Durable Growth

Link-Fest: Detroit

Detroit skyline (from Dreamstime)

Detroit skyline (from Dreamstime)

I’m still in Detroit, soaking up the lessons that the Motor City can give because any city that believes what happened to Detroit can’t possibly happen to it doesn’t understand how the world works.  Ugly fates are always lurking near those who don’t learn from history.  History may not repeat itself, but it can certainly rhyme.

To keep you on the Detroit learning curve along with me, I’ve collected a tidy set of links about the Motor City.  Enjoy.  And learn.

Quick Overview: The New York Times provides a compact quintet of articles on the reasons behind the fall, including over-reliance on a single industry, race relations, too many mayors with dubious ethics, lack of a transit system that melded the city and its people, and the impact of poverty.

If for no other reason, you need to click on the link for the photo of the Michigan Theatre.  In a single shot, it shows much of how and where Detroit went wrong.  (And please note how, even in the most glamorous parking lot in Michigan, one driver ignores the striping.)

Longer Overview: National Geographic offers a more expansive trilogy on the current state of Detroit, from a look at the people to a tour of residential neighborhoods to the prospects for recovery.  The highlight is a quote from one subject, “You can’t save Detroit.  You gotta be Detroit”, a sentiment that applies in some way to most cities.

The Best Seat to Watch the Changes: CityLab introduces readers to a mailman who, after nearly three decades on the job, is able to provide particularly insightful observations about how the city has changed from decade to decade and from block to block.  He’s sufficiently personable that a movie-maker to trying to assemble a film around his perspective.

Picking Up Where Park Department Stops: A Detroit entrepreneur saw a chance to make a difference and organized a loose group of lawn mowers and other landscapers who gather once a week to maintain a park that falls beyond the limited resources of the city.

What is Art Worth?: CityLab describes how Detroit worked to preserve its art collection, even as many suggested it be sold to cover municipal debt.  Writer Kriston Capps suggests that a similar decision may face Greece as it struggles with national debt.

How to Buy a Home in a City without Property Values: My shocking statistic of the week is that, of all the homes sold in Detroit during 2014, only 13 percent used mortgages as part of the financing.  My wife, who spent much of her career in mortgages, assures me that the equivalent number in California would be 95 percent or more.

The problem in Detroit is that mortgages are generally available only for homes in good repair.  And few homes in Detroit meet that standard.

Recognizing the problem and the desire to build a new generation of homeowners, the City is developing a mortgage program to loan the full purchase price of the house plus another $75,000 for repairs, while also assuming some of the risk if the house doesn’t increase in value to the amount of the mortgage.

It’s a desperate measure, but it’s also desperate times.

Relish the links.  And think about lessons that can be applied elsewhere.

By the time I next write, I’ll have returned from Detroit.  I’ll tabulate an updated calendar of North Bay opportunities for urbanist-slanted public involvement.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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