Five universities

--A premier design school--Center for Creative Studies

--Hundreds of small machine shops that can make anything from tools to prototypes, to small production runs

--Outstanding hospitals and medical facilities

--A gateway to Windsor (South of Detroit, believe it or not) and Canada

--A port on the Great Lakes waterway

--Lake St. Clair, (the smallest of the Great Lakes) a premier sportsman's lake for Muskie, Perch, Walleye fishing, sailing, and other water sports

A great Symphony Orchestra,and the Detroit Institute of Arts and one of the top Zoos in the country

--And a hardworking, down-to-earth, look you straight-in-the- eye population.

--In addition to the pictures on this hub you could easily add images of the renaissance along the Detroit river, the restored and re-opened Book Cadillac and Ft. Shelby hotels, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, Cranbrook Institute, the recently renovated and added-to Detroit Art Institute.

--The Detroit, Red Wings, Pistons, Tigers and Lions

Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

As I stated, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for much of Detroit and its people which I have gained first hand. I lived on the St. Clair shore, thus am well acquainted with this jewel of a lake. However, you can make exactly the same case about Buffalo or Cleveland. They too have similar facilities and sports teams, including NFL (er... however, those teams occasionally win...) :)

The problem is that the hardworking population can't just generate work from its magical hat. The entire southern shore of Lake Erie is a disaster area. Anyone driving from Buffalo to Detroit will not see so much nature and wonder, as they'll see rust and abandoned buildings and depressing rot. I've been awaiting the renaissance since the RenCen was built and I've seen no hint of it, other than a handful of expensive public "cultural" projects that are usually empty. Your city deficit is $300 million. Where is that money going to come from? The same pie in the sky as the rest of the wishful thinking about the Motor City?

We can engage in wishful thinking or we can be logical. Take a look at the Buffalo Bills: The lowest average ticket price in the league at $51, yet they drive an hour north to Toronto and fetch almost 50% more than the highest NFL ticket price, the NE Patriots. Imagine what a "winning" Toronto Lions team would do? Of course, you'd have to ditch the QB who runs himself out of the end zone for a safety. :)

It's politically correct to take a look at the half full part of the Southern Lake Erie Rust Belt and not the half empty. However, when you look carefully, you find that it's barely a quarter full, and that's being waaaaaaaaaaay generous. To advocate the area's long term viability may be pleasant in a gollygeewhillikers manner, but it's entirely unrealistic. It's dead. Let's give it up and move on.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

I notice you are from Toronto which is blessed with a more diverse economy and a Metropolitan government which is a big advantage over Detroit which is rigned with tiny little independent municipalities which make it hard to have a rational transit system or other efficient public services. The riots and school integration court decisions led many whites and affluent blacks to flee to the suburbs.

Another plus for Detroit is that it's more or less equidistant from Chicago and Toronto, an easy weekend trip to either. As you know Toronto is an easy drive from Detroit or, for a change, a nice train ride.

I must say that your obit for Detroit is a bit premature, however. It needs to shrink a bit more, and then. like the Phoenix will rise from its ashes. It's a very "can do" place.

Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

Actually I haven't lived in Toronto for years, but I keep that city on my profile as it keeps the crazy death threat fatwa CPU lapper morons confused. I have no love lost for Toronto, but it could be administered by a municipal council of trained chimps and that still wouldn't begin to dampen its economic vitality. Toronto has an amazingly diversified economy and although the collapse of the Big Three would have an effect, it would likely be only localized to the far suburbs of Oakville and Oshawa. The rest of the city likely would barely notice. Although it is not going to be immune to a worldwide recession/depression, it will likely still be able to maintain its standard of living to a far greater extent than the vast majority of North American cities. Again, I'm not a fan of Toronto by any stretch of the imagination, but comparing Toronto with its American counterparts on Lake Erie is a bit like comparing Warren Buffet with Brunch Buffet. :)

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

Toronto compares favorably with Chicago. My intention was not to compare Toronto with Detroit. Chicago and Toronto both have significant advantages over Detroit, economic diversification, among others. Chrysler will collapse; smallerized versions of Ford and GM will survive in my opinion.

Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

... and I truly do hope that the people of Detroit find some way to create a market niche for themselves so that they may prosper in the future. They certainly deserve it. Best wishes to all Detroiters!

Doubtful 5 years ago

No one cares anymore about detroit? The people are "poor and stupid" quoted from another article. The only good detroit had were the big automobile companies..who made crap cars. Nothing else is there except poor black people on welfare. Have you seen those monkees on "hardcore pawn"? They dont even deserve to live

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