Decay of the US Motor City and its current status
*Title footnote: Name, address, and email address for the corresponding author; acknowledgements, credits and research grant information
Cities are often considered the heart of every great nation or province as it is the center for politics, economic and social development. Many cities were made to commemorate the historical significance of the location, while others were established to mark the changes that has originated from the location. People would often flock these cities in order to conduct business or sometimes, settle for their families. However, in recent years, there is a growing concern rising around the globe regarding cities which are now falling in a state of decay. In the United States, this concern is becoming visible with the decay of some of its cities, namely Detroit, Michigan. The city fell on a state of decline due to the failing automobile industry, the increase of citizen unrest due to poverty and racial discrimination, and political and financial incapacity of the city administration.
Detroit has been considered one of the most diverse regions in the United States thanks to the discovery of French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac in 1701. According to the Official Website of the City of Detroit (2004) and Swaminathan (2011), Cadillac was assigned as the region’s outpost commander and commandeered the development of the site, only to be removed nine years later due to ill conduct. The French continued to develop the region until the British Empire took the region in 1760. Detroit was then given back to the United States in 1796 after the application of the Jay’s Treaty. It became a city in 1815 and was assigned as the final stop on the Underground Railroad. Its industry flourished as a result of the city’s inclusion to the railroad permitted its cigar and kitchen range industry to aid in the development of the city . Unfortunately, progress had to restart after the great fire in 1805 that destroyed the entire settlement. Reconstruction then concentrated on using a wheel-and-spoke-layout to prevent the onset of similar occurrences in the future. Most of the city’s early population came from foreign lands, allowing the population to grow to 21,000 people .
However, it was in 1896 when the city became known as the Motor City when Henry Ford built his first car in the area. While the automobile industry had already been flourishing in the country due to European influence, Ford’s method had been revolutionary as he permitted mass production of automobile production through his assembly line system. Many companies also established their firms to the area, and flourished greatly by the Second World War. The production capacity of these companies enabled easier mobilization for the Allied Powers. The automobile industry had also brought in another industry and that is the establishment of Motown Records. Motown was founded by Berry Gordy Jr. with an $800 family loan but managed to bring several world greats such as Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Diana Ross and Michael Jackson .
Unfortunately, Detroit found itself in a steady state of decline while the city is basking in the glory and steady development of its automobile industry. The failing automobile industry is considered one of the major reasons why Detroit slowly started decaying, especially after the Second World War. According to Boyle (2001), automobile companies started to lay off workers due to the application of machines to improve their production capabilities. Some of them also started to divide their jobs and sent them out of the state for better efficiency and diversity. Further adding to the problem were the decline in manufacturing jobs and the rise in racial discrimination in the city . According to Richburg (2001), there were growing race riots in the city as white Americans protested against working alongside blacks in the assembly lines. Black residents also raised their concerns and protested against the red-lining of several neighborhoods that blacks can use. Some establishments also prohibited blacks in their shops and stores even in emergencies. City-wide riots started to occur in various neighborhoods to protest with regards to their situation. Properties were slowly becoming dilapidated and there was an onset of crime around the city .
The government had tried to revive the city upon the onset of the racial tensions and the steady decline of its industries. According to Boyle (2001), the lack of powerful forces to incite change disabled progress in restoring order in the city and confront the issues of deindustrialization and racism. Eventually, automobile companies started moving out of Detroit, triggering the onset of poverty and unemployment that only stoked the unrest in the city. The remaining white leaders had also caused further issues when they started targeting blacks. However, when Jerome Cavanagh became mayor, some efforts were done to try reviving the city. This enabled the growth of black owned businesses, like Motown, to prosper; but it was not enough to sustain the war against poverty and the government was too weak to affect major concerns in the city .
The loss of many investments and the poor management decisions done by the remaining industries and the government eventually disabled Detroit from keeping up with their fellow cities in the next coming years. Borney, Snavely and Priddle (2013) reported that after several attempts to revive the city, the city government admitted that the city has finally hit rock bottom and bankrupted. The city was under an $18 billion debt due to the continuous reign of violence and lack of investment. With the court permitting Detroit to receive aid while under Category 9 bankruptcy, Detroit officials hope that they would be able to introduce debt payment and city recovery proposals to enable easier adjustment and restructuring to occur .
If one looks at Detroit today and compared it to Detroit 14 years ago, it is clear recovery for the once great city would take a while to take root. On the one hand, both Detroit today and Detroit in the past is not too different considering that it is still on decline and many have abandoned the city since the decline became visible. On the other hand, unlike before that the city was left to become a ghost town, the state has now intervened and launched several programs to revive the city. While the state remains uncertain as to how they can boost Detroit back into the map, the fact action is done to restore the city is promising. Should a solution be found to revive the city, Detroit may become a household name once again and no longer be seen as an ailing city.
Bomey, Nathan, Brent Snavely, and Alisa Priddle. 2013. "Detroit becomes largest U.S. city to enter bankruptcy." USA Today. December 3. Accessed November 21, 2014. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/12/03/detroit-bankruptcy-eligibility/3849833/.
Boyle, Kevin. 2001. "The Ruins of Detroit: Exploring the Urban Crisis in the Motor City." Michigan Historical Review 27 (1): 109-127.
2004. "Detroit History." City of Detroit Official Website. Accessed November 22, 2014. http://www.detroitmi.gov/residents/aboutdetroit/detroithistory.aspx.
Richburg, Keith. 2013. "Decades of racial unease in Detroit led to decay." The Journal Gazette, July 21: 1A.
Swaminathan, Nikhil. 2011. "The pre-motor city." Archaeology 64 (6).