The Late, Great, Wayne County?


They keep trying to tell me Detroit is dying, but for some strange reason I can still feel the heartbeat. There’s no question we’re on the ropes, but death is a hard thing for me to accept, especially when I keep waking up every morning and nobody’s playing a harp.

Just a few days ago I was trying to adjust to the Reuters news story that houses are cheaper than cars in Detroit.  Naturally, as a Detroit native, that little bit of news kinda caught my attention. So I write a post the same day the story appears, you know, trying to fill in some of the blanks. Let folks know there’s a bit more to the “D” than homes you can snap up for pocket change.  Now, barely two days later, here comes another story in the Detroit News talking about how everybody is stampeding out of the city so fast it looks like a Roadrunner cartoon.

According to the story, “Wayne County lost more people than any other county between 2005 and 2006 except for Gulf Coast counties pummeled by the hurricane, according to census data released today. …The report is the latest glimpse of the impact of the state’s declining economic climate, but it may well not reflect the worst of it.

“The estimates, based on income tax returns, births, deaths, and Medicare applications, are for July 1, 2006 –before the most recent rounds of auto-industry buyouts were announced, and before Pfizer announced the closure of its Ann Arbor facility. ‘I keep thinking, ‘what are the 2007 estimates going to be?’ said Kurt Metzger, director of research for the United Way for Southeast Michigan. ‘They’re going to be much worse.’ ”

Well now. Isn’t that special.

You know, sometimes it can be so hard just keeping your head up in this town, no matter how much you believe things will get better. Why believe? One, because things already are getting better, as hard as that may be for many to believe. The recovery is still exceptionally fragile, and we’re not quite off life support yet, but if you remember what downtown Detroit looked like just a decade ago, then you know there’s a difference. And you also know the changes aren’t just downtown either, although the most noticeable ones are.

But where I really see hope for the future is with the people. Detroiters are like a cross between a pit bull and an Eveready battery; tough as hell and they just don’t know when to say die. Just as an example, one of my favorite local blogs is “South of 8 Mile” which is written by a guy who, I’m just now finding out according to one of his recent posts, wants to be a Detroit cop. Man, even if you are the biggest Detroit booster in the world, you have to take a bow and a step back to anyone burning with the desire to patrol these streets – to actually protect and serve, you know? And as anyone who has been in Detroit for any length of time knows, the relationship between the folks in the street and the police isn’t exactly a love fest. These are tensions that go back, off and on, for decades.

But I’m bringing this up because it’s folks like this who you rarely hear or read about, but whose love of and commitment to this city are what I still strongly believe will make the difference. I’ve included some of what he had to say (but you should read the whole post if you can) for you to read here, just because it really is one of the best examples I can find of the kind of heart you find in this city:

“I’ve grown a strong understanding for Detroit and it’s problems. I’ve talked to people at the gym who have done time in prison. I talked to more than a few who have been shot, a couple left paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Another guy watched as the car he was in was riddled with shots from and AK, he lost two friends and a girlfriend, fought for his life, then did his time in prison after that incident.

I’ve spoken first hand to those who took part in the 1967 riots. People who looted, stole cars, and helped tear this city apart. I also understanding why that riot happened in the first place, how it wasn’t the misconceived race riot as so many label it, but a riot against oppression. I’ve come upon crime scenes where onlookers cry over their loved ones lying on the curb all shot up. I see the poverty, talked to people living in the projects, and see the struggles. The drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, talked to all of them while walking the streets late at night. Call them urban entrepreneurs if you will, as they do what they do often because the days of getting into a factory and making a good living are long gone. I see the kids on the street almost daily, the ones skipping class, in the process almost certainly sealing their future’s fate.

I see all this and it is one of the reasons I can’t turn my back on this city. I’ve said before, I’ll do whatever it takes to remain here, and I now want to do something to help insure that others wish to remain here as well.”

The more Detroit-aholics we can find like this, the better chance we have. No doubt about it. Because this is what love is all about; for better, for worse.


~ by Keith A. Owens on March 22, 2007.

2 Responses to “The Late, Great, Wayne County?”

  1. I had a discussion about the housing cost in Detroit today after hearing a discussion on the News & Notes (NPR) podcast last night. It is a shame when a house is cheaper than an used Cadillac!

    The really big issue that I picked up is that it is really fucked up (can I cuss here?) that most Detroiters cannot afford to buy these cheap homes & fix them up. That says a lot for the economy as it stands now. But to be devils advocate, many Detroiters are happy living in a 2 family flat off Dexter & Collingwood as they drive a brand new Lincoln Navigator; just no sense of priority!

    I grew up in Detroit & love it to death but I hate to say that I could not move back there. When I think about the tax & insurance rates I shiver. I am excited that there is development in the city & I hope that it continues with the hops of drawing more people that it is losing.


  2. First of all, you can definitely cuss here. We be adults here. Second thing, I know for sure what you’re saying. Detroit is really going thru right now, and it will be awhile before we pull through. I prefer to think on the upside that we WILL pull through. But you’re right. The fact that so many Detroiters can’t even afford these dirt-cheap cribs lets you know exactly what time it is out here. The fact that you too often see a tricked-out SUV parked behind a house that costs approximately as much as one of the rims also lets you know what time it is.

    And taxes? Let’s don’t even go there. It’s close to bedtime and I don’t like nightmares.
    Detroit, man. Detroit.

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