A Picture of Detroit Ruin, Street by Forlorn Street
Workers are cataloging the tens of thousands of abandoned and dilapidated buildings in Detroit Credit Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times
Who’s to blame for Detroit’s collapse?
By Alexandra Le Tellier
July 18, 2013, 5:42 p.m.
Detroit filed for bankruptcy Thursday, making it the largest U.S. city to ever seek Chapter 9 protection. It’s sad news for the once-great city. Still, the headline seemed to have delighted many. Just check out The Times’ comments section, with several readers gleefully blaming Democrats. “Detroit should be held up as a national example how liberal-socialist, Democrat policies can destroy a once vibrant city within a generation,” says “I hate the media.” (Nice moniker.)
In a 2011 Op-Ed about Detroit’s collapse, Scott Martelle, author of “Detroit: A Biography,” gave readers a view of the Michigan city through a different lens. An excerpt:
The collapse of Detroit has roots in intentional de-industrialization by the Big Three automakers, which in the 1950s began aggressively spider-webbing operations across the nation to produce cars closer to regional markets, and to reduce labor costs by investing in less labor-friendly places than union-heavy Detroit. Their flight was augmented by government policies that, in the 1970s and 1980s particularly, forced municipalities and states to compete with each other for jobs by offering corporate tax breaks and other inducements to keep or draw business investments, a bit of whipsawing that helped companies profit at the expense of communities.
Racism plays a significant role too. Detroit’s white flight exploded in the 1950s and ’60s, after courts struck down local and federal policies that had allowed segregated housing. That was followed by middle-class flight on the part of blacks and whites as crime endemic to high-poverty, high-unemployment neighborhoods began spreading. It’s significant to note that Detroit’s inner-ring suburbs have been picking up African American populations as young Detroit families seek safety, stability and more reliable schools. As they run out of the city, its vast socioeconomic problems become even more distilled, more pronounced. Continue reading…
Earlier this year, Martelle wrote about Detroit’s demise for our Op-Ed pages again, explaining:
Detroit, once the nation’s fourth-largest city, has been crumbling since the 1950s, when its population peaked at a little over 1.84 million people. Estimates put the current population at under 700,000, and Detroit leads the nation’s large cities in the percentage of people living below the federal poverty line. More than a quarter of Detroit’s 140-square-mile city is now empty space. A Detroit house is cheaper to buy than a new car, and a high-paying job within the city limits is a rare thing to find, even with a recent influx of downtown-focused developments.
The emptying of Detroit stems from a complex mix of intractable racism, corporate and governmental decisions, failed institutions and crime levels that have driven most of the middle class to the suburbs. Local governments have regularly undercut each other with tax deals to lure jobs (much as Texas Gov. Rick Perry tried to do on his recent visit to California). These deals have helped corporations at the expense of communities like Detroit, causing the city’s tax base to shrink faster than the city government could adapt and leaving it with massive debt, annual operating deficits, a demoralized workforce, an impoverished population base — and no plan for how to fix things. [...]
The people who left Detroit did so in a million individual decisions framed by dwindling jobs and shrinking wages, persistent crime, a collapsed public school system and inadequate services. But the collapse of city services has been a symptom of the underlying problems, not the cause. In fact, the Detroit News recently reported that half the city’s property owners have stopped paying their property taxes partly out of anger and frustration with the lack of services. “Why should I send them taxes when they aren’t supplying services?” the paper quoted one resident as saying. “It is sickening…. Every time I see the tax bill come, I think about the times we called and nobody came.” Continue reading…
So, what’s next for Detroit? Here’s another commenter’s take. From “GregMaragos”:
Now is hardly the time for conservatives to indulge in schadenfreude. Nevertheless, it is likewise not a time to turn a blind eye to this cautionary tale of the true cost of hyper-liberalism.
No federal bailout, period. No ifs ands or buts. The only cure for Detroit is a strong dose of tough love.
We wish the good people of this city well.
The decline of Detroit: How the architectural jewels in motor city’s crown have fallen into disrepair and are now being demolished
Detroit And Bankruptcy: How A Once-Great American City Endured Decades Of Decay
Abandoned Detroit Schools
Book review by Peter Whoriskey
Among the ghosts of Detroit
Sunday, January 30, 2011
How do you tell the story of what is no longer there?
