Archive for September 2009
I’ve blogged a fair bit about the former East Germany, inasmuch as that territory is the first terriory in the First World to start the process of rapid aging and relative decline that will soon mark many polities in the First World (and elsewhere). Back in July, I wrote about how cities as a rule are going to continue to thrive, not least because they so completely dominate their rural hinterlands, but some cities are going to outlive–or have already outlived–their functions and are set to decline rapidly.
Acts of Minor Treason recently explored that theme in relation to Detroit. The Detroit Free Press‘s Jeff Gerritt suggests that the Detroit experience is unique to America, but I don’t think so, at least not in the broad details.
Today, despite all efforts, it just keeps on rolling downhill. Its population is fleeing, it’s buckling under unemployment unprecedented since the Great Depression, and its shadow of a mass-transit system, the Detroit People Mover, moves less than ten thousand people per day. Nearly half of its population is illiterate. Even Flint, which I wrote about back in April, has it better off – Flint doesn’t have Detroit’s reputation as a decaying wreck of a city to contend with.
This may be set to change. In the article “From Motown to Hoetown,” the Toronto Star’s environment reporter Catherine Porter wrote about how Detroit may be on the cusp of becoming a model of a 21st century city [. . .] What some entrepreneurs are paying attention to now is the prospect of working with Detroit as it is – taking the vast tracts of vacant land that comprise half that sprawling once-metropolis and vastly expanding its current network of urban gardens and farms. Detroit isn’t hurting for space; the article focuses on thirty-five acres of land in central Detroit where only five structures remain standing. Everywhere else, nature has returned. The entrepreneurs’ plan is to create multiple good-sized farms throughout the city, working the good land that urban decay has finally brought to light again.
[. . .]
Detroit, I think, is going to be North America’s first real, familiar lesson that growth cannot last forever. All of American and Canadian history has been predicated on the concept that there is always another frontier, that there are always new riches to exploit, new mountains to climb, and that every step takes you a little bit higher. I see that still today, when the York Region countryside just north of Toronto, some of the best agricultural land in Canada, is broken up and plowed under for endless sprawling fields of box communities where every house is built to one of six blueprints. In Detroit, I’m seeing hope for the future – hope that we’ll recognize that some things can’t last forever, and that we’ll choose to moderate our civilization before cold events make that choice for us.
This resonates a bit with me. I’ve never been to Detroit, but for many years the local cable television network carried the Detroit affiliates of ABC, CBS, and NBC. Every evening on the nightly news, I got a glimpse of a very unhappy urban area. People who’ve read my blog know how concerned I am about regional inequalities, within the city of Toronto and in the Greater Toronto Area. If shrink and decline is necessary, or will be necessary, I hope we’ll be able to learn from Detroit.