Tuesday, November 25, 2008


As some of you may know, I grew up in Southeastern Michigan, about eight miles north of 8 Mile Road, which marks the infamous border between Detroit and its suburbs. I know you've all seen "8 Mile" and know what I'm talking about. Don't pretend otherwise.

I'll admit, the cute little city where I grew up, Birmingham, is a far cry from the mean streets of Detroit. We have an Anthropologie, for goodness' sake! But, still, there's no denying that even us Metro Detroiters who grew up in cushy suburbs have an undeniable link to that complicated metropolis that everyone loves to hate. Like it or not, the city of Detroit defines Southeastern Michigan, and I find that people who grew up in its surrounding suburbs simultaneously ridicule Detroit for being dirty, dangerous, and depressing, while also feeling some sentimental tie to it, in all its decaying glory.

A house in Birmingham

A house in Detroit

After all, Detroit has its own unique character and history, and is associated with some pretty significant industrial and cultural achievements for our country, despite the city's current bad rap. There are the obvious things that Detroit is famous for, of course, like Motown music and the now-struggling auto industry, but there are also the things that perhaps only Metro Detroiters can appreciate, like Red Wings hockey fever, incredibly delicious Middle Eastern cuisine, and the adrenaline-pumping experience of getting lost in the Cass Corridor when driving back from Canada. Only in Detroit!

What makes me really sad, though, is that despite the love I have for the fuzzy, romantic idea of Detroit, the actual city really is putrid, and has only gotten worse over the last decade. It's true that I haven't lived in Michigan for over six years; my parents moved to Nevada between my freshman and sophomore years of college, and since then I've only gone back to Detroit once, to visit my high school best friend during my senior year of college. But I follow Detroit's decline closely. The city's fall, sadly, is not that hard to keep track of. To put it extremely mildly, Detroit has been through a lot of crappola lately: the spectacular collapse of the auto industry, for example, as well as the humiliating and frustrating spectacle of Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor, being convicted of perjury, after dragging the city through several years of corruption, waste, and scandal. You might already know all of this; Detroit's sad state has been broadcast widely. Forbes named it the "most miserable city" in the United States (http://www.forbes.com/2008/01/29/detroit-stockton-flint-biz-cz_kb_0130miserable.html), and it is holding steady in the number three position for worst crime rate in the country (http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/11/24/crime.stats/).

The crime rates, the crappy economy, the abandoned houses and lack of infrastructure: this is all bad stuff. But I think one of the biggest slaps in the face that the city of Detroit has received in recent years came from its mayor, the aforementioned Kwame Kilpatrick. This man, who is widely regarded as the Worst Mayor Detroit has ever had (which is saying something), dragged Detroit through quite the sideshow of corruption scandals, and even threw a stripper-murder scandal in there for good measure. Sigh. He was charged in March of this year by the Wayne County prosecutor with misconduct in office, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and perjury, and in August, two felony counts of assaulting or obstructing a police officer. Eventually, according to the New York Times, "He agreed to plead guilty to two felony counts of obstruction of justice and to plead no contest to a felony count of assault on a police officer; to pay restitution to the city of $1 million; to surrender his law license, forfeit his state pension to the city and be barred from elective office for five years; and to serve 120 days in the Wayne County jail, followed by five years’ probation. The other charges were dismissed." So yeah, he's in jail.

Kilpatrick and his chief of staff (with whom he had an affair) Christine Beatty

But here's the really baffling thing. Kwame Kilpatrick was an awful mayor; he used taxpayer money to give his friends jobs, buy himself cars, and get himself out of trouble. A lot of people in Detroit, who are mostly poor and largely disenfranchised, were understandably ticked off and called for his resignation early on. However, even as Kilpatrick was racking up the charges and facing jail time, people were writing supportive messages to him on the website http://kwamekilpatrick.com/. Here are some of the messages:

i,m sorry kwame kilpatrick that u in jail i wish u get out soon
this is latoya white. we miss u mayor. -latoya white

i feel like everybody cheat but you just got cought but they dont
have to take you to jail for that

Kwame - Kwame i dont think u Should Resign you are a strong african american man
you have done so many thinhg for detroit. Everyone mess up in there life, you should
stay strong through this and and work through this with your wife your No.1 Fan Elijah M.

I'm sorry, but WHAT? Why in the world would anyone in Detroit support Kwame Kilpatrick after he wasted their money and made an embarrassment of the city? Based on the three messages above, I think there is some confusion about what Kilpatrick was actually going to jail for. Hint: it wasn't for cheating on his wife. It was for LYING UNDER OATH and PERJURING himself in court. But even assuming for the sake of (stupid) argument that it would be somehow possible in the United States of America to be sent to jail for adultery, why would people support him anyway? It blows my mind.

