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1. Detroit - Centre of "Rust Belt"
2. The rise of Detroit
3. Reasons for the decline of the town
3.1. Race Riots
3.2. Decline of the automotive industry
3.3. Suburbanization and Urban Sprawl
3.5. “White flight"
3.6. The town has no money
3.7. Crime rate
4. Future chances for Detroit
4.1. New working operations
4.2. Important places
4.3. Projects for the town embellishment
5. Detroit: history, present, future
Motor City Detroit - decline and future chances
1. Detroit - Centre of "Rust Belt"
The Manufacturing Belt is the oldest industrial zone of the USA. It extends over the big lakes from Chicago via Boston and Washington D.C. to New York. The industrialization began with the cotton mill, later the heavy industry arrived. Iron, coal, steel and since 1856 also oil has been produced in Pennsylvania. At the beginning of the 20th century the western area developed into the centre of the food industry, mainly it the cities of Chicago and Milwaukee. Detroit evolved to the center of the automobile industry and basically in Pittsburgh the mainly steel industry was located. (Thayer)
One reason for the growth of this industrial complex was the strong immigration from Europe which led to the availability of new manpower and created a big market area. Furthermore the infrastructure was well developed because of the railway and the big towns like Chicago and Baltimore were well connected by the waterways. Moreover, the area was and still is abound in raw materials like iron ore, wood and coal and can cover its power demand by itself through numerous energy sources like the water power. (“Industrie in den USA”)
However, in the middle of the 20s century the decline gradually emerged due to the rising energy prices and thus the transport of raw materials became more expensive. In addition the steel imports from Europe strongly rose and many steelworks moved to the south states where a new industrial zone, the so-called "Sun Belt" was formed. The main reason for this development was the suffering of the automotive industry by the strong competition from the Asian countries and the oil crises. Due to this the former industrial center, "Manufacturing Belt", turned into the "Rust Belt", which has already left behind its best days. Located right in the middle of this "Rust Belt" is Detroit, the capital of the automobile industry which is also called Motor City1 and has witnessed its own recession.
map of the USA
illustration not visible in this excerpt
(“The Rustbelt and the Sunbelt”)
In the following text I will first describe the precipitous rise of the town to the turning point in 1950. Then I will explain the exact reasons for the decline which finally led to insolvency of the town. At the end I´ll demonstrate the perspectives for the future and will explain how Detroit could come back to its old strength and position, maybe in an other vein.
Central questions in my work will be:
- How did Detroit become so big and powerful?
- What were the reasons for the continuous descent of the industry and economy?
- How can Detroit recover from the insolvency again?
2. The rise of Detroit
Detroit was founded on the 24th of July 1701 at Detroit River close to lake Erie with the brine by the French captain Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac as a military base. During in French-British wars for the supremacy in North America (1754-1763) Fort Ponchartrain du Détroit was an important military base of the French armed forces with 483 soldiers and 33 Slaves.
On the 29th of September 1760 the French crew handed over the fort without a struggle to the British troops. As a result the name was reduced to Detroit.
During Pontiac rebellion (1763-1765) of the Indians for the Ohio valley against the British colonial rule, Detroit was a focus of the fights and was permanently sieged by the Indians, however, never taken. With its 800 inhabitants Detroit was the biggest town between Montreal in the north and New Orleans in the south of the USA in 1765. (Sautter) In 1796 after the revolution the city became a member of the United States of America and in 1815 it was officially registered as a town. As a result in 1825 John R. Williams became the first mayor of Detroit and in 1837 the city became the capital of the state Michigan. Already in 1830 the US Census counted 20.000 inhabitants and Detroit for the first time started to be an industrial location of stove- and kitchen production. The first race riots between black and white people took place in 1863. During this 2 people were killed and 30 houses burned down. (Fishman 16/17)
In 1900 Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company and in 1901 the first street with concrete layer was built in the town, short time later already the first town highway, the "Davison Freeway" was established. In 1908 William Durant founded the biggest company of the “Big Three”, General Motors, and also the most important car for the Ford Motor Company and even for Detroit was developed, the Ford T-Modell, which was also called the “Tiny Lizzy”. It was sold for 15,5 million times between 1908 and 1928 for a purchase price of 850$ in the beginning and later for 360$. (Huppert) This vehicle which was the most-produced car till 1972 and then only overtaken by the VW Beetle, also co-founded the band conveyor production, starting in 1913, by which Henry Ford set a bench mark in car production, because it made the production considerably easier and accelerated. By the great success of the Ford T Model Henry Ford could introduce the Five Dollar Day on the 5th of January 1914 which means that no worker may earn less than 5$ per day. Converted on today's buying power relations this would be about 120$ per day and the average of the today's budgetary income of the USA. (Kullmann 13) From the 1920s one sky scraper after the other was built in Detroit and the streets were completely full of shops, warehouses and cinemas. With the Chrysler Corporation in 1923 finally the last member of the “Big Three” was founded and five years later a cultural center, the Michigan Theatre was established. Two years later the town reached the number of 1 million inhabitants for the first time and extended over an area of 139.6 square miles. The railway system was composed of 30 different lines and had a total length of 534 miles. In 1948 even the first parking meters were installed in the streets.
