A country that loses its values, its principles, has lost its heart.
A country that loses its sensible center, its common ground, has lost its mind.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Did Macomb County play a key role in Detroit's decline?

Growing up in Roseville in the 1970s, by the time I reached junior high school the majority of my neighborhood friends were refugees from Detroit, those who fled at a time when the inner city was showing the earliest signs of degenerating into an urban wasteland.
These suburban families represented the beginning of white flight, a massive population shift that would prove to be Detroit’s undoing over the next four decades.

Once safely settled in suburbia, these whites would eventually lead the charge against cross-district busing and would congregate as an anti-Detroit voting bloc. That led to Macomb County political campaigns that were often won by the candidate who most effectively bashed Detroit. These white-flighters became the core of a political atmosphere in the 1980s and 1990s that made the tri-county area the most segregated metropolitan area in the nation.
The Motor City’s downward spiral was put in motion.

So, in the wake of Detroit’s unprecedented municipal bankruptcy, the question becomes: Did Macomb County and other suburban communities play a leading role in sparking the core city’s downfall?

The ill-informed national pundits pontificating about Motown’s financial failure offer all kinds of ideological theories that don’t add up.
Sure, big-government Democratic politics and aggressive labor unions contributed to the city’s debts. One liberal commentator suggested that Detroit’s decline was caused by too much of a small-government approach.

To blame the $3.5 billion pension debt on “union bosses” is off the mark when you consider that the average city retiree receives $18,000 a year in benefits. To say that political corruption killed Motown — indeed Kwame Kilpatrick’s raiding of funds was breathtakingly brash — is wildly off the mark when the city owes an unfathomable $18 billion to $20 billion in long-term debts.
As Gov. Rick Snyder and his able Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr have said, Detroit’s long, slow slide began 60 years ago due to mismanagement at City Hall and relentless negative inaction — kick the can down the road and let the next mayor take care of the mounting debts.

But if suburbanites are honest about the history of southeast Michigan, they will acknowledge that white flight, which reached a far higher level of retreat in Detroit than in other metropolitan areas, was the clincher that gradually bled the Motor City dry.
I have not seen any figures on the percentage decline in city property values over the past 40 years, but the loss of property tax revenues over those four decades must be staggering. At the peak of the nation’s housing crisis in 2009, the median price of a single family home in Detroit had fallen to a stunning $5,000.

In Detroit, a housing crisis has been ongoing for decades. The unkempt and vacant homes that so shocked suburbanites across the nation during the foreclosure boom of 2008-10 became standard fare in some sections of Detroit starting in the 1970s.
White families who harbored an “us vs. them” attitude as their neighborhoods became more diverse and bailed out, often selling their homes to landlords looking to make a quick buck. What the white-flighters left behind were streets populated by renters with no incentive to maintain their property.

City Hall proved incompetent in trying to halt the oncoming crime and blight. The residents did not stand their ground. Property values plummeted and many residents chose to give up.
With each friend or neighbor that “got out,” more and more families followed the same path north of Eight Mile Road.
This abandonment led to burglaries, street crimes, drug houses and arsons. As many homes became unsellable, the slumlords swooped in.

After 30 years, the results are graphic: shockingly desolate landscapes — the “ruin porn” — that fascinates photographers from across the globe.
One key reason why Detroit is left with so much messiness compared to other Rust Belt cities is size. Consider this: The Motor City’s 139 square miles is so vast that it could fit within its borders all of Boston, San Francisco and Manhattan. One national reporter who wrote about the bankruptcy called that “one of the most incredible factoids ever.”

To deal with the sprawling boundaries, city and federal officials engaged in disastrous urban renewal projects and built freeways that simply made it easier for workers to commute into the city from the suburbs, rather than staying put in the Motor City. Ironically, the good wages and benefits that unionized autoworkers received also encouraged the evacuation of blue collar families.
Meanwhile, the city clumsily fueled this exodus by failing to enforce basic ordinances dealing with weeds and trash and rodents. Small-time crimes such as vandalism and minor assaults were not taken seriously by the Detroit cops.

