Tuesday, April 16, 2013

One thing non-Detroiters really don't get about Detroit...

Is how incredibly racially divided the region is. Matty Yglesias is ussually a fairly smart observer of urban affairs, but he recently predicted Mitt Romney of all people would be made the Emergency Manager of Detroit.

What he really doesn't understand is how racially divided the Detroit area is. For pretty much my entire life the vast majority (read:90+%) of the region's black population has lived in the City proper, and vast majority (again more then 90%) of the region's white population has lived in the suburbs. Most rust belt cities have neighborhoods where white working class people live. Detroit simply doesn't. There are Arab areas (Warrendale), Latino areas (the Southwest side), upper-middle-class areas, and pockets that have working class blacks and hipster-class whites (like Woodbridgee, where I grew up), but there is no equivalent of Chicago's mostly white working class neighborhoods or Cleveland's West Side.

Which means that the normal Urban-Suburban BS in Detroit is complicated by racial BS. The Mayor of Detroit is in a very real sense the King of black people in the region, and even the state. The closest thing he has to a counterpart (Oakland County Exec. L Brooks Patterson) is de facto King of the region's white people. This makes coordinating local governments pretty much impossible, and also means that it's very difficult for white guys who grew up in Oakland County to get anywhere in the City proper. Tobocman managed it, but a) he was running for the non-black district (the Southwest side is considered Latino territory), and b) the black power structure in the City still doesn't consider him fully trust-worthy. Mitt Romney's pre-2012 biogaphy makes him a lot less acceptable the Tobocman, and (to blacks, at least) Romney spent most of 2012 sending coded racist signals to the country at large.

The reason I bring this up now is simple: I am very worried abut Detroit. The people who live there do not realize how much trouble the City is in. They don;t realize how unusual it is for the central city of a major region to be almost-all-black, for the suburbs to be in their own Counties, etc. The conservatives think "If only Archer had gutted police pensions everything would be fine," while liberals seem to be convinced the City will be able to magic up a couple $Billion in tax money to cover a reasonable level of city services.

The only people who are actually thinking in terms of massive changes are the Detroit Future City Plan people, but I have yet to see a copy of their plan that will actually display on my 13-inch MacBook. The PDF is bigger then my monitor. And most Detroiters do not access the internet on $1,000 MacBooks, they access it on $50 SmartPhones.


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