Then, finally, in 1950 the town reached its biggest number of inhabitants with 1.849.568 people and started to shrink immediately afterwards again. (Granzo)
3. Reasons for the decline of the town
3.1. Race Riots
As many towns in the USA Detroit has a long history of racist discrimination.
During the 1920s the town became a centre of Ku Klux Klan. This is a racist secret society in the southern states of the USA. The aim of the clan which was founded on the 24th of December 1865 was to suppress all black people and their protectors. It concerned a paramilitary grouping which tried to achieve its political targets with terror and violence and was banned in 1870. Then in 1915 the clan was founded again as a nativism movement. This means that the constitution “is fighting for the rights of the national majority born in a country and against the influence of foreign minority.“ (Sitkoff 45) In summer of 1943, right in the middle of the 2nd world war, the conflicts between the blacks and whites escalated. The population of Detroit grew up to 350,000 inhabitants since the beginning of the war and the prosperous weapon industry attracted wealthy white people, but also a lot of black workers, mainly from the south, to come to the town. But the lack of sufficient living space for all new inhabitants caused strong tensions between the ethnic groups and it came to one of the bloodiest riots in the history of the USA.
Everything began on a Saturday evening in Belle Isle where the friend of a white sailor was injured by an Afro-American. This quarrel immediately turned into a confrontation between groups from whites and blacks which spread into the whole town. The riots escalated as the rumor circulated that a mob of white people had thrown an Afro- American mother and her baby into Detroit River. In addition another rumor arose that a white woman was hit and killed on the Belle Isle Bridge. A furious white crowd ran to Roxy Theatre and initiated a street battle with some blacks who were clearly short- handed. The riots lasted 3 days and peace could only be restored by the soldiers sent by President Roosevelt. During the fights many shops were looted and houses were burnt down. Most of these were located in residential areas of the blacks like the Paradise Valley, one of the oldest and poorest areas in Detroit. In total 34 people were killed, 9 white and 25 Afro-Americans. 17 of the black people were killed by the police. (Baulch; Russ; Jackman)
The fights in summer 1967 were even crueler. Everything started when on the 23rd of July a police patrol with 4 policemen attacked a half-legal bar in 12th Street and closed it. Around 80 people, most of them were black, met together in the bar to celebrate the return of several Vietnam veterans. The bar had no full license, but this was almost impossible for public facilities which were preferably visited by black people. So the policemen arrested all persons who were present without further discussion.
This was only one of many very similar raids2 for obvious racism by the authorities.
Immediately after this incident riots broke out all over Detroit, shops were robbed and houses were set on fire. Governor George W. Romney ordered the National Guard into the town, president Lyndon B. Johnson sent the army again, because the police alone was not able to get the situation under control. As the capacity of the prisons and police stations were not sufficient for all the arrested people, many of them were illegally arrested in parking garages for several days.
The riots lasted 5 days, 43 people died, 467 injured, more than 7000 were arrested and around 200 houses were burnt down.
(“Detoit Riots - 1967”; Sugrue 273-275; Fishman 23)
The essential reasons for the anger of the blacks against the white population were:
- The methods of the police
- The unemployment and underemployment
- The inadequate living conditions
- The unsatisfying education relations
- The bad recreational possibilities and recreational programs
- The ineffectiveness of the political structure and the depth of the drawbacks
- The contemptuous position of the white people
- The discriminating administration of justice (towards the blacks)
- The discriminating sales and loan methods
- The bad social care programs
(„Molotow Cocktail ins eigene Haus - aus dem Bericht der amerikanischen RassenKommission“)
Looking at the information about both most brutal and bloodiest race riots in Detroit you can recognize that the ethical tensions between the black and white inhabitants were a central point for the decline of the city of Detroit, because if the people of a town could not get along with each other and are not able to live together in peace it has also a negative impact on the economy. Many reasons which will be explained in the following are basically effected by these racial conflicts, too.