Nonetheless, much of the mass migration to the suburbs stank of racist motives and bigoted assumptions that a City Hall led by a black mayor was the enemy.

The attitude was unmistakable. In my Roseville neighborhood, the white-flighters used the N-word with little discretion and openly told an array of racist jokes.
A more subtle form of segregation took hold in the business community. I’ve often wondered what Detroit would have looked like if all those gleaming office towers in Troy and Southfield and Auburn Hills, including the impressive Chrysler headquarters, had been built in the downtown area. Imagine all the abandoned buildings and empty lots that could have been replaced by those aesthetically pleasing engines of economic growth.

As the business community turned its back and the inner city’s population slid from 1.2 million in 1980 to 700,000 in 2010, the decline became a death spiral.
The one bright spot in this dark history is the sudden renaissance of the downtown and Midtown areas. Those two enclaves, populated by college-educated professionals, stand in such contrast to the dilapidated neighborhoods that referring to Detroit’s condition as “a tale of two cities” is already reaching cliché status.

In 2013, Detroit is essentially two cities. And for many years, the metropolitan area consisted of two regions: one black, one white, with Eight Mile as the dividing line.
That line is being blurred in recent years by the onset of black flight — minorities moving out of the city into Warren, Eastpointe, Roseville and even Sterling Heights and Clinton Township.

What is the old white-flighters response to this rearranging landscape?
Well, have you heard the one about M-59 becoming the new Eight Mile?


  1. Growing up NEAR 8 MILE was what I knew in the 50's. My family moved, not due to urban or white flight. We moved to other areas of the state at my fathers employers wishes. But, we ended up back in the tri-county area. After my tour in Vietnam ( returned home after the riots!) I made a tour of "The City". It was very shocking and depressing to see my city of birth look as bad, or some areas, worse than war torn Vietnamese cities and hamlets. I have lived in various cities and states since that time.
    Many causes could be listed as reasons for the problems of Detroit. My only hope is that, in time, it will rebuild. Even though I live out of state, I return as often as possible. With such a great history, I believe Detroit will return as a great metropolis one day!

  2. Excuse me, but "Bussing" destroyed Detroit back in 1976! My neighborhood was destroyed in 6 months. Every white family that could leave did...they never learned that you can't force people to send their kids to schools miles away from their neighborhoods. Once you destroyed the neighborhood schools you also destroyed parental involvement in the schools, the pride, the cooperation, the volunteering. Neighborhood schools were the glue that held communities together. Everybody that could flee, did! They fled to Macomb Twp, East Pointe, Grosse Pointe, Redford, Berkley, anyplace where their kids could walk to schools and play with their neighborhood friends, without being FORCED to do something against their will.

  3. I found this point of view interesting having lived in wonderful white warren for most of my childhood and adolescence. I did the reverse move back into Detroit in the early 1970s and fell in love with a diverse, welcoming, inspiring city. I've lived in the city, in various suburbs, and finally in rural Michigan and I yearn to get back to the city and be part of it's renewal. Through the years I've watched as more and more people pulled out, maneuvered living conditions, and set up the "us" v. "them" mentality that I believe has been a huge part of the downward spiral this great city has been forced to deal with. I hope that Michigan realizes that Detroit should be an inspiration to the entire state and nation as she finds her footing and moves into the 21st century.

  4. What did the whites take with them? The answer is values: baby-making within the confines of marriage (70% of black babies born out of wedlock); a focus on educating children before they even get to school (blacks in the Detroit are 50% illiterate); less reliance on gov't for every kind of subsidy available to them (section 8 housing, heating subsidies, food stamps, et al.) These values are the result of dysfunctional sociopathology of black culture, not the black race (obviously) . . . do not blame white people for the horrible decisions made by the black underclass. #1: quit having babies out of wedlock, it's the number one cause of social pathology. #2 read to your kids if you can before they get to kindergarten. #3 see #1.