For many Americans, the decimation of the nation’s manufacturing workforce over the past three decades is sensed only through statistics – millions of jobs lost, factories closed and a vague unease that some working families are being rolled over. But in Detroit, the economic destruction is palpable in the old plants that have been emptied and left to rot, serving as giant roadside tombstones for a more prosperous era. In “ Punching Out,” Paul Clemens, a native of Detroit, has set for himself the task of describing in depth the shuttering of one behemoth, as a kind of farewell.
The idea that a major American city could be in the process of turning into a ruin is both horrifying and alluring, becoming the subject of numerous trendy photography exhibits. But Clemens wants to do more than muse about another empty factory. “The arty delectation of Detroit’s destruction – ‘ruin porn,’ as it’s called – it sometimes seems to take up half the Internet,” he writes. “I understand the fascination completely, and I don’t get it at all.”
His case study is the Budd Automotive plant, which in its heyday constituted a small city in itself, encompassing about 2 million square feet and employing 10,000 workers. Among other things, it stamped out pieces of Ford Explorers.
Beginning after production has ceased at the plant, Clemens’s story centers on the grim work of wreckers and movers of equipment, of the security guards warding off vandals and of corporate scavengers from plants in Mexico and elsewhere who buy Budd’s machinery for use in countries where labor is cheaper.
The tale unfolds in a series of vignettes that Clemens captured while hanging out during the months-long dismantling of the plant. The woes of Detroit provoke both desperation and philosophizing. Standing around 50-gallon oil drums with fires inside to keep warm, workers reflect somberly, sometimes colorfully, about the exodus of manufacturing and about their homesickness.
A scrap thief, caught by the security guards, is forced to kneel with his hands behind his head, but then asks for a job. A trucker named Rafael shows off his tattoos of an American eagle and a phoenix and then complains about Detroit: “It’s cold, it’s miserable. I want to go home and ride my motorcycle.”
And the author of an industry newsletter called Plant Closing News, a kind of almanac of economic destruction, sees in the shutterings a reflection of moral decline, comparing the upheaval first to the fall of Rome and then to the wayward people of the Bible, with scriptural citations of Chronicles. “You know what? It’s that desperate. We’ve lost our horizon. We don’t know whether we’re flying right side up or upside down,” he says.
The equipment being salvaged from the Budd plant will end up in India, Brazil and Mexico, sometimes to make parts for the same auto companies, but with much lower labor costs. At the Mexican plant, the only other one that Clemens visits in the book, he notes that workers make about $3,500 a year, only a small fraction of what the unionized workers at the U.S. plant once made. Remember, Clemens instructs, that “this city once was a Cadillac, before becoming a Buick, then an Oldsmobile and a Pontiac (both defunct), and finally, a Chevy, a high mileage hauler that has done honest work but can sometimes seem closer and closer to coming to a halt.”
Clemens displays a fascination with equipment, although its use and significance will often be a mystery to readers. But the ultimate absence, at least for this reader, is what the Budd plant was like in its heyday and what has happened to those who once populated the vast complex.
At one point, Clemens is left to imagine, as if in a movie, the manager looking out over the factory floor from his office as he realizes that things are headed for trouble. It is just the kind of scene that, if documented, might best describe the loss implicit in all those vacant factories.
Peter Whoriskey covers the auto industry and manufacturing for The Washington Post.
One Year in a Closing Auto Plant
By Paul Clemens
Doubleday. 271 pp. $25.95
During the late Dark Ages and into the Middle Ages, the nobility founded monasteries and built churches to repent for their sins. In the ancient world, the wealthy built public buildings like baths and temples to honor themselves and for the common good.
With the decline of the auto industry, Detroit has been dying for fifty years. In this time of government cut backs because of a reduced tax base, middle class poverty, and wealthy surplus, billionaires should set up to the plate and contribute to the common good.
Instead of looking for a hedge fund to invest in, wealthy Wolverines should unite and seek opportunities to relieve the burdens of daily life and obtain treasure in heaven.
Richard DeVos…$4.2 billion…Ada, MI
Ronda Stryker…$2.2 billion…Kalamazoo
Jon Stryker…$1.45 billion…Kalamazoo
Michael Ilitch…$1.4 billion…Detroit
Alfred Taubman…$1.4 billion…Bloomfield Hills
Pat Stryker…$1.35 billion…Kalamazoo
Manuel Moroun…$1.3 billion…Grosse Pointe Shores
S. Roger Penske…$1.3 billion…Birmingham
John Brown…$1 billion…Kalamazoo
John Gordon…$1 billion…Grand Rapids
Last Updated: January 12. 2011 2:32PM
Without aid, DPS may close half of its schools
Class sizes also would swell under proposal filed with the state
Jennifer Chambers / The Detroit News
Detroit — Detroit Public Schools would close nearly half of its schools in the next two years, and increase high school class sizes to 62 by the following year, under a deficit-reduction plan filed with the state.
