Thursday, September 4, 2008

The re-education of Detroit

Detroit has never been one for timing, but it does appear that the city is getting a free pass this week. Then again, the governor scheduled the hearings for one of the most crowded news cycles of the year - not anyone in City Hall. Thank goodness someone was thinking on their feet.

Really, though -- who could have asked for better? Sure, the local media is glued to the screen, but what with the news out of St. Paul, you are lucky to see Detroit's name even mentioned elsewhere.

That hasn't stopped Rochelle Riley types from trotting out the tired whole-world-is-watching lie. This is a delusion that has no cure, apparently. She talks about the "car wreck that global motorists have been unable to take their eyes away from for months."

A dutiful, color/analysis free, far-below-the-fold bit of dry toast in the New York Times and some wire copy reprinted elsewhere does not constitute a traffic jam of global motorists. If only the world would hold Detroit to proper account for allowing things to slide the way they have.

While we wait for the "global motorists" to arrive, why doesn't the media try - just for fun - being useful? Everyone is keenly aware that Detroit really needs to grow the f*ck up. Why doesn't the media examine how it might be part of the solution? A Freep commenter proposed rightly (what - it happens!) that the local media might commit more of their time and resources to adult education (the #1 problem facing this city), and that it might also endeavor to be more useful by including more accurate comparisons to other cities in stories that talk about Detroit's various problems.

That last one's easily done, and very important. It is essential for the people who live in the city of Detroit to understand that when people do stare and point, it is not because of our outfits. It is because Detroit is easily the most dysfunctional major city in the United States. Worse than New Orleans. (It's a dead heat, but Detroit wins.) The depths to which Detroit has sunk over the past few decades is pretty tremendous, and to cope, Detroiters have a litany of excuses to get them through the night. Here are a few common ones that really need to die:

1) Could have happened anywhere. Commonly used to explain away the most horrible crimes. Crimes which are committed at a much higher per capita rate than most other cities.

2) Every city has its good and bad areas. As if more than half of the city - maybe more - wasn't screwed - destabilized at best, disappeared at worst. One of the most dangerous excuses a Detroiter will make. This. Is. Not. Normal.

3) Most murders are like, drug dealers and stuff. Yes. That gay guy from Royal Oak that turned up dead in a lot off of Gratiot a few weeks back was probably a total scumbag. Some say "murder," we say public service.

4) It's the auto industry's fault. Come here, so we may beat you. Seriously - take a drive to Pittsburgh, another one-industry town that is doing just fine after decades of struggle. It is called "moving on." One might describe it as a unique, almost pleasurable sensation.

5) It's white people's/black people's fault. Again. Detroit is not unique and special, and you would know that if you took ten minutes to read modern U.S. history. White flight, redlining, riots, busing and all that other fun stuff happened in nearly every major American city. Not every city has recovered, either. Many more have. Detroit doesn't want to recover. It wants to bitch. Which, of course, has been proven time and again to be very productive.

6) Our region is so polarized! This one is really common. It's like nobody here can read a map. Most United States MSA's have just as many, if not more, tiny little fiefdoms and are split among several counties. The difference is, people in Metro Detroit wake up every morning like it was the 1960's all over again. See: Move the f*ck on.

7) But, we're having a renaissance! A few thousand people happily doing the "urban" thing in the core does not mean that there are still not 800,000 or so people who live in now nearly-worthless homes in under-policed neighborhoods served by mostly-awful schools. What's the good news, Shirley Temple?

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