So Go the Lions, So Goes Detroit

Yesterday the Detroit Lions played their final football game of the 2008 season. They became the first team in the history of the NFL since the beginning of the 16 game season to go 0 for 16.

Commentators have remarked that it could not have happened to a more fitting city. Detroit, a dying city in a dying state, has the worst team in the history of the league just as the automobile industry, what made Michigan what it is today, is on life-support.

This was not always the case for Detroit. It was once among the top 4 biggest cities in America with a booming economy based on the auto industry. The region attracted workers from all over the country to work for the Big 3 (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler).

Amongst the many moving to Michigan were a number of Arab-Muslims who have made the Detroit-Dearborn area one of the biggest Muslim populations in the nation. They joined Irish, Italian and Polish and other European immigrants who flocked to the area in search of work (which they usually found).

African-Americans and rural and small town whites from the South and the lower Midwest flocked to the area as well in search of work for the Big 3 and for work in related industries.

All of these groups combined formed a vibrant community built on manufacturing. The community spread from Detroit to the surrounding suburbs to other areas of the state of Michigan such as Flint. For much of the last century Michigan was the place to be and spoken off as a boom state the way many see a Silicon Valley or Research Triangle now.

Several members of my family moved to Detroit during the late 1940’s and the early 1950’s and got good jobs. My grandmother often tells the story of one of these relatives coming to visit her and saying “some people don’t know when they have it made, but I do. I am in Dee-troit and I work for the Ford Motor Company and I have it made.” His brother also had it made in Dee-troit, working for the railroad which fed materials to the auto industry, until he died in a rail accident.

Detroit began to fall apart in the 1960’s from what I understand. Every city in America has race problems; but I think that Detroit is like St. Louis in the sense that the race issue hurt the city so much that it could not function as a vibrant place to live. The Detroit race riots of the 1960’s led to a mass-exodus of whites and an abandonment of the city by the middle-class. What was left behind was a city that was poorer and blacker.

These white Detroit natives moved to the suburbs, but within a decade or two, as the industrial economy and the auto industry began to unravel, these once middle-class prosperous suburbs began to look not so different than the inner-city, only the architecture and complexion was a little different.

Today there are still pockets of wealth in Michigan and areas that are doing relatively well; but as a whole it is a state that is dying and will die unless it reinvents itself. This is not a city-suburb issue today or a race issue; it is an economic and political issue.  Whether the auto-industry gets the bailout they need or not, and whether the industry reforms or not, the auto industry will never be that kind of economic engine for America again.

At the rate things are going much of Michigan will just die off. The young educated people will leave to areas where they can find jobs. Ethnic communities will move to other ethnic enclaves in more prosperous cities (such as Arabs moving to Chicago). African-Americans and whites whose grandparents migrated from the South may opt to go back down South to Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi if they have better job opportunities.

While Detroit is the biggest example of this it is not alone. Cleveland as a metropolitan area is shrinking due to a dying economy. Upstate New York and much of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri and other old-industrial states are just dying out.

In his new economy, with manufacturing outsourced overseas and agriculture done by mega-farms and also overseas, I just do not see how much of the industrial Midwest and some other parts of the country are going to make it.

The new economy is not based on natural resources, skilled industrial workers, and agriculture. It is a knowledge based information economy. If an IT economy is trying to recruit the best young talent and they have a choice to set up shop in Detroit, St. Louis, Buffalo, Pittsburgh or Cleveland or to go someplace with nice-weather like California or Florida, good nature like Oregon, Washington or North Carolina, or a vibrant and diverse big city like New York, Boston, San Francisco, Boston, DC, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta or LA where do you think they will go?

Without intervention from the federal government and a plan to build more things in America and grow more crops here I think within 30 years much of non-coastal America outside of a few places like Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Minnesota and Wisconsin will become deserted. Big cities will become small cities, small cities will become small towns, and small towns will disappear while rural areas are depopulated. All of this is already happening it is just now with global forces at play the pace has quickened.

Conservatives in love with “small government” will be hard -pressed to defend their ideology as much of America shrinks and the standard of living of those left behind more closely resembles that of those in Latin America than North America. The political-left will have to wrestle with the question of whether or not it holds jobs for the masses as a higher value than “green issues” favored by upscale urban liberals.

Regardless to what happens I think Detroit would like to quickly forget 2008 and hope for a better 2009. Maybe the Big 3 will not come back; but at least the Lions may win a game or two.

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8 thoughts on “So Go the Lions, So Goes Detroit

  1. Detroit is the case study for fat cat politicians that looked out for themselves rather than the people.

    While things are bad in cities like Detroit, I do not think that they will completely disappear. The Obama administration is planning to spend nearly a trillion dollars in (long and short term) stimulus money to keep the flowing. Many jobs will be produced in repairing and building infrastructure.

    The wild card is for inner cities to elect COMPETENT and honest leadership to head the cities.

  2. I think it is definitely true that corruption by urban politicians hurt cities for a long period of time, and Detroit and St. Louis are no different, Today it is a region wide problem that extends far beyond the inner-city and into suburbs and small towns. When industry dies everyone is hurt. The Obama money we will have to wait on and see if it is used in a wise-manner.

  3. For those of us not familiar is becoming like East St. Louis a good or bad thing Tariq or Umar?

    myself I think in the long run there will be some form of rebirth of the Midwest but not any time soon. Most likely in ten to twenty years. As more people move from highly urbanized areas to more smaller cities.

    That’s happening near me in Riverside CA. it’s medium size city of over 300,00. As today it’s the fastest growing city in the US.

    Detroit and places like it will depopulate but later people will return. In the future ,I believe, many places like Detroit will become like Atlanta is today.

  4. East St. Louis is outside of St. Louis and one of the poorest and most dangerous places in the nation and it barely functions.

    Actually, people are moving away from small cities to highly urbanized areas because of the economy. Riverside is in the LA MSA ( Metro Statistical Area) and is not really a small city but just a part of the LA region. When people move there they are just moving from one part of the same region to another. Riverside would not exist as you know it without LA just as Alexandria, VA would not exist without DC, Bridgeview without Chicago, etc.

    Whether people return to Detroit and other blighted cities will depend on economic reasons and in this economy that is highly dependent on the federal government.

  5. lol Riverside did exist before Los angelenos & OCers decided to move inland starting back in late 80’s. You’re confusing Riverside with the cities in the valley and in the hills.

    Riverside is NOT suburb nor is it in “greater LA area” it’s in the inland Empire. The place where you can get killed for wearing a LA hat. Despite LA’s gang problem LA Gangs have no major presence nor control of any neighborhood within San Bernardino & riverside counties that’s just shows how much the IE is in the greater LA area. Many people from LA/OC counties do live out here but many more are not from there.

    It’s mistake that many people make to assume that in southern California everything revolves around LA. I guess it’s one of those things only by living here you would know. Kind of like most people don’t know USC is in the ghetto. lol

  6. America has not reached the bottom yet, but when we do, we’ll start going back up inshaAllah.

    Hopefully America has learned the lesson of war and murder and the punishment (dying economy) of this crimes.

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