The plan, part of a monthly update Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb gives the Department of Education, was filed late Monday to provide insight into Bobb’s progress in his attempt to slash a $327 million deficit in the district to zero over the next several years. Under it, the district would slim down from 142 schools now to 72 during 2012-13.
Bobb has said school closures, bigger classes and other measures would be needed if he cannot get help from lawmakers to restructure finances in the state’s largest school district.
DPS considered but declined to file for bankruptcy in 2009. In the past year, debt in the district has increased by more than $100 million, brought on by a mix of revenue declines in property taxes, reduced state aid, declining enrollment and an unplanned staffing surge this past fall.
Starting this fall, the district plans to boost class sizes in grades 4-12 and at all grade levels by fiscal 2012, which begins July 1, to save $16.8 million. The plan would hike class sizes for: Grades K-3 from 17-25 students to 29 in 2012-13 and 31 in 2013-14.
Grades 4-5 from 30 students to 37 in 2012-13 and 39 in 2013-14.
Grades 6-8 from 35 students to 45 in 2012-13 and 47 in 2013-14.
Grades 9-12 from 35 students to 60 in 2012-13 and 62 in 2013-14.
Because the district’s contract with the Detroit Federation of Teachers requires payments to teachers for class sizes that exceed specified maximums, the district estimates it would spend $10 million in oversize class pay over four years.
Keith Johnson, president of the teachers union, said the proposed class size increases won’t work and will never happen.
“I will never agree to any class-size increases,” Johnson said. “These increases are antithetical to learning. Secondly, our classrooms aren’t even built to accommodate those numbers.
“Johnson said the teachers’ contract does not let the district exceed contracted class sizes through 2012. DFT filed an unfair labor practice charge in July to restore class sizes for the upcoming school year.
Parent Petrina Johnson said swelling high school classrooms to 60 students or more will only leave them uneducated.
“There is one teacher and she can barely get to each of the 36 kids now. That makes no sense,” said Johnson, who has three children at Mumford High School.
School officials said the plan would create a “lecture hall” model similar to a university.
Johnson said teenagers aren’t ready for that.
“This gives more opportunity for them to slip through the cracks,” she said.
The proposal calls for closing 40 schools in fiscal 2012 and 30 schools in fiscal 2013. That would leave DPS with 72 schools for a projected 58,570 students, down from about 74,000 now. The district closed 30 schools this fiscal year, which is expected to save $23 million. The planned closings in fiscal 2012-14 would save more than $33 million.
Bobb said the district could save another $12.4 million from the school closures if it “simply abandons” the closed buildings. Past policy has been to keep the closed schools clean and secure, officials said, but the district could cut costs by eliminating storage, board-up and security.
DPS spokesman Steve Wasko said the district has laid out the path it must take to eliminate the deficit, and Bobb remains focused on working with lawmakers to pass one of three plans to restructure DPS’ finances.
Those plans include splitting the district in two to put its debt obligation with an “old district,” covering about 9,000 students. State revenue would pay off the debt, allowing the “new district” to move forward debt-free with undetermined start-up funds.
Such a plan would need approval by state lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder.
District officials said they are pursuing “renaissance” legislation to free up $400 million in future tobacco settlement funds that could help mend DPS’ deficit and those of 40 other districts statewide. In return, the districts would make dramatic reforms based on the federal Race to the Top initiative, such as eliminating teacher seniority.
That proposal died last month in the state Legislature’s lame duck session. A third plan would look at new systems and agencies used in New Orleans, which has converted more than half of its public schools into charter schools in the past several years.
Besides closing schools and increasing class sizes, Bobb’s plan calls for the district to abolish its divisions of finance, legal services, human services and public safety and contract with either Wayne County or the city of Detroit for those services.
“This is the route that we’d need to take if the other larger solutions are not found,” Wasko said. “It is in fact the route that we continue to take until alternatives are approved.”
There was no mention of any of these plans in the documents Bobb filed with the state, Wasko said, because the plans are still being researched and fleshed out in and outside DPS.
