Saving Detroit

I moved from California to southern Michigan in 2009, not far from Detroit. Over the past few years, I have been learning about Detroit and its course from the glorious 1950s through the riots of decades past, and finally to the bankruptcy that it faces today. Detroit’s debt amounts to about $19 billion. Our beloved “Automotive Capital of the World, “or “Motor City,” or “Motown” has been in the throes of economic and political crisis for decades. The question is, what can be done to restore Detroit to full solvency as a viable city?

Detroit may be a text-book case for many other places in the world, such as former Communist countries and underdeveloped regions of the world. I start out with the conviction and basic belief that “the truth is within.” In other words, the human body contains the key to the solution of all social problems, if only we can extrapolate from the physical body to the social organization.

In the physical body, there are three realms: stomach, brain, and heart. In society, also, there are three realms: people, government, and culture. Cells in the body receive from the body the nutrition that they need, but if a cell begins to grow out of control, that cell becomes a cancer. Likewise, in society the members should find what they need, but if a member begins to grow of control, that leads to corruption, which is a kind of cancer in society.

This analogy can be carried out further to a considerable detail. Much could be learned from a close comparison between the body and society. In this case, however, I will limit myself to saying that malfunction in society has parallels to malfunctions in the physical body. I will continue to consider the case of the City of Detroit.

Detroit’s People

The people are the economic and productive forces of a society. They are the tax base, the political foundation, and the reason why the social infrastructure exists. The government exists for the people. The culture exists for the people. The people are the very core of a society.

The sad part in the case of Detroit is that people have been leaving Detroit for other parts of the country. The exodus has been in staggering numbers. In 1950, Detroit boasted a flourishing 1.8 million people. Since then, the population has declined steadily. Today, Detroit has a barely 40% of the peak population it once had.

Detroit’s Government

Anymore it is a cliché to say that Detroit’s government is corrupt. That assessment is, in my opinion, an easy way out. It is always easy to “blame the government” for what ails a society. I do not take this approach here.

For I believe the government of a society is not some out-space creature that somehow has been imposed onto that society. A governing body comes from the society over which it governs. Therefore, just changing the persons who now occupy the positions of governing authorities may not solve the underlying problems that produced those problems in the first place.

Therefore, though the government may be the immediate agent of a lot of bad things that go on in a society, the government may not be the underlying cause of those problems. Those underlying causes will be found in the culture of that society. Based on its culture, a people vote for a democratically elected government or support a dictatorship. Thus, it is important to look at culture.

Detroit’s Culture

I will start out by acknowledging and recognizing Detroit’s proud cultural history. From the 1940s, Detroit became a center of night life as “Motown.” Detroit is also known for its cars, Henry Ford, assembly lines, jazz festivals, huge sports teams, “Diana Ross & The Supremes,” and so many other cultural icons. All that needs to be recognized and must not be forgotten.

On the other hand, in a dire situation it is easy to fall into a defeatist culture of “can’t do” and “it’s someone else’s fault.” Blame and disempowerment are available scapegoats when things go bad. Easy targets are people of different races. But blame leads to justification for disempowerment, non-action, pessimism, and defeatism.

If Detroit is to be turned around, a culture of collaboration needs to flourish, where we recognize the bad past but we face the present with courage and optimism. That is the kind of culture that will help Detroit find strengthened faith in itself and hope for a brighter future.

Solutions for Detroit

In order to move forward from its current situation, Detroiters can start with three initiatives:

1. Develop a grass-roots economy with local jobs: Chinese restaurants, small shops, and so forth. Think local. Protect the local. They are like a little ember, that needs tender care.

2. The three races need to work together to develop new city leadership: Asians, African-Americans, Caucasians. We need all three if we are going to achieve success in this city. Those who are blaming instead of collaborating are not part of the solution.

3. Nurture a new culture on the local level: local music, local press, local libraries, museums, and more.

In another words: new leadership, new economy, new culture. By the way, when the people of Cuba and North Korea are liberated, and the world is faced with the devastation of their situation, the same patient, local approach can be followed there, to restore those countries to economic vitality. Such an approach would also be be beneficial for the former Communist East Germany.

Paulo-Juarez Pereira
Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA
July 27, 2013

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2 comments on “Saving Detroit

  1. Limi
    July 28, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    Grassroots movements and local businesses sound like a great solution in a steady economy, but isn’t that like trying to cure cancer with accupunture? It’s nearly impossible to start a new business legally when you are already broke. Can Detroit really be saved? I’d like to hope so.

    • Paulo-Juarez Pereira
      September 7, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

      I believe Detroit can be saved. As I mentioned in the article, Detroit can provide a pattern for other communities in the world, such as former Communist cities and underdeveloped regions. Your observation is apropos to the discussion: Is what’s happening to Detroit a form of cancer, which would require much stronger and appropriate medicine than the suggested solutions for people, government, and culture? Comparisons are never perfect, but I can see how your suggested metaphor could apply.

      I think the stronger medicine is now being supplied to Detroit, which is the bankruptcy process for the city of Detroit. But, alas, bankruptcy is not a plan for future growth; it is only a solution for an existing problem. Once the current problem is eliminated, a plan for future growth still needs to be developed. The bankruptcy alone will not provide that plan.

      My approach to social problems is based on a tripartite view of stomach, brain, and heart–in other words. people, government, and culture. I care about Detroit for still another reason: it is now becoming a common perception that the culture of the United States is crumbling. In that case, Detroit could be a sample and a metaphor for the United States of America. And I say this not as a criticism, but rather as a note of hope of a better future.

      Thanks for your comment.

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