Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Detroit--"It sucks"

When I was a kid, I used to love KISS, it was rebellious and relatively simple, rock and roll packaged in a wrapping that I thought made my parents mad (I think my father may have liked some of their music--not that he would ever admit that to me). I used to spend hours listening to KISS and one of their songs, "Detroit Rock City" was a fun, straight forward song. I also like Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band (a group my father definitely like and was not afraid to let me know that). In fact, as a youngster, I dreamed of seeing Bob Seger at the Joe Louis Arena.

Now, I can't imagine myself going to Detroit except on business and I wonder why. Matt Labash paints the picture why:
Somewhere along the way, Detroit became our national ashtray, a safe place for everyone to stub out the butt of their jokes. This was never more evident than at the recent congressional hearings, featuring the heads of the Big Three automakers, now more often called the Detroit Three, as that sounds more synonymous with failure. Yes, they have been feckless and tone-deaf in the past, and now look like stalkers trying to make people love them with desperation moves such as Ford breaking the "Taurus" name out of mothballs, or Chrysler steering a herd of cattle through downtown Detroit for an auto show (some of the longhorns started humping each other in front of reporters, giving new meaning to the "Dodge Ram," which they were intended to advertise).


It happens, though, when you're from Detroit. In the popular imagination, the Motor City has gone from being the Arsenal of Democracy, so named for their converting auto factories to make the weapons which helped us win World War II, and the incubator of the middle class (now leading the nation in foreclosure rates, Detroit once had the highest rate of home ownership in the country), to being Dysfunction Junction. To Detroit's credit, they've earned it.


How bad is Detroit? It once gave the keys to the city to Saddam Hussein.

Over the last several years, it has ranked as the most murderous city, the poorest city, the most segregated city, as the city with the highest auto-insurance rates, with the bleakest outlook for workers in their 20s and 30s, and as the place with the most heart attacks, slowest income growth, and fewest sunny days. It is a city without a single national grocery store chain. It has been deemed the most stressful metropolitan area in America. Likewise, it has ranked last in numerous studies: in new employment growth, in environmental indicators, in the rate of immunization of 2-year-olds, and, among big cities, in the number of high school or college graduates.

Men's Fitness magazine christened Detroit America's fattest city, while Men's Health called it America's sexual disease capital. Should the editors of these two metrosexual magazines be concerned for their safety after slagging the citizens of a city which has won the "most dangerous" title for five of the last ten years? Probably not: 47 percent of Detroit adults are functionally illiterate.

On the upside, Detroit ranks as the nation's foremost consumer of Slurpees and of baked beans on Labor Day. And as if all of this isn't humiliating enough, the Detroit Lions are 0-14.
Of course, Labash's imagery makes Detroit even less appealing.

But is Detroit simply in a death spiral? Can it be resurrected? Does Detroit, which is synonymous with the Big Three Automakers, live and die by automobile manufacturing? Can it be saved? Should it be saved?

Clearly government corruption is a big problem in Detroit (see Kwame Kilpatrick) and Labash points out the Sausage Bribe lady as well (how odd is that). But where do you start?

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