Detroit: America’s fascination with disaster porn and hero worship

Detroit - Thin

By Peter York 

A couple of weeks ago, 60 Minutes featured a story about Detroit, America’s lovable old uncle who is on the up and up one year and suddenly bankrupt the next. A bailout from Detroit’s main economic source in 2010 followed a year of perceived prosperity for the Motor City and its automakers only to fall flat on its face three years later — If only this was the story 60 Minutes told.

The 60 Minutes piece glazed over facts on economic security and instead took a laser-like focus on Detroit’s social problems, examining what 50 years of race riots, white flight, drug problems, corrupt government and hundreds of other social factors can do to one of the biggest metropolitan areas in U.S. history.  A city routinely linked to US success in WWII for its manufacturing prowess — a city tired of getting national attention for the wrong reasons.

Bob Simmons and his team took 60 Minutes viewers on a 15-minute romp through the outskirts of Detroit, a city whose 139 square miles makes it the largest city next to Los Angeles, and capable of containing San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan.

He shows us shut down schools, shocking images of the abandoned Packard plant that is now dominated by vegetation and the haunting majesty of Detroit’s Train Station, now silent and open to urban exploration. We meet local Detroiters trying to make their city better by tearing down abandoned houses commonly used as drug houses and turning the fresh lots into farmland.  These are images that we have now been privy to for nearly half a decade. So why does it get prime time coverage now?  Further, why has 60 Minutes covered Detroit’s decay in detail at least once a year for the past three years, focusing on everything from rapper Eminem, to Chrysler’s post bailout sigh of relief and used every one of those stories to cast the city as hell on earth?

If you can survive here, you can survive any apocalypse, the stories seem to say.

Dan Gilbert is the hero of the story 60 Minutes chooses to tell: The billionaire founder of Quicken Loans who has been purchasing Detroit real estate by the skyscraper. He moved his company from the suburbs of Detroit to the downtown area to take a stand for the city.  Gilbert has done amazing things for the city that should not be discounted, but he is also relatively late to the dinner table — even if he does have the most cash.

But even Gilbert took issue with 60 Minutes’ poorly concocted tell-all, taking to Twitter to call the story “ruin porn” and to tell 60 Minutes that they missed the real story — “a city’s soul that will not die.”

What about the other heroes of Detroit whose stories never get told because they aren’t as glamorous? What about the real solutions to real problems?

The Illitch foundation has been working on improving Detroit for almost a decade, revamping the Fox Theater and bringing in millions of dollars to the city by creating winners out of the Red Wings and Tigers. The Fords were willing to take a risk by bringing the Lions back to Detroit after they had spent 30 years 30 miles north of the city.

Peter Karmanos moved his tech company Compuware to downtown Detroit in hopes to attract tech startups to the city as a way to replace the lack of automotive work 10 years before Gilbert was in the spotlight, and the fact that Twitter set up an office in Detroit in 2012 in Gilbert’s Madison building (which is meant to house I.T. companies) is a sign of fulfillment for the ex-CEO of Compuware.

There are too many heroes to give credit to. Especially the remaining members of the downtown area who stick it out through poor police response times and no streetlights as well as gang violence and drug problems. That world is night and day compared to the parts of Detroit that show life around the college campuses of Wayne State and Detroit Mercy as well as the sports stadiums and Campus Martius, — the “Times Square” of Detroit.

But the big problem is that there is money in Michigan that isn’t being spent in Detroit.

Michigan is home to the fourth richest city in the United States per household income. Bloomfield Hills is located less than 30 miles from Detroit with an average per household income of nearly $105,000. Farther down the list, Gross Pointe Township (77th) and Gross Point Shores (at 79th) average nearly $70,000 per household and share a border with Detroit to the south.

How then, does Detroit get these high-income households to spend their money downtown?  How can the city get the expendable income of those in their early 20s to come and live in one of the most dangerous places in the United States? This should be the focus.  And efforts like the subsidy program at Detroit’s “Live Downtown” initiative are already doing that.

What Dan Gilbert is doing is great.  Bringing in jobs to Detroit is a big start.  The problem is that those people go home to the suburbs at the end of the day.  Getting people to live and work downtown?  That is the solution.  How to get there is the question.

Peter YorkPeter York is a salesman and writer from the suburbs of Detroit, currently residing in New York City. He holds degrees in history and international affairs from Xavier University, and has dabbled as an actor, a writer, a salesman, a tour guide and a professional popcorn maker.  

 

Posted by on October 31, 2013. Filed under Media,Recent News,Top News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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