Saturday, November 04, 2006

Spreading the Pain III: Goldy

Having heard from Intern Paul, We're ready for our second guest blogger's thoughts on how to fix Detroit. I have known Goldy (click, it's worth it) since we were 13, and despite having been in my company he managed to attain and Ivy League education and a masters in public policy from the Ford School at the University of Michigan. The nature of his academic work, the proximity to Detroit during his studies and his continued employment in government make him uniquely suited to explain some of our opportunities to make things better:

So I got this e-mail a while ago and haven't written you back yet because I was hoping to come up with an intelligent response. It has become clear that that isn't going to happen, so instead I'm going to write the following:

1. My first solution is, in fact, terrible. I actually think that while this solution is in itself not all that probable, it may be the one most likely to actually fix the issues at hand. Given this considerable build up, here it is: GM and Ford need to become insanely successful again. I don't necessarily think that this solution needs any more explanation. Everyone knows what the problem is. Many people I know believe that there are twelve year olds out there who would be more successful running the design shops of these companies, but there you have it.

2. Regionally, it really bugs me that places like Canton, Michigan exist. In my mind, no one should be cutting down woods in order to build houses in the Detroit metro area. There, I've said it. It's a totally un-American thing to say. I feel like any English teacher now would tell me to back this up with evidence, or some sort of persuasive argument - but I can only think of one - in a place with declining jobs and an overall declining population with an actual city (though not metro region) that has lost half of its population- should people really be building on vacant land? Is there really a need? (I know there's a preference, but that's different from a need.)

3. Subversive idea of the day- suburbs annexing part of the city.

4. The real (though totally unworkable) idea. I will say upfront that I have not really traveled a lot, although I have lived in quite a few places. Detroit has one of the most interesting music and art scenes that I have seen. I remember when I was back at UMich Jennifer Granholm was talking about making Detroit a "cool" city. I think that is a terrible idea. I cannot think of an institution less equipped to make something cool than government (and I work for a government). Hell, the fact that the initiative was called "cool cities" was, in itself, uncool.* With that said - I think the Governor was right in that what Detroit does have going for it is a strange hipster vibe. It would really be great if there were some company, entity, or person out there who was able to really exploit (yes exploit) the fact that Detroit has a fairly large music/art potential. Combine that with research, medical, and engineering growth that can be drawn from the Universities and, yes, even the auto companies and Detroit has a shot to be something a little bit better, a little bit different, and a little bit revived.

So, those are my thoughts. I don't really think they are all that original, all that helpful, or all that interesting. But you asked.

Actually, I think that was pretty interesting, and I agree with a lot of it. I personally don't think the car companies will bounce back to the point where they are going to lift the region out of the slump, but maybe the foreign companies moving in and the successful tech renaissance taking place in Techtown and Automation Alley will replace it. I also hope I'm wrong. By the way readers, my Jeep was made on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit - where were your cars made? Maybe buying "American" isn't enough - might be time to do a bit of research and buy "American American." I can't say that I'm a saint here, or that I am even right - our other car that was built on a different continent. But I personally feel that my house will never start appreciating again if I don't contribute to the local economy.

I am and have always been in agreement that cookie-cutter subdivisions increase commutes, waste land and resources, and are often not very well built. I grew up in one, and couldn't wait to get out. (This said, they do serve one important purpose - they are often the only source of affordable single family housing available to a lot of people in the place they want to live). Give me smaller, older, well-built brick house close to a walkable downtown over a sprawling place in the middle of nowhere any day, even if it does have a walk-out basement and a game room. Even better, give me a nice big square mid-century brick duplex, so it can pay for itself a few times before I pay off the mortgage. I think that'll be my next one.

Your comments, of course, are welcome below.

*Totally agree - ed.


Kendra Lynn said...

I agree with the comment on Canton. I LIVE in Canton, and hate it.
Your description of cookie-cutter houses in subdivisions was very acurate.
When I was growing up, I lived in Ypsilanti, and my grandparents lived in Westland. We had to drive through Canton to get there.
There was NOTHING in Canton in the '80's! Cornfields and woods. It was a beautiful drive.
Not anymore!
I understand the desire to move to a suburb and live in a new house, but come on! This place is PACKED with new houses and subdivisions, and most of MY neighbors want to get out of here!
(By the way, Scott and I want out, too.) But who the heck can sell their house??? Not anyone I know.
Hopefully the Michigan economy can bounce back somewhat, and when it does, I'm sellin' my house and moving to a small town somewhere. One with lots of trees and fresh air.


