9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Where there's life, there's hope,
This review is from: The Last Days of Detroit: Motor Cars, Motown and the Collapse of an Industrial Giant (Hardcover)
I have never been to America, let alone Detroit, but I have a vested interest in America because of a shared culture, and some of that culture came from Detroit. It is so sad to learn about the state of the city in 2013, but even as the author (who was born in Detroit after the good times were over, and lived there for many years) paints a grim picture, he sees hope for what he found on a return visit.
Prior to buying this book, I only knew of Detroit specifically for its car industry (now a shadow of its former self), Motown (who were already beginning a long, slow decline when they moved to Los Angeles in the seventies, but failed to arrest that decline) and the song Detroit City, which became an international pop hit for Tom Jones. Those specifics aside, I knew where to find Detroit on a map of North America, and I assumed it was fairly typical of large American cities, with a multi-racial population and plenty of skyscrapers. In 2013, I heard about the city going bankrupt and soon afterwards bought this book. I was appalled to find out the truth about Detroit, which is very different now from what it once was.
I think most, perhaps all, of the individual problems described in this book have occurred at some time or other elsewhere, including in Britain. However, the sheer scale of the decline is on a far greater scale. However, like the author, I see some hope for the future, but it won't be easy. Given that I am somewhat older than the author, I don't think I'll live to see Detroit return to greatness, but I might live long enough to see clear signs of a recovery.
The author does not devote a lot of space to the early history, but gives a basic outline. Most of the book is, as I'd expected, about the decline of this once mighty city, with its ideal location where a river flows into one of the Great Lakes near the international border between the USA and Canada - an ideal location for an industrial city. Industry thrived until the second half of the 20th century. The author suggests the decline may already have started by the time the first Motown record charted, but the first sign of decline that the outside world noticed was the riot of 1967. From what this book says about that riot, I think there have been plenty of bigger riots in Britain. As such, I am inclined to agree with the author that the riot did not begin the decline.
As the decline continued, it fed upon itself as those who could afford to move out of Detroit did so, leaving the inner city area to those who couldn't. This kind of thing has happened in Britain, but not on the same scale, possibly because Britain is a very small country by comparison, and therefore suburban sprawl is more limited. Detroit could not expand to the south or east, but when people wanted to leave, there was room to the north and west.
Detroit, like the old Roman Empire, is becoming famous for its ruins, the most famous being the old Michigan Central Railroad station. It was built in a grand style, but closed in 1988 and now decays gradually. All very sad, but at some point it will either be demolished or restored for some other use. Restoration would cost a fortune so I assume it will be demolished eventually.
Problems became ever more difficult to address, and these were complicated by the different political units at city level, suburban level and state level. The federal politicians scarcely get a mention, but they try to stay out of local issues as far as possible. So Detroit struggles on with a decreasing population and a decreasing income, with no easy way to reverse the trend - but as the author indicates, there is hope.
Some plots of land have been returned to agriculture, while artists and others have moved in out of curiosity. I'm not sure if these are the answers, but there is plenty of space, and orthodox methods of regeneration are also being tried.
There are other books about Detroit's problems, but this one told me what I wanted to know. I really hope that solutions are found to Detroit's problems.