3.2. Decline of the automotive industry
In the same extent as Detroit has profited from the positive development of the automotive industry the town was heavily suffering from its decline. The first big market break started in the beginning of the 70th in the course of the 1st oil crisis. Within short time the oil price increased dramatically what had big effects on the purchase behavior of the American customers. Suddenly the customers did no longer buy a new car every year and in consequence the vehicle production dropped from 12.6 to 9 million pieces between 1973 and 1975, so Detroit faced its first serious crisis. In spite of the decline of the oil prices the market recovered again very fast so that in 1976 production records were announced again. However, this warning signal was not recognized or even ignored and only big and petrol-swallowing vehicles were produced. Then under Jimmy Carter in 1977 for the first time strict consumption regulations were announced and once more the automotive industry came into big trouble. Regarding the big vehicles it was impossible to fulfill these new regulations and the development of smaller car would cost investments of 50 billion $ till 1985. In succession the “Big Three” launched strict savings programs and closed car factories, Chrysler cancelled all big saloon models and GM put big hopes on new smaller vehicles which however still had to be developed.
To make things worse particularly Japanese car producers could increase their market shares with their small vehicles, what was favored by a strong dollar. In addition, the Japanese ones established their own car factories in the USA. In 1982 Japan already produced more vehicles than the USA. For Detroit3 these had dramatic effects: In 1980 at least 300,000 people were unemployed and the situation became even worse. Not till under Ronald Reagan the consumption regulations have been released again, the situation of the automotive industry improved. In 1983 the Big Three made high profits again, also because the average price of the vehicles was clearly raised and big savings were achieved by rationalization and production relocations.
Nevertheless, this recovery passes Detroit with nearly no positive effect, as many of the local factories remain closed, the employees in the automobile industry decreased from 1978 to 1982 from 1 million to 700.000, so nearly one third lost their job. This boom in the middle of the 80s caused the basic problems of the American automotive industry: The vehicle palette was technically outdated, the management blown up and the productiveness was much too low. Also the almost exclusive concentration on the home market was a problem: In the 1960s for example the US market share of GM was at around 60% and dropped down to 41% in 1986. Furthermore, the production costs of General Motors per vehicle were significantly higher than those of the competitors.
The next crisis particularly hit GM again very hard at end of the 80s. In 1989 750.000 unsold vehicles have been on stock. Also big incentive programs4 could not improve the situation but it created huge additional losses. 42 of 62 factories of the “Big Three” in the USA have been closed, the market share of the US manufacturers shrank to less than 60%, while the Japanese meanwhile had one quarter of the market. Their vehicles were smaller and therefore more contemporary, cheaper and to all abundance even of better quality then the American cars.5
With the beginning of the 90th the Big Three still fought with shrinking turnovers and bad productiveness. GM could be kept alive just because of the profits of the European daughter companies Opel and Vauxhall and was planning to close 21 other factories to dismiss 700.000 employees.
In 1993 the financial situation of the “Big Three” improved: The rationalization was effective and by new models like sport- and utility vehicles the car makers made good business and profit again. This development was also supported by the weak dollar which increased the price of the imported Japanese cars.
Nevertheless, for Detroit the situation did not improve: Due to the improvements in productivity the rising numbers of cars could be produced with clearly less workers and factories. Moreover, the situation of the parts suppliers has also changed: Still in the 1960s GM, Ford and Chrysler produced nearly all parts they needed for their cars in their own factories in and around Detroit, but now more and more components were supplied by local and international sub suppliers. A lot of jobs in Detroit were irreparably destroyed by this strategy.
The 1990s were affected by a steady decline of the relevance of the American automotive industry which did not succeed to develop internationally competitive vehicles in spite of big efforts and investments. Particularly GM often was called a big slow tanker, where the engine room does not know what the captain wants.
(Pfäffle Schlussverkauf 260,261) In succession the market share of GM again declined to 28 % (2000) and 25 % (2005).
Though Chrysler, the smallest of the ”Big Three”, tries to stop this trend by a fusion with the German car maker Daimler in 1998, this rescue attempt failed. In the beginning of 2000 the outdated American cars could be sold only by means of ruinous discounts what leads to extreme losses for the US car makers. In 2007 Ford closed 16 factories, the staff was reduced by 30% and the “Big Three” made losses of 15 billion $. In addition, also the European daughter companies of GM and Ford faced the crisis and so they were reliant on support from their mother companies. In 2008 GM and Chrysler were close to bankruptcy. As they are with their 4 million employees essential for the American economy, they have been saved with tax money by the US government .
Nevertheless, for Detroit itself this step came too late. The town has been dragged into the abyss by the industry which had once made it big.
