Friday, May 15, 2009

One City Block in Detroit

It is hard to explain what is going on in Detroit to those not around here - for a long time the metro area was really 2 separate worlds: a choking inner city and then a quite thriving suburbia. However, now the suburbia is suffering as masses of white and blue collar workers lose their livelihood or are trading down in massive ways. So much commercial real estate lays empty even in "well off" areas. The city itself, outside of a small university area, a small riverfront area and a small niche near the baseball and football stadiums is a very depressing area by and large. Much of it has to do with size - you can fit Boston, San Fran, and one more similar sized city into the geographic boundaries of Detroit - it is very spread out. As the population has imploded you have huge pockets of "empty", interspersed with huge pockets of depressed. The city itself (with all that area) does not have 1 major department store and if memory serves not one major supermarket chain.

I always like to warn readers that I have Michigan economic bias [Jun 25, 2008: I have Michigan Economic Bias], so I will be skewed worse than the average bear because of what I see here. Obviously there are many city specific issues that have exaggerated the situation, but one should hope this sort of blight does not hit other areas of the country as we continue to move "jobs you do with your hands" overseas. With only 30% of the country having a college degree - I continue to pointedly ask "what about everyone else?" - they all cannot be Walmart greeters or cleaning up after infirm old folks. Every solution is just to create more money from air, spread it in every direction and talk up "prosperity". That gets us through to the next political election... meanwhile the structural breakdown for the bottom 30-40% continues slowly but surely. [Do the Bottom 80% of Americans Stand a Chance?] So the market can go up, down - throw more fiat money at the problem until everything inflates, but the real economy - in my eyes - is changing structurally in a way that is leaving a lot of people who don't appear on CNBC behind. Until I see the next great job boom that does not have to do with refinancing or building even more homes, or government transfer payments I cannot create an air of great optimism.

There is a great story here with video from a local paper. I think you will not believe it is from America when you view it. And trust me, there are many blocks identical to this one in Detroit. I always chuckle to myself when I hear people from other parts of the country say "wow housing is so cheap in Detroit" - if you only knew ... I know there is this sort of poverty also in parts of the south and W. Virginia et al, but in a major urban area - when it is so concentrated is quite striking. Now when I overlay all the money we have handed out to the most important people of society and think what could of been done with that to help the peasantry, all i can think of is "green shoots".

Just repeat the dogma after you view this: richest country on Earth.... (ex debt of course)

Go here to see the video
  • Robinwood was an integrated and well-kept block just five years ago, the remnant people say. And then it was gone in the blink of an eye. It started at the east end of the block when a house was rented to 5 adults and 20 children. More families moved out. More renters moved in. The radios started. The brown bags. The gangs of young men. The gunshots. The dope houses. The fires.
  • If you are feeling confused or overwhelmed by the circumstances of our times, if you need a place to consider where we've been and where we are, make a drive to West Robinwood Street. It is a haunted, damnable portrait of what we've become. The neighborhood is a burned-down ghost town of 56 raped and looted houses east of Woodward and north of McNichols. It is empty save for five elderly families and a middle-age couple who live near Woodward and refuse to open their doors.
  • "Do I live in Hell? Yes I do and no I don't," said Jerry Williams, who lives at 666 Robinwood and spoke through a steel gate dressed in a bathrobe and dirty socks. "It would be Hell if I was dead, but I ain't. So that just makes the place ugly. The most ugly thing that human beings can create."
  • The neighbors to Williams' left were evicted and, three days later, somebody firebombed the house.
  • The dead dope man used to live to the right of Williams. To the right of the dope man's house lives Fatimah Muhammad, the only other house occupied on the north side of that block of Robinwood Street. Last week, in broad daylight, three men forced their way into her house. One held her at gunpoint in her bathtub, while the other two managed to steal some sneakers.
  • On Monday, a police cruiser rolled through. "I've never seen a place like this," said the white cop. "Vietnam," said the black cop. "Hard to believe this is America, but it is," said the white cop.

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