  5. Appears about right from my perspective. I think the comments are constructive too and the dialogue a good one.

  6. White flight occurred because whites could see what the future would look like. The only reason any urban area wants whites is so they can tax them and blacks have someone to steal from. White Detroit residents fled because they were smart. You can't force someone to like a criminal or a group of people who hate you.

  7. You blame ordinary people for immediately seeing what the mayors of decline ignored for 60+ years? If it was obvious to the average person that things were on the slide, why didn't those in control know it and try to fix it?

    And you blame people for leaving a burning building? Stop making excuses for the criminal mismanagement that was noticed, then encouraged, and finally entrenched.

  8. There haven't been any bankruptcies of this sort in Greece, allegedly the worlds most screwed up economy.

    Christine Lagarde said as much well over a year back; The United States Economy. not Greece is the real issue of the day. No one wanted to hear it.

    In fact Detroit is the white elephant in the room. No one really has much to say about it . The FEDS won't help. That much is clear... What is clearer yet is that that the reason it won't help is because it cant. Americs IS broke and everyone knows it.Except Americans themselves who seem quite at ease and confident and therefore see no reason for concern.

    But even in Greece it would never have come to this. Take away a coffee break and the people pour out onto the street ready to riot. Still, what do Greeks know about democracy.

  9. Most whites don't want to live with blacks. They bring crime and misery.Blacks don't like whites. Good. Stay by yourselves and run your loser cities. Rot away in the hell you create and take the liberals with you.

  10. The fact that Detroit is 82.7% black according to the 2010 census (the percentage is probably higher now) is not a positive in terms If Detroit's future.

    Almost anyone who could have gotten out of Detroit has left by now, including blacks. Those who are left behind are not of the economic means to be able to contribute in any meaningful way to the hoped for revival of the city.

    I have heard lately of some higher educated young people and artist types who are moving back into the city. I guess we'll see if this "trend" will offer any meaningful benefit to the very troubled city of Detroit.

  11. Black. White. Makes no difference.

    You are all broke.

    Here are the facts. Indisputable statistics that event the smartest economist can't gloss over


  12. The whites were in charge of the power structure in Detroit since the city was founded. They were the ones that chose to give up on the city and blame the blacks for it and always will. The whites in charge were the ones that cooked up racial covenants on property, discrimination on jobs and banking and the school system. When the blacks stood up and said, "What about us?" all the whites flocked to the suburbs and built all those 25 new auto plants in the 'burbs between 1946-1971 and didn't let the blacks in. You sit and throw stones at Detroit now, but you're the ones that caused the whole mess of today. Of course now all them plants are closing so now you had to move away again and leave all them broken eggs you put in that basket to rot. Detroit is a microcosm of what's happening to the rest of Michigan and the rest of the country. How many auto plants are left in Flint? Hamtrack? Pontiac? Lansing? You let all the jobs go. It's easier to just blame blacks for your troubles when you wonder how long you'll have your job in the 'burbs before it disappears and you'll be the other piece of scum out there stealing and on welfare because there's no work left anymore. When it comes down to it, just being white won't save anyone.

  13. Yep. Thats it friend

    Black or white makes no difference.

    You are all Americans.

    And as Americans you are all broke.

    Not maybe. not will be. Already


    If you can process your yearly tax you can undertand those figures.

    Each and every American, working or not, is responsible for 48000 in national debt.

    Americans are broke.

    How you gonna fix that?

  14. Back in 1973 my mom said " give it 30 years the blacks will move across 8 mile then the whites cant run no more..

  15. i am concerned about all the blacks movin into the cities of south macomb county, any white person who thinks, just move north of m 59, better think again there out there to. WHITE PEOPLE STOP RUNNING...

  16. Wow... reading through some of these comments is really... shocking... and underscores the author's points. Really sad.