“There is a lot of work going on,” he said.
Joseph Johnson, executive director for the National Center for Urban School Transformation, said almost every urban school district in the country is struggling, but perhaps none as severely as Detroit.
“I haven’t heard of an urban district taking such drastic of steps,” Joseph Johnson said. “Certainly every urban district is engaging in some serious belt-tightening as they are dealing with smaller budgets and at the same time often higher expectation from the public in terms of student achievement.”
Generosity is good for the soul. Donors tend to be unsung and unpublicized but examples of selflessness are important to inspire others.
Jay Bruce generosity knows no bounds
BY PAUL DAUGHERTY • PDAUGHERTY@ENQUIRER.COM • JANUARY 21, 2011
CINCINNATI– Jay Bruce calls himself “a product of generosity,’’ so he’s giving the Reds $400,000. It’s something he has wanted to do since he was a kid selling candy door to door, to pay for his team’s Little League uniforms. It’s been in his head since the scout who signed him in 2005 offered advice Bruce embraced.
“Don’t forget where you came from,’’ Brian Wilson told the 18-year-old the day the Reds drafted him with their first pick in ’05. Actually Wilson, being a Texan like Bruce, said, “Dance with who brung you.’’
In other words, remember. Who you are, where you come from and how you got here. Repay the generosity loan.
It was a good lesson, one that Bruce would love to hear still, only he can’t because a year after Wilson signed him, Wilson had a heart attack and died. He was 33 years old, with a family.
“Simple guy,’’ Bruce recalled this week. “Nice to my family. Wasn’t a BS-er, didn’t sugarcoat anything.’’ Wilson had played a little pro ball, in the Reds system. He got as far as Class A Billings, which isn’t far at all. But if you pay attention, you learn things on those minor-league bus rides. Wilson was a student of the road.
“He told me what I was getting myself into,’’ Bruce said. Bruce was 18 and leaving home and signing a big bonus deal, and he was doing it all overnight. Wilson kept Bruce’s head from blasting off its axis. “For someone to take that time and show that initiative meant a lot. His job was to scout me and sign me and lobby the Reds that I was worthy of a first-round pick,’’ Bruce said. “All the other stuff was just him.’’
Bruce’s job was to make Brian Wilson look like a smart man. And, to remember to dance. Brian Wilson Field will have lights and a scoreboard and the greenest of grass, in a part of town where green grass is a wish and not a metaphor. “In a not-so-affluent part of town,’’ in Bruce’s words.
Bruce won’t stop there. He’s taking over for Aaron Harang in the free-ticket business. He will maintain Aaron’s Aces, Harang’s ticket giveaway to military families. He will add a second ticket program, for families of special needs kids, to honor his 28-year-old sister Kellan. Kellan Bruce was born with her umbilical cord wrapped twice around her neck. The initial loss of oxygen left her mentally disabled.
“I’ve learned through (Kellan) not to take things for granted,’’ Bruce said.
This sort of benevolence happens a lot among pro jocks, more than we ever report. Part of it is we don’t take the time to honor the good, because the good isn’t sexy. Part of it is some athletes don’t want their generosity made public. Who would you guess leads the current Reds in giving locally?
If you said Francisco Cordero, drop a coin into your own cup. Charley Frank, the director of the Reds Community Fund, says Coco donates “well into the six figures’’ to local causes. Several other Reds are five-figure donors to the Community Fund, Frank said.
Bruce and his agent, Matt Sosnick, met with Frank in 2008, shortly after the Reds promoted Bruce from Class AAA Louisville. The three agreed that when Bruce struck it major-league rich, he’d be doing some giving back.
Now, Bruce has. The money is nice. The words are better. Stuff like this makes a player and a team easier to root for. “It’s not a responsibility. It’s a moral obligation,’’ Bruce said. “The community takes you in. They make or break you. These people only want us to be successful.’’
In return, Bruce hopes to offer the community a chance at the same success. “I’m trying to give kids and families what people gave me. When it comes to helping the less fortunate, (pro athletes) have the ability to do some amazing things. When I was in high school and trying to get the money to go to these tournaments out of state, people didn’t have to open their doors when I knocked. But they did.’’
He grew up in Beaumont, Texas, population 250,000, a place of oil refineries and high school sports. Brian Wilson’s kind of place. They remember in Beaumont. They don’t have to be reminded to dance.
“It’s a huge deal to be able to give kids an opportunity to grow in every way they can,’’ Bruce said. “Eyes on the prize, you know?’’
