Vanishing Detroit

The 2010 Census delivered stunning news about Detroit.  The Census determined that the Motor City’s population has fallen — some might say collapsed — by 25 percent in only 10 years.  According to the Census, Detroit now has only 713,777 residents.  Detroit is now about one-third the population it achieved at its high point, in the 1950s.  Former citizens of Detroit, black and white, have fled the city for the suburbs or have left Michigan entirely.

The rapid decline of Detroit’s population will come as no surprise to anyone who has been to the city in the past few decades.  Even in the early 1980s, when Kish, Snow and I visited, Detroit had the scent of death about it.  The city was tied inexorably to the American auto industry, and as the Big Three fell victim to their own hubris and inability to produce quality vehicles at reasonable prices Detroit suffered.  Successive urban renewal-type projects, from the Renaissance Center to casino gambling, became increasingly desperate and made the city’s image fall still farther.  A few years ago I went to a deposition at a law firm’s building in a formerly grand neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown, and found block after largely vacant block of rubble and an occasional gutted building.  Parts of inner city of Detroit seem to be turning into a vast urban wasteland.

A rapidly shrinking city poses significantly more difficult problems than does a rapidly growing one.  What do you do with dozens of neighborhood fire stations, police stations, and schools that are greatly underutilized?  How do you consolidate services when entire neighborhoods have disappeared, and therefore consolidated districts must cover a significantly larger geographic area than before?  And most importantly, how do you convince new businesses to relocate to Detroit and revive its economy when the city’s own residents are running away?


Classic Car, Cycle & Truck Show

Kish and I decided to walk to the library this morning, and when we got to Market Street we saw that there was another festival of some kind going on.  (Another weekend, another festival.)  Today it is the Classic Car, Cycle & Truck show.

If you like chrome — and what red-blooded American doesn’t really? — this is a show to see.  All of the parking spots around the library, and on Market Street itself, are filled with tricked-out, candy-colored cars and motorcycles of all kinds.  You can listen to some loud rock music as you walk among the rows of lovingly restored, flame-sided, overpowered, hoods-up tributes to the glory years of Detroit and the American auto industry.  In today’s bright sunshine the glint of chrome is blinding and a bit intoxicating.

Admission to the event is free, but all proceeds of the various concession stands will benefit Flying Horse Farms, a local camp that has opened this year to help kids with serious illnesses.  It’s a good cause.  Today’s event runs until 5 p.m.