(Leyer 35-54; Pfäffle Das ist Spitze 248,249; Pfäffle Schlussverkauf 260,261; Frey 222; Volk 234,235)
3.3. Suburbanization and Urban Sprawl
During the years between 1950 and today Detroit has lost far more than half of its population: from approximately 2 million inhabitants it decreased to 700.000. In the course of this development the decay of the city center was immense while the suburbs grew further, economically and also according to surface. Although the biggest car manufacturers of the USA, Ford, GM and Chrysler, are still located in Detroit, the phenomenon “Suburbanization” occurred. Exemplary for this phenomenon is that the poorest city center of the USA6 is separated from one of the richest suburbs of the states7 only by one street, the “8-Mile-Road”. (Steven 3)
Hendrick Stevens explains “Suburbanization” like this:
„Der Begriff „Suburbanisierung“ leitet sich aus dem englischen Wort für Vorstadt, „suburb“ ab, welcher ursprünglich aus dem Lateinischen (sub = unter; urbis = Stadtmauer; also: „unter der Stadtmauer“) stammt. Er beschreibt das Phänomen der Ausdehnung der urbanen Siedlung und Bevölkerung in das Umland einer Großstadt, kann also als Dezentralisierung verstanden werden. Das Umland gewinnt im Zuge dieses Prozesses an Bedeutung gegenüber der Kernstadt, da Bevölkerung, Industrie, Dienstleistungen und Handel immer mehr in die Vororte streben. Das Wachstum einer Stadt findet somit nicht mehr in der Peripherie der Städte und nicht mehr in der Innenstadt statt, welche einer De-Industrialisierung zum Opfer fällt.“
For Detroit the natural factors were mainly responsible for its rise but also for the Suburbanization. The fast ascension was possible due to the favorable geographic situation. It is located in the federal state Michigan at the big lakes and the Detroit River and therefore it has access to important water ways. Moreover, Detroit is located close to the iron ore deposits in the Lake Superior region and the coal districts in the Appalachian Mountains.
The city was geographically ideal for the Suburbanization, because the landscape around it was flat and extensive and so enough land area was available for emigration. (Steven 4)
One measure of the government which has strengthened the Suburbanization was the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, launched by president Dwight D. Eisenhower, which was said to be the largest public works program since the Pyramids. The plan included the building of 65.000 miles of highway roads in the whole country. The project costs amounted 41 Billion $ and were paid to 90% by the state and therefore also by the citizens. The local communities which certainly had most of the profit paid around 10%. The highway system was designed to be able to evacuate the big cities in case of a nuclear attack as fast as possible and to facilitate the “high-speed long distance travel from city to city.” (Fishman 19) Thereby also the cheaper areas beyond the cities were better connected to the road system and thus more and more people settled there. Shopping passages and industrial parks were established what forwarded the formation of suburbs which partially replaced the city center in its economic importance.
According to Robert Fishmann the decentralized and car dependent metropolises were founded by this Highway Act in 1965. (Fishman 19,20)
Federal Housing administration:
Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt the government introduced this institution to support the weak American building industry in the 1930s. The program supported poorer citizens and allowed them to realize the "American dream" of an own house with a front garden and a car. So-called savings institutes offered low deposits, low interest rates and long repayment periods and thus this dream could become true for many Americans. However, these homes required a lot of space which only was available in the environs beyond the town, also thereby the size of the houses and properties changed. Before the big Suburbanization period the average living space was around 120 square meters and the properties were 400 square meters. Through the years both values increased up to 240 and 1000 square meters. (Steven 7)
The facts given above show that even the government is partly responsible for the Suburbanization in the big cities of the US and above all in Detroit. In addition, many experts have the opinion that "Suburbia" was almost originated exclusively by the Federal Housing administration. (Fishman 20)
During the years after the second world war the whole American industry was concentrated in the towns of the north and the middle west where the factories had the most modern production facilities, the best train infrastructure and water ways and the easiest access to well qualified workers. However, new production technologies had to be investigated in order to make the industrial products even cheaper and more profitable, because by the invention of the band-conveyor production some years ago the car became a mass product. This development for example was achieved with the change from multistory to single-story car factories, in which “the whole production process can be carried out at one single level efficiently.“ (Steven 7)8 Indeed, this production method considerable required more space and thus the big car companies had to move their factories to the free areas beyond the center. There they were joyfully welcomed by strong tax reliefs and cheap manpower. Moreover in this time, the transport system was moved to the street, for example instead of the trains and ships now much more trucks transported the raw materials and goods with higher flexibility. “Between 1947 and 1958 the "Big Three" built 25 new factories in the metropolitan area Detroit, each of them in suburban areas.” (Steven 7)9