Lauren said...

Wow! Kendra, I didn't know that you didn't like living in Canton. I understand about the housing market. I am so scared we won't be able to sell our house, or sell for enough when the time comes. I'm with you, lots of trees is good! :)
I need to have you over. Where we live isn't downtown Detroit (very urban) nor is it too suburban. We have a fairly large downtown, with houses surrounding it. Kind the middle of urban and suburban. The problem is, is that you get such a small amount of space for the money when you buy a house. Everything is a trade-off, huh?

lifeindaburbs said...

It's election time and do you know what's at stake?
Who's running the city/county/state planning boards and which politicians are letting this happen?
If you don't have the right guys working for you, nothing gets done and ultimately, you have but yourself to blame.

I like Michigan, there's nothing really wrong about it perse, but i have a feeling there's gotta be more... Hear me out...
During my undergrad days in East Lansing, I had always felt Michigan was a state living off of it's glory days and never one that eagerly looked forward for an even brighter future. This said, these past 2 years have slightly changed my image of the state and in particular Detroit, and has giving me some hope that there is a WANT for change. The saying, "Rome wasn't built in a day" holds true. Anything great in life takes patience and hardwork.

I am currently living and experiencing first hand a huge economic surge in NYC and it is crystal clear to me the importance of a great City Mayor. (and this is what Detroit desperately needs)
What's even more amazing, is how fortunate NYC has been to have 2 consecutive great mayors (Giuliani and Bloomberg) lead and shape the city into what it is today.
Yes, New York City has always been considered one of the 3 main cities (New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC) of the US. Having humble beginnings from the Ellis Island days to the building of Central Park and so on, it has always continued to grow.
To be brief, besides the initial 2 decades of infrastructural planning done by those geniuses(lack of a better word), no span of growth compares to what the past 15 years have yielded.
Real Estate in all areas of the city have sky-rocketted, more businesses have opened (yielding record quarters time and time again), and more people are moving into the city everyday.
Did you know by 2010, the city of New York is gearing to absorb an additional 1 million inhabitants?

There's some serious brains behind this movement but Marx is right in saying, "...if everyone gets up every morning and goes to work doing what they do the best, you nurture a strong and growing economy."
This said, with the proper guidance from our Government(key element), our children can witness a glorious Detroit.
The State of Michigan needs to attract more companies like Google, (new/young powerhouses that truely mold the nation in their respective industries) to set up shop, and scoop up the next generations of leaders to cultivate an environment where everyone is collectively working hard for the common good. A sense of pride/worth/passion is necessary for any city to grow positively.

Detroit should not and can not continue to be a one dimensional automotive economy. Because we all know where those companies are headed. Hedging the future with a multi-disciplined workforce is the only ticket out of Michigan's stagnant economy.

Onto the future, many key ingredients in reviving Detroit already exist. Not only are there some of the finest academic institutions of the nation in Michigan, you have a great balance of wealth and artists/musicians residing in the suburbs of Detroit as well.

Detroit has the potential to resurrect into a MegaCity once again, but for every generation, a great leader is needed to unite and lead the way. Will that someone please rise.

Jonathan said...

Well put George.

Laura said...

I have to agree about Canton. When my family moved there in the 80's, there were cornfields all around us. Kendra probably knows where we used to live--Sheldon & Palmer area. Across the street was a huge field and several down the road. Now, there are houses everywhere you look on golf courses to boot. All of the fields and woods are gone! It makes me so sad to go back there and see that. Unfortunately, I see it happening all over and not just there. It is starting to happen here in small-town Colorado too...big square-box businesses are moving in and trees and open space is on the way out.
I also agree with what was said about government trying to make Detroit cool=bad idea. Detroit should be cool because people finally realize the ethnic & culture importance of the town and want to be there/live there.
Anyway, my two cents...

Kendra Lynn said...

Hi Laura:
Actually...that's exactly where I live...Sheldon and Palmer. LOL
And you are so right!!! There is NOTHING left of the woods and fields. It is very sad...and I can't wait to move to a small town somewhere.


Laura said...

Okay Kendra, you've got to email me so that we can talk streets. This is so weird. My dad was just in MI and visited the old neighborhood.