Saturday, December 6, 2008

Detroit on the Missouri

Every major American city has a little of The Detroitness in it. Think about the town you live in, or near. There's guaranteed to be a trouble spot that just won't be fixed. A place that, usually because of issues related to economy, class, race, political ineptitude and other joyfulness, suffers fun fallouts that include but are not limited to the following: Crummy schools. Poverty. High crime. Attendant lack of services.

When I travel, as happens frequently, I always look for the nearest Little Detroit. Not in the way, say, that the Asian traveler would go to Chinatown to look for decent produce; I do it to remind myself that all over this country, there are oceans of metropolitan sprawl, each of them containing, usually embarrassingly close to the heart, a considerable chunk of rot and neglect. Sometimes more than one.

You don't expect this sort of thing from a city like Omaha. Well, it's there. It's called North Omaha, and it is found just outside of the downtown area.

Some work is being done, such as a black heritage district at the historic center of the neighborhood (this is where Malcolm X was born). Still, it's mostly a nightmare, all convenient to Conor Oberst's much-ballyhooed new(ish) bar/club, slick chain hotels, fancy condo projects and the tourist-friendly Old Market area.

Yes, in North Omaha we have a sadly predictable scenario: Majority black, declining population, increasingly impoverished, more at 11. All the while, Omaha keeps moving west, further and further, out where the shopping centers sparkle brighter and the subdivisions have that new house smell. In their wake: A mountain of waste and not a little bit of sadness.(USA! USA!)

1 comment:

Raoul Duke said...

I swear the North end of Memphis is a dead ringer for Chene.