Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Adage: "The first step toward solving a problem is admitting you have one."

THE WINTER BLAST and similar affairs are fun and bring needed money into downtown, but in the long run they're detrimental because by masking the problem they allow an unreal complacency-- the bizarre forced happy face mentality that is the trademark of this town. You know what I mean-- or should.

The most obvious manifestation is the way the media treats the auto industry. Reading the daily articles one would believe the Big Three are on the rebound, doing things right!; making steady progress and exciting the public. They're the same kind of articles which have been written in this city for the last thirty years. (Who knows-- maybe the exact same ones, recycled from the back room with a few name substitutions.) Meanwhile, the Big Three have consistently-- consistently-- lost market share and no one calls them on it. (Well, occasionally one guy at the News.)

The same thing applies to downtown. I've recently returned from nearly ten years on the east coast and I'm not easily conned about what a healthy downtown looks like. Yes, Detroit has a beautiful downtown, at its core. Along the river, better than Philly. But it's kind of a neutron bomb downtown in that one thing missing is people!

I'd wager there are less people, less cars, less businesses downtown compared to ten, or certainly fifteen, years ago. I don't remember such empty streets, or so many vacant office buildings, which are everyplace. The Free Press is still optimistic, it's good to see, but their building is shuttered! They had a nice little diner on the ground floor. I'd stop there on my way to a job near the riverfront west of downtown.

The media is schizophrenic; on one hand announcing that "the whole world is watching" Detroit because of the auto show. (Uh, not.) On the other they engage in the standard neo-liberal do-gooder cannibalism with blazing headlines day after day after day flagellating the mayor because he had an affair and fired someone. Headlines to delight suburbanites who don't realize that by destroying the mayor they're destroying themselves.

In Philly, ALL the politicians are corrupt. It's how they do business. It's a shame; it shouldn't happen; it's covered daily and politicians are occasionally forced out of office-- like the councilman who threatened to jump from the William Penn statue atop City Hall-- but it's so rampant and known that no one gets hysterical about it and the city continues on. People live and shop downtown.

Where was the Christmas shopping rush downtown Detroit this year? I looked for it and couldn't find it. No mobs to push aside, unless you count pigeons.

The point of this rant: Detroit COULD be as vibrant as Philadelphia. It should be as vibrant. It could be better. I look at them as sister cities-- have since I was a kid and we'd visit family in Philly-- because they're roughly the same size with similar rivers and similar problems.

Detroit now is a happy face mask covering a pessimistic frown. What the city needs is a more realistic attitude; a realistic optimism, and it needs a new strategy. I can provide the second part, and will, on this blog.

Disagree with what I say? Let me know.

No comments: