Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Grapes of Wrath: 1938, 1958, 2008

Here's an excerpt from article on the state of Detroit and its people. The most interesting thing? This was first published nearly fifty years ago -- and six years before the 1967 riot:

If ever a city stood as a symbol of the dynamic U.S. economy, it was Detroit. It was not pretty. It was, in fact, a combination of the grey and the garish: its downtown area was a warren of dingy, twisting streets; the used-car lots along Livernois Avenue raised an aurora of neon. But Detroit cared less about how it looked than about what it did—and it did plenty. In two world wars, it served as an arsenal of democracy. In the auto boom after World War II. Detroit put the U.S. on wheels as it had never been before. Prosperity seemed bound to go on forever—but it didn't, and Detroit is now in trouble.

Detroit's decline has been going on for a long while. Auto production soared to an all time peak in 1955—but there were already worrisome signs. In the face of growing foreign and domestic competition, auto companies merged, or quit, or moved out of town to get closer to markets. Automation began replacing workers in the plants that remained. In the past seven years, Chrysler, the city's biggest employer, has dropped from 130,000 to 50,000 workers. At the depth of the 1958 recession, when Detroit really began reeling. 20% of the city's work force was unemployed. Even today, the figure is an estimated 10%, and the U.S. Government lists Detroit as an area of "substantial and persistent unemployment.'' . . .

Creeping Blight. Here and there in Detroit are hopeful eddies. Wayne State University is defiantly building a modern campus right in the heart of the city. But blight is creeping like a fungus through many of Detroit's proud, old neighborhoods. Vast areas have been leveled for redevelopment projects that have not materialized. Down on the waterfront, the city's $70 million Cobo Convention Hall and Arena is not attracting the anticipated crowds of fast-spending conventioneers, this year failed to meet expenses by $285,000.

In all. Detroit has lost $16 million in taxes in the past four years. The nonprofit Citizens Research Council of Michigan warns that Detroit is headed for a $15 million deficit in its 1961-62 budget.

"Decline in Detroit," Time (Friday, October 27, 1961).

Dayana Mendoza, Ms (technically "Miss") Venezuela, recently won this year's Miss Universe contest in Nha Trang, Vietnam. Miss America tripped near the end. Need we say more?

Today's Rune: Warrior.


Charles Gramlich said...

The more things change eh?

JR's Thumbprints said...

...and so we take another hit. My mother-in-law will have to pay for her own healthcare coverage; GM's cutting costs.

Johnny Yen said...

Could you ever have imagined, as a 14-year-old, about to start high school, watching the news clips of the helicopters leaving the US embassy in Saigon that the Miss Universe contest would someday be held in a unified Vietnam? Look what 30 plus years hath wrought.

Working on a post about 1983, Beirut and Grenada. Hard to believe that was all a quarter century ago.

the walking man said...

Lets look for a second at Detroit 1961:

I was 7 and JFK was still alive.

The uprising of '67 was 6 years to the future and Detroit's fate had not been sealed.

The Population was about a million four.

Factory rat jobs had benefits for all and union protection for most.

Blacks were tuning up to move into white areas of the city because of a well found economic from those jobs

White flight was tuning up to become a new buzzword in Detroit.

Coleman A Young was 11 years into the future as Detroit's first black mayor. Jerome Cavanaugh was mayor, a part of the Irish political machine that ran Detroit.

Detroit had it's own beer production, Strohs.

Its own Department store rival to Macys...Hudsons.

Well populated ethnic neighborhoods

S.T.R.E.S.S. had not happened to the black community yet

The national civil rights movement was gaining increasing positive and negative notice in Detroit. Viola Leuzo was still alive.

Bill Bonds was a young and upcoming news reporter who was well respected but not yet a Detroit journalistic icon. Not yet banished from the air by his alcoholism.

Large swaths of the city still had decades old Elm trees acting as a canopy down residential streets.

EVERY neighborhood had a Catholic elementary and high school, this is what delineated each area.

City council members were (still are) elected at large.

Detroit was the financial engine of the state.

Now things are different, so much so that even after having been a life long resident, one who watched all of that which was supposedly good being shed, I no longer can define Detroit.

There has been so many shifts and changes here that recession is no stranger here(never has been but social safety nets helped most people weather the storm until their job opened again) and I know that if Detroit hits a depression state of mind the rest of the country can not be so far behind. A year maybe two.

I was looking at homes for sale in Grosse Pointe Farms. The tide of economy has hit what has been traditionally the most affluent area of SE MI. Where there are hundreds for sale there, the number is thousands in Detroit.

The once proud work force that was always Detroit's salvation is gone now, the area that sent the machines of war and peace to the world is deflated now with no chance of ever regaining that status. What is left behind is the grime, the drugs, the crime all of which would be of no consequence if there were alternatives. I personally see none for the future.

heiresschild said...

i was just watching the news about GM laying off a large number of workers, plus they're cutting out health benefits for those 65 and older. wow! they're the ones who need it the most.

Miss USA fell last year in the same pageant. i still think people are missing the message.

you and Mark/aka The Walking Man are very informed on history.

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks all, for the comments!

I'll respond more fully soon, but have a class to teach first ;->

Anonymous said...

Bill Bonds LOL

Did you see the BBC article about Detroit?

Erik Donald France said...

Again, thanks for the comments! Charles, it's definitely valuable to check out the longer perspective. Brutal times are here again . . . almost as if WWI and WWII and their immediate aftermath were spikes of "good times" and all the rest of the time has been the declining norm.

Johnny -- indeed. I look forward to your post. Seems like yesterday and in the long run, it was just yesterday.

Jim and Heiresschild, rough stuff. Social networks and clinics may be the last safety nets. Walking Man, some kind of creative diversifying? The need has been long in coming. Jilly, do you mean the Urban Gardens movement? If so, this is one radical way of coping, bringing back collective social work and gardens right in the city -- my only concern would be for toxic leftovers in water and soil. On the other hand, Findhorn in Scotland is situated next to a Nimrod RAF base. Very weird mix. But hopeful. And better than Robo Cop.