A longtime friend who worked in regional planning remarked on the propensity of Detroit to try gimmicks: the historic trolley, the People Mover, the Poletown Cadillac works, the push for casinos. It’s probably too harsh to suggest the civil rights establishment said and did nothing in that era; it may be more accurate to say that people who had ambitions, no matter their ancestry or their politics, opted to exit rather than stay and attempt to change the established ways.
What happened to one of the most prosperous areas on earth?
If you listen to the interwebs, the answer is “terrible, Democratic-run urban politics.” Or “union-busting anti-labor policies” in Southern states that transformed solid middle-class jobs in the Midwest into near-minimum-wage jobs in states such as Alabama and Tennessee. Or maybe “racism.” Or “the urban underclass.”
All of these answers are impossibly reductive. The city of Detroit has no one problem; it has a constellation of them. Here, in no particular order, are some of the most important factors.
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