Is Detroit on the verge of salvation or chaos?

“In chaos theory, ‘The Butterfly Effect’ refers to the discovery that in a chaotic system such as the global weather, tiny perturbations in the system may sometimes lead to major changes in the overall system. It is theoretically possible that a slight rise in temperature in the ocean off the cost of Peru will create tiny changes in the air flow that would eventually lead to different weather in North America and Europe. In most cases the slight change would make no difference whatsoever, but when the system is unpredictable at a certain stage, the future may unfold quite differently, depending upon what little difference occurred.”

Courtesy of the Free Management Library

Just last Friday afternoon I was driving home from a gig I did on the city’s east side for Habitat for Humanity. As gigs go it was all right, I suppose. Seeing as how it was an outdoor event, and the forecast had predicted a fair amount of rain, I suppose I ought to feel at least somewhat grateful that the real skin-soaker held off until the weekend. Otherwise the gig could have gotten called – or at least postponed – and I wouldn’t have gotten paid. I definitely needed the money, so one does indeed count one’s blessings wherever they may bloom.

Anyway, once the gig was over and I’d finished packing up my equipment in the van, I turned back down the street that had led me to the event, my mind on other things. Driving in, the street had been more or less empty and I hadn’t been paying that much attention to my surroundings. No particular reason to. I’ve grown more than accustomed to the garbage in the streets and the burned out shells of buildings still loitering on so many corners like broken ghosts with nowhere to go.

But it was the children that made me see it all over again. The street was full of them. Some of them brazenly walking right down the middle of the thoroughfare not even bothering to look behind them even though I knew they heard the engine. Others danced back and forth amidst the debris, hopping over the ragged, gaping mouths in the sidewalk, using the broken glass bottles and cans for kick toys. They were children being children, or at least doing their best to hold onto as much of their childhood as Detroit permits.

School was out, and it was time to go home.

Which got me to thinking about my own childhood, when I would walk home every day from school through the park, down the street and then turn right for a couple blocks. Not a broken bottle in sight. No derelict homes haunting each and every corner. And I couldn’t help but wonder what this vision of home does to a child. How does seeing this each and every damned day affect the brain? The perception of self? If one sees oneself in one’s own surroundings, then…I mean damn…

So sure. We’re about to have a new interim mayor until whoever the next mayor will be and naturally we all hope this is the new dawn. This is what we, as Detroiters, pray. This is what we pray until our palms bleed from the pressure of our nails. And we wish we could keep our eyes closed throughout the prayer until the prayer is answered because each time we open them we see what is still here. And what is still not here.

So sure. There has been much new development and much noticeable improvement in a lot of areas. I have said numerous times how addicted I am to the Riverwalk. It is truly beautiful there.

But those kids on that street don’t walk along the Riverwalk to get home every day. They walk home through that other Detroit. And I just have to wonder is this what the beginning of chaos looks like…

Will Detroit become chaos theory?

Will Detroit become chaos theory? Or has it always been so?

 SHAMELESS PLUG: Read my wife’s blog @


~ by Keith A. Owens on September 16, 2008.

3 Responses to “Is Detroit on the verge of salvation or chaos?”

  1. Its not the beginning of chaos ,but the beginning of change,Brother the fact that you are writing about it is the start of change.

  2. Tootsie,

    It’s good to hear you say that, man. And point well made. That really is the best way to look at it.

  3. Hi,

    I’d like to get some more information about the Ghosts picture – Please send me as much information as you can about it THANKS!!!!

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