It can't just be because Kilpatrick is African-American and people view his jailing as racial targeting, because most of Detroit's population is African-American, and huge numbers of black Detroiters wanted the mayor locked up. Check out, for example, this very thorough blog advocating for Kwame to take a hike: http://goawaykwame.wordpress.com/, and this video showing ordinary Detroiters publicly calling for Kilpatrick's resignation:

And it can't just be the fact that he is a "strong African American man" that makes people want to support him, either, because both of the police officers who blew the whistle on him were also African-American, and I'd imagine you have to be a pretty strong individual to stand up to a corrupt public official who is in charge of your livelihood. Is it because Kilpatrick dresses well and wears a diamond stud earring? Because one would think that if you're an impoverished person in Detroit whose mayor is using your tax dollars to pad his own salary, you wouldn't want to write effusive messages to the mayor wishing him the best. Right? Or am I missing something?

The whole thing is sad and confusing, but at least Kilpatrick is in jail for a while and probably won't be holding public office again any time soon. Hopefully the voters of Detroit will learn something from this fiasco and elect mayors who won't drive the city even further into the ground. In the meantime, I'll continue to watch and hope for the best for the city from the removes of Boston. Come on, Detroit, bring back the glory!


  1. Anonymous5:39 PM


  2. Beth P.4:07 AM

    I am from SE MI and enjoyed your blog about Detroit. I am now traveling in Australia and I do feel truly sad that Detroit is such a sad city filled with many more negatives than positives. I do find it interesting that it is so well known the world over.
    I only hope that it rises in the future; maybe it will improve with the movie studios that plan to open.

  3. Jessica E.7:37 PM

    I'm a freshman in college this year and for my Comp 1 class, I was assigned a paper on "The Tragedy of Detroit". I found a lot of useful information for my paper, but this source really helped me. I had no idea that Detroit's mayor is so horrible! That really explains a lot of things. Along with the autoindustry problems, having a terrible mayor doesn't make matters any better. Thank you very much for posting this.

    -Jessica E.

  4. Anonymous8:32 PM

    I grew up in Detroit during the 50's and 60's. Moved West in the late 70's. I have to say my heart aches when I see photos of what it has become. I remember cruzing Woodward Ave all the way from 6 mile out to Pontiac--little Ted's and Big Ted's back then. I grew up on Motown--there has never been anything like it since.

  5. Maybe one solution for Detroit is to reduce the size of the city by razing all the derelict buildings. Give the space back to nature, or plant thousands of trees. If Detroit were reduced to a quarter of its present size, it could be a good, compact city.

  6. Like you, I grew up outside of Detroit and haven't lived in Michigan for several years (and currently live in Boston). It was interesting to read your post. :)

  7. Detroit has my heart, it has such beautiful old minicastle-like houses... Saw similar ones in the eastern part of the USA, not so much in the west...

    Detroit's music and the elegant gangster years are all so attractive, that city deserves more exposure!

  8. Anonymous1:12 PM

    In response to razing the buildings, I'm sure they would if they had the money, but it costs money to tear down a building and they just can't afford it.

  9. Anonymous Resident of Detroit5:49 AM

    Ah! Fuck this Post! Steph, you only know the truth about Detroit when you actually live in it. The boarder between the suburbs and Detroit may as well be a "force-field", meaning that not near as much that happens in Detroit leads to to suburbs. As for the comparison pictures; you pick the most low down dirty, filthy looking (abandoned home) in Detroit... What would you expect? The home in Birmingham was most likely one of the best homes in Birmingham; What is that to compare to an abandoned home in Detroit? The only thing I can't argue with you about is the crime rates. They are worse than most people think; keep in mind that there are too many crimes to publicize each one of them. I have too many facts about Detroit to continue with this comment, perhaps, I will do some blogging about Detroit so these viewers can get a true insight from an actual resident of the city.

  10. Okay, Anonymous Resident, point taken -- but the fact that the abandoned houses exist AT ALL is a sign that all is not well in Detroit. Also, I never claimed to "know the truth" about Detroit. I'm just reporting what I see. Finally, you can disagree with me but you don't need to use foul language. You should start your own blog and feel free to swear up a storm there. Good luck with it.

  11. Anonymous1:26 AM

    I watched a program on the movie channel on google videos entitled 'industrial ghosts'. It was a short piece on Detroit. It focused on one aspect of globalization which has not been friendly to Detroit. It's one way to see the problem. Race tensions and white flight were another (1967 summer riots did not HELP). I also believe what the commentator felt, was that, the idea of the city as it stands now may not be viable nor neccessary now and future times. An architecture teacher had mentioned in an interview that farming was starting to develop. One last thing I would like to add, Detroit (bad mayor or not) has a population that suffers the same disease that plagues so many black communities across the United States. The disease is a lack of families, family values, a work ethic that promotes innovation, a mass social acceptance of crime and violence (think bad mayor), and little desire to learn. Detroits's problems will not go away untill it citizens change. Very few in public office, anywhere, will cross the line of taboo (thanks to the evils of political correctness)to address these issues. One can throw all the money they like at a situation but until that population changes, nothing will change. This may sound racist, but Detroit would have to have 'black flight' in order to save itself.