This development was welcomed by the industry, because therefore the union activities could be almost limited to a minimum. Due to the cramped living conditions the towns were often hotbeds for labor movements, and so it was an advantage for the Industry if the workers from the towns disappeared and widely spread over the different suburbs where it was not so easy any more to meet each other. (Fishman 20,21; Steven 7)
old and deserted factory ruins in Detroit
3.5. “White flight"
Millions of afro American workers lost their jobs in 1910 by the sudden breakdown of the cotton industry. They moved to the north, because there the economy boomed by the very ambitious automobile- and weapon industry. Moreover, the north at this time had the reputation of the "promised land" for many blacks as there was hardly discrimination and apartheid. So Detroit was one of the most popular target of the „Great Black of migration“. During the years between 1910 and 1929 approximately 114,000 Afro-Americans from the south moved to Detroit which urgently needed workers, because the stream of immigrants from Europe had nearly been stopped by the 1st world war. Between the years 1940 and 1970 the inflow of Afro-American citizens strongly increased once again. More than 6 million people came to the northern towns of the US, most of them to Detroit. This was the starting point of the big retreat of the well qualified white middle-class to the suburbs, also called "White Flight". Because the occupation figures remained high due to the prosperous automotive industry, the middle and working class could acquire the new suburban houses. The flats in the center of Detroit they left were taken by the blacks who had escaped from the breakdown of the cotton industry in the south. However, by the drift of the well qualified manpower to the suburbs also a lot of shops, factories and offices moved to the environs. Afterwards this process was accelerated by the bloody racial conflicts and so it happened that the metropolitan area Detroit was divided into two different social environments, “Chocolate City and Vanillia Suburbs.” (Kullman 17)
By the getaway of the industry to the periphery the city center lost more and more revenues which were missing for infrastructure and public services. The blacks felt isolated in the city center within an urbane ghetto in which criminal activity was nothing unusual and the police could hardly maintain the public order because of monetary shortage. Concerning the black squalidness the white inhabitants saw confirmed their prejudices against the blacks and protected their "white" suburbs against the Afro-Americans by attacking their houses and burning these down. Beyond the town borders, for example in the county10 Oakland bordering in the north, predominantly people with bright skin are living there. Interestingly this county, directly located in the north of "black" Detroit, belongs to the richest in the whole country, and it is even the second-richest among the counties with more than 1 million inhabitants. Not more than a ride time of a half hour reclines between Downtown and the noble suburban houses, new schools, big shops and fresh tarred streets.
(Salenger; Early; Kullman 17,18)
Because of these reasons the Suburbanization and the linked Urban Sprawl, a partial aspect of it, were sped up massively. Currently the town has a surface of 370.2 km ². The road network which was also increased by the Urban Sprawl consists of 3200 miles11. Converted on the 700.000 citizens living in the city there are 6.7 m of street for each of them. For comparison in New York there are 1.5 m per one inhabitant. (Linn) As a result many areas in Detroit thereby are only accessible by car and the people who cannot buy a car are cut from the "outside world", because round them there is nothing except 78.000 empty ruins and green areas. However, between 1978 and 1998 108.000 demolitions were approved in comparison to only 9.000 built and rebuilt houses. Thousands of houses, numerous department stores, offices and cinemas are obsolete. (“Detroit”)
An extract from the book “Rasende Ruinen - Wie Detroit sich neu erfindet“ from Katja Kullmann12 can illustrate the decay of the city centre and the rich suburbs:
To drive up and down the Woodward Avenue means to get to know Detroit in all its aggregate states and situations.
In Downtown the police-guarded business core started. Beside Ren Cen and the People Mover a few other showing objects are located there, the Hard Rock Café, the FoxTerrier Theatre from 1928 and the Comercia Park Stadium which is the home of the in Detroit Tiers. On working days between 9 and 17 o'clock it is not as abandoned as it seemed to me during my first day after 18 o'clock. The passengers are bright and dark skinned with a slightly focus on bright skins, similar to a typical "normal" American city.
After a few miles you reach the district of Midtown which was an unofficial prostitution mile a few years ago. Midtown is the central area of the new creative economy, with several modern medical centers, the Detroit institutes of Arts and the campus Wayne State University. The area here looks rather grey, but fairly intact.
Copy shops, book stores or shops can´t be found here, indeed, there is a Starbucks store what is quite unusual, because in the whole town the famous chain cafe pursues only 3 branches. […] The bus stops are well visited and the parking bays are often booked up. The segmentation of skin colors runs out to 35 (white) and 65 (black).
