Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Dirtbombs on Detroit

In an interview with The Sound of Young America, The Dirtbombs discuss living in Detroit, the advantages of being an artist in the city, and the comeback of The Gories, Mick Collin's legendary band.

Hat Tip: Motor City Rocks

Friday, November 21, 2008

Are we doomed?

The facts are staggering. We have the highest unemployment rate in the nation (9.3 percent in October!) and climbing. The auto industry is on its death bed, yet it commands so little respect that Congress has blithely refused to bail it out, even though the collapse of GM will severely compound a national recession, cripple Michigan's economy, bankrupt state and local government, and ruin what remains of our morale. Our most powerful congressman lost his chairmanship this week (which, by the way, I support) and the once-proud UAW is ready to sacrifice the jobs bank in order to keep any jobs at all.

This is a worst-case scenario, and it makes one wonder -- will we lead the way with the first single-state depression? I sure hope not. Just see this quote from the Boston Globe predicting what a national depression would look like:

Some parts of the country, especially the Rust Belt, could see a wholesale depopulation as the last remnants of the American heavy-manufacturing base die out.

"There will be some cities like Detroit that in a real depression could just become ghost towns," says Jeffrey Frankel, a Harvard economist and member of the National Bureau of Economic Research committee that declares recessions.
The collapse of the auto industry will hit hard enough. I can't bear to wonder, like Paul Krugman, whether Bush will sink us as low as Hoover did before the inauguration of the next President.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Yes, please!

The Free Press's John Gallagher reports on an overdue plan to add bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and landscaping to Detroit's main thoroughfares. As Gallagher writes, "Detroit's main streets make good highways but lousy neighborhoods." Gratiot is great for driving -- lots of lanes, no traffic -- but it's no good for pedestrians or business. Narrowing the main roads will "recapture Detroit's cityscape for the people who actually live here."

(Artist's rendering by Giffels-Webster Engineers)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Art and urban renewal

The Free Press's Jeff Gerritt is the latest to herald the power of art and creative enterprises to revitalize the city. The editorial is part of an ongoing series, "Cities Now and Tomorrow," endorsing an aggressive new plan for revitalizing urban areas.

For an example of what art as development might look like on a grand scale, check out Prospect.1 New Orleans, which was recently reviewed by The New Yorker. The biennial has placed major works of contemporary art throughout New Orleans, from museums to vacant lots in the Lower Ninth Ward, encouraging residents and tens of thousands of visitors to crisscross the city and explore its post-Katrina neighborhoods (and spend money along the way).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wishful thinking

Wow. City Council today endorsed a resolution requesting a $10 billion bailout for the city of Detroit. Audacious, no? Hopeless, too.

The thing to remember -- after you've laughed -- is that the city actually needs every penny of it. If fiscal stimulus is the correct response to a recession, then Detroit is the premier pump to be primed. After all, it's economy has been declining for decades. The reason the proposal sounds so absurd isn't the sum being asked for but the body that's asking for it. Who on this earth would trust City Council to administer it?

Monday, November 10, 2008

The union's position

AFSCME defends itself in a press release dated July 18:

"The city first signed this deal back in March," added AFSCME Local 542 President Melvin Brabson. "Even though the contract involved replacing Union work with work performed by an outside entity, in violation of the Union contract, the city never, ever came to us to talk about it. I happened to find out about it and asked for the contract, and to meet with the city to discuss the issue. The city refused to meet with the Union, until City Council held the contract so that we could meet. Even then, the city refused to discuss how to resolve the issue, but told us they were moving forward, no matter what. The Union had no other option, but to go to court."

"The Union is always the last to know," continued Garrett. "The city knows that this type of contract violates our successor clause in the contract, but tried to sneak it through instead of meeting with us. If we allow our contract to be violated, we run serious risks of not fulfilling our legal obligations to our members. By ignoring us, the city left us no choice."

As to whether they're interfering with a volunteer effort:
"First, people are being paid under this Greening contract. There are several funded positions listed in the contract, which add up to more than $52 million over five years. Plus, there were employees previously laid off or otherwise removed from working in this nursery, doing what The Greening is proposing to do. The city wants its employees to take the loss of work, and being ignored, lying down. We will not do so."

This is outrageous

In July, the City Council first considered a contract with Greening of Detroit to plant 2,000 trees and reopen Meyers Nursery. The city would only pay for trees, mulch, and training. Volunteers would do all the work. Sounds great, right?

Well, the plan is on hold. The News reports that City Council never approved the contract because unionized city forestry workers won't be used to do the work. If the plan isn't approved by December, the tree planting will never take place.

Stories like this just baffle me. Who has the gall to oppose a community-based, volunteer-led project? It's not as if the city were outsourcing its work to independent contractors. Greening of Detroit will recruit volunteers, most of whom are city residents! No one will be paid. And the net effect will be thousands of additional trees that will need tending to by skilled city foresters!

I hope common sense prevails before it's too late.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Good news, bad news

In today's Free Press we learn that the DIA is as short on cash as the failing auto industry and that Wayne Country has so far failed to prosecute known scrappers. But don't worry, better news is on the way. Detroit Renaissance is set to launch DNews, a media relations initiative to improve Detroit's image and promote positive stories about the region. For the sake of the region, I hope the positive narrate triumphs, not just in the press but in reality, but something tells me the odds are stacked the other way.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The greening of the Rust Belt

As traditional manufacturing declines, Rust Belt towns are increasingly looking toward renewable energy as a source of new jobs. The New York Times reports on the transition.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

How the News fails at blogging

Today I discovered two good blogs published by the Detroit News: Living in the D, a five-person blog on life in the city, and Going Home, which offers an in-depth and personal look at the east side neighborhood near City Airport.

Discounting, for now, their journalistic value, what I most wonder is this -- why did I only learn of them today? I'm an informed, internet savvy consumer of Detroit media. Not only do I read the News and the Free Press online every day, I read everything else listed at right, including several local blogs and the Detroit Yes forums. Yet I didn't learn of either until I read this thoughtful story in the Columbia Journalism Review about the blurring of reporting and advocacy on Going Home. Note to the Detroit News: If reading the Columbia Journalism Review is what it takes for your target audience to find your blogs, your media strategy has failed.

The problem, I suspect, lies less with a lack of promotion than with fundamentally poor design. The News's website is a cluttered, unworkable mess. It boasts more than seventy blogs, but they do not have their own sub-domains and are impossible to search or navigate. It's hard to imagine a more confusing set up. I admire the News for trying (the Detriot News Labs blog suggests its effort is nothing if not sincere), but to my eyes it is so far failing in its online endeavors.

This is a subject I promise to return to. Expect more media criticism come January when I'm home from abroad.