  12. Anonymous4:22 AM

    There is absolutely no reason why the city of Detroit should tear down anymore buildings than have already been demolished. I am a resident of Detroit, and I don't mean the suburbs, and I know the whole truth of the experience of living in the city. One of the main problems with politicians now is that they would rather tear down a building to build a new one that looks more "high tech" than to preserve the rich history of an amazing city such as Detroit. I agree with another comment that you cannot possibly know the entire truth about the city until you live in the city. Yes crime rates are at an all time high; but when you build a city which relies solely on the success of the automotive industry, what do you expect people to do when they have no means to survive. People are desperate. I wish you would try to write another blog which would celebrate the city, because there is so much more to Detroit than what you are expressing here. The people need encouragement and uplifting, not another person telling them how bad they're living. Bring back the "Spirit of Detroit". It's still there buried beneath the rubble of the collapsed economy and constant negative publicity!

  13. Anonymous12:54 PM

    I use to live and work in Detroit, but the violence, corruption, and dismal attitude forced me out. I don't understand the point of making comparisons between the city and the suburbs. Most cities are typically rougher around the edges vs. their counterparts, "the suburbs."

    I'm 47, and I remember as a kid that Detroit wasn't exactly a safe city. Only thing I had going for me was knowing all the streets and neighborhoods both east and west. I also remember that once the sun went down, very few folks ventured out on foot downtown.

    Coleman Young wasn't any saint either. I believe he was pretty corrupt as well. I also didn't appreciate him re-naming our parks with his name, and or attempting to re-write history.

    Their was plenty of writing on the wall for the auto-makers to heed, but they were so full of themselves they chose to ignore it. I can remember back in 1979 huge parking lots full of new large luxury 78 models that never sold, so they just sat there. I also remember AMC going under because they made truly ugly cars, that tended to rust right out after only two years of Michigan winters.

    Ah yes, and then there was "Devils Night" otherwise known as Halloween Eve. Detroit firefighters always knew they were going to have their hands full that night.

    The point I'm trying to make is that there is plenty of blame to go around for why Detroit is the way it is. I think the remaining "Big 3" could have re-invested a few bucks in the city that made them famous, and now infamous. I also think burning down homes in your own backyard as a form of protest is about the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Did it change your situation or status for the better?

    Remember Daimler-Benz? Chrysler was so jacked that even the Germans couldn't fix them. If I remeber correctly, they lost something like $36 Billion dollars!

    I'm sorry for ranting, because I truly loved Detroit. I miss going to Belle Isle, Rock concerts, Tigers games etc... I'm also ticked because those in charge seem to prefer destroying instead of preserving what once was a great city. There are many beautiful buildings that are leaving us for parking lots. I just get very emotional seeing a once great American city die in a very short time. The only reason they haven't flattend the remaining great buildings is because nobody wants to spend the money to do so.

    If this can happen to an industrial city that once led the world, then it can happen to the rest of the country. There is no leadership in Detroit, and if congress continues to let the lobbyist run our lives, the United States is undoubtedly heading in the same direction. I hope I'm totally wrong, but I'm begining to see the same things happening across the our great country, and I hope President Obama can turn it around, but there is so much corruption and twisted minds in power, I'm afraid he'll only be able to slow down the inevitable.

  14. Anonymous11:57 AM

    I was googling Detroit because I was writing some BS satire articles for www.afro-squad.com/blog. I took the time to read your article, and it was really good. Thanks for the read.

    Hmmm, my comment sounds like spam. I'm actually from Roseville and the topic of Detroit is interesting to me.

  15. Anonymous8:08 PM

    I couldn't believe this blog when I read it. I will say again what has been said before, "If you don't live in Detroit how can you write about?"....and for you to say that Detroit is dirty is an insult to the citizens...I am totally offended...as with all major cities there are good areas and there are bad, but your depiction is totally ridiculous...how many times have you actually been to Detroit? and how many areas have you personally visited. I will admit there are some rough areas but there are some beautiful areas as well...and as far as the pictures are concerned you went to the worst areas and took pictures of the worst houses...and by the way the "house" you used as a contrast house, was not a house at all...it used to be a police station a long time ago before there was 1300 Beaubien...but if you were from Detroit you would have already known that....or at least if you would have done your research. Have you ever visited Indian Village on Detroit's east side or Palmer Park where some of the former homes of the Detroit Pistons are..how about Sherwood Forrest or the Boston Edison district where the mini mansions are....and all of these areas display baeutiful homes in Detroit... more beautiful than the home you displayed from Birmingham and that was probably the best one. You have no opinion on what goes on in Detroit's politics because once again that's something you know nothing of. Coleman A. Young was the mayor of Detroit for 16 years and failed to do anything for the city....I remember going downtown and seeing nothing but abandoned buildings and since then with the help of former Mayor Archer and the follow up of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick the city downtown area was once again restored with beautiful landscaping and refurbished historical buildings but like I said earlier you can't compare a major city that has about a million citizens to a small Mayberry town...and honey for future reference you should do your homework before you decide to post something like this