Again a few kilometers further, at the latest when you have passed Ford Freeway beneath the bridge of the Edsel Ford Freeway the road becomes more rough. The buildings here are in bad condition. For many of them it is obvious that these are vacant, in spite of the still existing advertizing sign-plates. Others look repaired provisional. The denseness of petrol stations and liquor shops increases, some of the fast food chicken restaurant have bigger parking bays than a German provincial town railway station. In between concrete squares of unclear function spread over and over again. The cultivation becomes more and more plain, it often looks rather like garages and barracks than like "houses". You can hardly find others than black faces here. Shortly before Eight Mile Road on the left you can see a big cemetery. On the right a monumental Gun shop with silver facade glitters at curbside.
Finally, slowly but certain you reach the small-urban applied suburban area - and suddenly you can see flower boxes and bicycle stands on the sidewalks and nearly only white people. The further you go ahead, the cleaner are the cars, the higher the hedges, the more admirable the villas behind it.
3.6. The town has no money
The mismanagement through the years and the tensions between the black and white have damaged Detroit very strongly and even have "destroyed" it, because now the town is bankrupt. In the course of the years a debt mountain of 18.5 billion $ has accumulated and the town will not be able to pay back these debts any more. By the bankruptcy even the German Commerzbank is concerned, because it holds loans to the amount of 400 million US $ and has already depreciated a part of this money. The big three car makers of Detroit, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, however, are performing better and better. They restructured themselves during the past years massively, cut many jobs all over in Detroit and thus reduced their expenses for expensive manpower. Now they are well prepared for the global competition again and Ford sold as many cars in the USA during the past quarter that the production had to be rebooted. Also GM faces an increase in turnover of 4 % up to more than 39 billion $ in the second quarter. However Detroit does not have a lot of profit by this recurring success of the car industry. As already mentioned many jobs in the town were cut and moved to the environs during the last years. Thus about 25% of the employable people are unemployed and the towns in the environs like Dearborn are among the wealthiest towns in the USA, because the car groups have built up factories there. (Lazarovic; “400 Millionen-Dollar-Kredit: Detroit-Pleite belastet Commerzbank”)
Another reason for the financial shortage of the town is the lack of the middle-class and therefore a lack of the tax revenues. Inside the town you can find all the poor people who are living by the help of food badges, so they do not have a job and they aren’t paying any taxes. Outside in the suburbs the rich people are living in their big single- family houses with a car in the garage and a pool in the front garden, indeed they do not belong to the town anymore and so they are not paying any taxes as well. (Kullman 55) In summer 2011 more than 130 bus drivers lost their job, because the town had no more money to pay the wages. Moreover, 60 public schools were closed and the children of the affected districts were carried by coaches to other schools where the class strengths rose accordingly. Now there are classes with more than 45 pupils what make the individual assistance nearly impossible. Besides this, the driving time for many pupils is up to 1 hour. Therefore, just 2 graduates of each class fulfill the demands for the continuing colleges right away. As the education is so bad the pupils cannot find a job after school and will end up on the streets like the generation before. Then they will join one of the gangs and make their money by any violent way like extortion and drug dealing.
If someone is injured during a gang fight, the ambulance arrives just hours later, and the injured person bleeds to death, because the town does not have enough money for sufficient rescue cars. Even the road lighting in some parts of town is not switched on to save money. Around 88.000 lanterns are only switched on during half of the night. (Kullman 43)
3.7. Crime rate
Since some decades Detroit considered as one of the most dangerous towns in the USA and even in the world. This can be attributed to three essential reasons: On the one hand Detroit is located in the USA, a country without strict weapon regulations where everybody can buy one or more weapons. And the easy access to weapons simplifies their use by nearly everyone.
Second, there are a lot of different street gangs in Detroit with nearly exclusively black members, who have no access to a job because of their bad education. So these gangs are often fighting bloody street battles against each other where often uninvolved citizens are getting injured.
An example for this is the revenge act of a gang on the 30th of June, 2009 where 7 pupils were seriously injured at a bus stop, just because the gang wanted to take revenge on a member of a competing gang. Two of the injured youngsters floated in mortal danger and some still carry around visible wounds.
(“Gang Squad: Einsatz in Detroit” 04:59)
The third reason for the high criminal activity rate in Detroit is that the town has almost no money for the police and thus several policemen were dismissed during the last years. This entails that now much less policemen are responsible for a bigger area. If an emergency call arrives at the police station, it lasts averaged 58 minutes until the police arrive at the place of action. The average time in other towns is around 11 minutes. In Detroit there are approximately 350 murder cases each year. In relation to the number of inhabitants, this is ten times higher than the US average. Furthermore yearly 5,000 raids, more than 10.000 cases with physical injury and about 1.000 gunfights take place. Also the 50.000 property offences should not be forgotten. A large part of this are the fire raisings at the day before Halloween, the Devil's Nigth, which became a cultural phenomenon in the city. (“Crime in the United States”; Damron; “Top cop urges vigilance against crime”)
4. Future chances for Detroit
Even though Detroit is economically down because it is indebted by 18 billion $ the town still always tries to make the best out of it.