Detroit’s abandoned buildings draw tourists instead of developers
Detroit has seen an uptick in history buffs and photographers visiting its ruins since its bankruptcy filing.
December 25, 2013 | By Alana Semuels
DETROIT — He’d heard stories of ruin and blight, but that didn’t prepare Oliver Kearney for what he saw:
Prostitutes roaming the streets at 8 a.m., rubble-strewn parking lots overrun with weeds, buildings taken over by bright pink graffiti, the message scrawled on blackboards in deserted schools: “I will not write in vacant buildings.”
He took 2,000 photographs his first day.
“No other American city has seen decline on this scale,” Kearney said. “It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime thing you’re going to see.”
And he saw it all on a tour.
Kearney, an 18-year-old aspiring architect, persuaded his father to travel with him from Britain to Detroit to participate in one of the city’s few burgeoning industries: tours of abandoned factories, churches and schools.
Led by tour guide Jesse Welter, they crawled on their hands and knees to peek inside a train station closed long ago; they squeezed through a gap in a fence to climb the stairs of what was once a luxury high-rise; they ducked under crumbling doorways to see a forgotten ballroom where the Who held its first U.S. Concert.
“In Detroit, you can relate, you can see traces of what’s happened, you can really feel the history of a city,” Kearney said. “In Europe, when things become derelict, they’ll demolish them.”
That’s not possible here. The city estimates it has 78,000 vacant structures, and demolishing each derelict residential building costs $8,000 — money the bankrupt city can’t afford.
The city says that 85% of its 142.9 square miles had “experienced population decline” over the last decade, and efforts to persuade investors to buy commercial buildings and rehabilitate them have been mixed, at best. For example, plans to turn the Michigan Central Depot, a once-grand train station, into a casino and then into police headquarters have gone nowhere, and it’s stood empty since 1988.
Photographers have flocked to the city to capture the decline; two French photographers even produced a book, “The Ruins of Detroit.” But since the city declared bankruptcy in July, hotels say they’ve seen an uptick in visitors inquiring about the ruins. So have restaurants in the up-and-coming district of Corktown, near the abandoned train station.
Welter says he had to buy a 12-seat van to accommodate the growing interest.
Welter once worked as an aircraft mechanic and then an ATM repairman. He dabbled in photography and began venturing into the city from his home in the suburb of Royal Oak, taking pictures of derelict buildings and selling the shots at an artists market.
The photos, though grim, brought back sweet memories: Viewers would remember passing through the train station in its glory, or recall photographs of their grandparents honeymooning at a posh hotel, depicted in Welter’s photos as a decaying tower.
Welter, 42, figured that if other people were interested in seeing the buildings, he could guide them around and, perhaps more important, keep them safe. In October, two tourists were carjacked while visiting an abandoned factory; others have been assaulted there.
Welter guided his first tour in late 2011, but the business has really picked up this year. His clients pay $45 for a three-hour tour and explore some of Detroit’s most famously blighted structures: the Packard Automotive Plant, the train station and the East Grand Boulevard Methodist Church, which features peeling paint and vast balconies.
Welter, who is bearded and slim, knows how to sneak into buildings closed to the public. He knows which neighborhoods are plagued by packs of feral dogs, and which ramshackle building contains a recording studio with equipment still set up as if its occupants just left for lunch. He knows the churches so well that he helped a young couple find an abandoned one in which to conduct their wedding.
It’s not legal, per se, to enter these buildings. Police will give $225 tickets for trespassing if people enter schools, Welter says, but have otherwise told him they don’t mind him going into other buildings.
On a recent weekday morning, he brought a visitor to one of his favorite spots, St. Agnes Catholic Church, a rotting structure where graffiti vandals have made their mark. A beam of sunlight shone through the windows, falling on the one remaining pew in the church, a haunting image that illuminated the church’s destruction. Then Welter heard a motor idling outside and quickly ushered his guest toward the exit.
“Someone’s pulling up out there; let’s start walking this way,” he said, moving toward the crumbling staircase that leads to the church’s courtyard, which was littered with soda cans and food wrappers.
He’s not afraid of the authorities — they’re in short supply in this cash-strapped city — but of scavengers, vagrants and others who might take advantage of someone with an expensive camera. That’s why he usually begins his tours at 7 a.m., the best time to avoid other humans, he says.
Detroit Schools Archaeological Evidence