One who firmly believes in the city is the boss of the investment company Goldman Properties, Tony Goldman: „Detroit will become the Berlin of the USA.“ (Kullman 8) Exactly as in Berlin for some years ago particularly the creative economy is present in Detroit and he believes that exactly this creative industry can save the town. There are galleries in old work halls, cafes in former slaughterhouses, comfortable apartments in done up ruins and software smiths in all remaining storage buildings. Detroit is a place for all creative and artists.
In order to make the town attractive for them again, Detroit disposed a redeployment: public elementary schools are closed, art in the construction is promoted, urban bus routes are cut, lofts with guarded car parks are subsidized.
4.1. New working operations
The poorer population in Detroit is looking for new activities in order to get access to daily food and to earn money. Even the old ruins offer possibilities, because many people feel a horror full of relish by facing the ruined buildings. There are already many illustrated books of the various old buildings in Detroit which are selling quite well and thus the citizens had the idea to organize excursions through the industrial wrecks. It is fascinating for the visitors because they can imagine how the situation was in the past. Monumental industrial arrangements, wide streets, parking bays like sports fields, theatrical palaces, department store cathedrals and other monster complexes: Detroit shows how the people 100 years ago have pictured their future.
Partially they earn up to 100$ per tour or photo safari, and so the “Ruins Guide”14 became an own job profile. (Kullman 15)
Others are earning their money with so-called tip jobs at which they are depending on the generosity of the other people. A tip job is an activity with either a very small or no firm wage is given. The worker lives primarily on the tips which are given by the customers and guests. This job model is widespread in the American service industry, above all in the gastronomy. For example the basic salary for a pizza courier is between 2.50$ and 4$ per hour, so the tip is an essential part of the income. (Kullman 21)
Moreover, since some time there is a new project in Detroit, the Earthworks Project.
In some parts of the town a variety of different vegetables from spinach through salad up to tomatoes and paprika are cultivated and harvested. Everybody who is willing can work there on a voluntary base. Then these vegetables are given free of charge to public soup kitchens which are opened for the poor people who can afford nothing. This system is very important because these people usually take their food with the help of food coupons at the next petrol station, but this is not very healthy. A typical meal of in the soup kitchen is following: a vegetable soup, a sandwich with cheese and ham, little bag of mustard, a portion of salad and a plastic mug with lemonade.
The project consists of 7 farms and has been founded in 1997. It also maintains greenhouses and supports other urban farmers with trainings, seedlings and seeds. (Kullman 67,68)
4.2. Important places
Detroit needs to have more attractions in the city center if it wants to grow in the future. Right now there are just a few important places in town like the Magic Stick, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Eastern Market.
As music is very important for the people in Detroit and because there are a lot of musicians which cover the most different music trends, the Magic Stick is a very important place.It is the most important live music club in the city and it is located in Midtown Detroit, 4140 Woodward Ave. Even the Rolling Stones said that it is the best place in the town to visit a live music show.
The White Stripes, The Nationwide, Jack Johnson, Interpol, Kings Of Leon, Mudhoney, Modest Mouse, The Kills, Sleigh Bells and Childish Gambino have already had their performance in there. However, the Magic Stick is also a popular location for weddings, fun-raisers, fashion parades and company celebrations. Moreover, old records are stored and the collection spreads over 2 floors. The owner mainly has found all these records in old empty houses in the environs.
(“The Magic Stick”; Kullman 35,36) Museum of Contemporary Art:
Even the applied arts are very important for many people of Detroit, and more and more young artists come into the town where they can find convenient living space. Therefore the facility is an important museum where many artists can exhibit their works and it is a museum for contemporary art in the heart of the cultural centre of Detroit.
The facility was founded in 2006 in the buildings of a former car factory, financed with donations and endowment money. The edifice has a 2000 m ² exhibition area and it was left intentionally unfinished and incomplete by the architect. In addition also readings, performances and concerts of young artists take place regularly.
(“About the Museum”; Kullman 40)
The most important trading centre for local food economy is the Eastern Market, a roofed market area from the 19th century and one of the cultural centers in Detroit. It is the only appreciable fresh goods market in Detroit and at the same time it is the biggest in the USA.
In 2006 the town handed over the area to the hands of the Eastern Market Cooperation and since that time the business had flourished again. Farmers from the whole surroundings are selling their fruits, vegetables, meat and flowers there and around 40,000 visitors come to Eastern Market on Saturday when also musicians play in the halls. (“Detroit Eastern Market”; Kullman 72)
4.3. Projects for the town embellishment
Of course for the city it is also important to organize some projects to embellish its image. To manage this, there are some Projects like the Public-Private Partnership or the Heidelberg project.
In order to make the city of Detroit more attractive again, the present mayor Dave Bing tries to deliver the big companies and groups back again into the city. They are lured with all kinds of privileges, so that they renew the desolate buildings and take part in the creation and the organization of public facilities and places. Since a law change in 2006 the town may entitle simultaneously up to 45 areas as “diminished tax zones“.
A complicated system of tax benefits on urban, federal and national level allows the investors to pay practically no taxes to Detroit or the state of Michigan up to 15 years.
Detroit Works, Living Cities or Live Midtown are the programs in which private financiers often play a crucial role and as a countermove for her help they will receive a far-reaching voice.
On the Woodward Avenue, for example, a streetcar should be built to connect the sociocultural parts of the town. The sponsor is the Kresge Foundation, one of the biggest retail trade groups. The enterprise wants to invest 25 million dollars in the streetcar and then as a counter draw the group would get the advertising monopoly along the distance of the streetcar line and inside the carriages. From the sponsors point of view, however it is clear, why it would rather like to invest in a new streetcar, than in the coach system which would cover a lot of bigger radius: coaches are only transporting poor people who are buying their food and drinking mostly with the help of food coupons, while a brand-new streetcar would be used by many tourists and therefore potential rich customers. Moreover, this streetcar would not head for the bad urban quarters at all, but it would only drive up and down the main roads. (Kullman 44)
Another project which was brought to life is the Heidelberg Project.
In 1986 the artist Tyree Guyton started to paint the walls of some desolate houses with color and to place old objects as "pieces of art" in front and all around the houses in order to express his political protest after the race riots in 1967. His basic purpose was to transform the project into the first open-air museum in Detroit. Because this area anyway is old and had come down, nobody did care about him reshaping the houses and so he went on. By degrees more and more artists joined his project and made also their contribution to the embellishment of the houses, while they brought some painted and old things. Every year approximately 100,000 people are coming to have a look to the "colored area” which starts from Heidelberg Street and they are paying a voluntary entrance fee.
(“The Heidelberg Project - Overview”)
painted house and car in the Heidelberg Street
5. Detroit: history, present, future
To sum up, one can say that the rise and fall of Detroit is closely linked with the development of the automotive industry in the USA. Everything started with the foundation of the Ford Motor Company, whereupon till 1950 the town steadily grew. Then more and more blacks came to Detroit and violent racial conflicts between the white and Afro-American population started. Finally, in the 1970s the oil crisis weakened the American automotive industry and above all Detroit was heavily hit of it quite strongly, because this was the only resident industry in the city. In addition different governmental programs like the Highway Act or the Federal Housing Administration were introduced from which Detroit could not recover until now. This was finally resulting in the fact that the town has no more money and in July, 2013 it had to announce insolvency. Now the people in Detroit try to develop new sources of capital like the Ruin Guide or the Urban Farming. Moreover, many town embellishment projects are currently started, like the Public-Private Partnership or the Heidelberg Project, to make the town attractive again for other new people and enterprises. Professor Robin Boyle, leader of the department Geography & Urban Planning of Wayne State University has released 3 proposals how Detroit can overcome the crisis:
1. There are too less jobs in Detroit, we have to try to establish new urbane economy in order to reduce the unemployment again.
2. We must reduce the size of the town consciously, create clear and stable urban villages with higher population density.
3. A part of the town must deliberately be left to the nature. If dedicated areas can be evacuated the cost for the infrastructure, police and other civil services can be saved. (Kullman 48,49)15
In his opinion Detroit is able to recover again if the city does not surrender and tries to realize these three countermeasures.
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1 nickname of Detroit, because the automobile industry has a big influence on the development of the city
2 in the eyes of the local residents is was just another document for obvious racism by the authorities 8
3 every third job there depended on the car industry
4 20 Billion $ were spent in 1989
5 proofed by the JD power studies
8 directly translated into English
9 directly translated into English
10 The areal unit “county” you can compare with a German district.
11 about 5150 km
12 she spent some weeks in Detroit and described her impressions
13 directly translated into English
14 that’s how they call this kind of job
15 directly translated into English
- Quote paper
- Thomas Etzel (Author), 2013, The Motorcity Detroit. Decline and Future Chances, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/284340