Sunday, October 5, 2008

A manifesto from Detroit

A realistic, yet hopeful manifesto from Detroit's Vanessa Miller that could apply to Flint:

"Some call Detroit the most modern City in the world — a prediction of the future of all cities based on the fact that more cities are losing population then gaining. Between 1950 and 2003 Detroit lost half of its population (-50.2%) while the surrounding areas grew 171.3%. We are losing people at a rate of about 2 people per day. Ten years ago Detroit's average income was half that of the suburbs, and in 2002 26.1% of Detroit's inhabitants lived below the poverty level.

"However, I see a different city every day I walk out my door. I want to show a different picture of what has been left behind in modern Detroit and the people who are here making a difference.

"Things like my neighbors walking their dogs, and people helping each other at the bike shop don’t make national headlines. But together not only can we make this city the place we want to live, we can show the world that even though some left, what remains is strong, young and putting up a fight."


  1. Here I go again, crapping all over the young bohemians, but...

    I'm sure the alley cat bike races, illegal shows, be-ins / happenings at the Trumbell Theater and all the other stuff college age kids can take advantage of in a decaying metropolis are personally rewarding... I know I've attended a few shindigs at the Trumbell. Y'see, I'm a bitter, washed up old hipster myself... but...

    imagainethepossibilitism has made nary a difference for over 40 years. Youthful optimism and hope is great, but most of these young artists will soon pack their bags for Portland or New York or Providence or the Bay Area and look back on their days in Detroit with whimsical nostalgia. Afterall, urban slumming is really just an exercise in subculture street cred resume building. Again, it can be a great personal experience, but the total impact of your workshares and infoshops is nil. Sure, a few kids may stick around but they usually turn into boring old hippies who incessantly hand out flyers for various political protests that have turn outs of in the dozens. The multitudes of mediocre artists, musicians, writers, and amateur bike mechanics will eventually move on to a readymade underground mecca.

    I'm sure Vanessa is a truly amazing person, probably someone you'd like to know, but put a lid on it already. The shrinking cities scholars are just as bad at prognostication as christian doomsday preachers. Detroit is no more the city of the future than Carthage or Phoenix or Port Moresby or Atlantis is. Have fun in Detroit- help a few kids fix up their bikes, set up a substandard guerrilla art show, feed a few dozen homeless folks, critical mass all the live long last Friday, and have fun when you move to Austin. If you decide to stay, try to think of something original to do... one more commie flyer placed in my cold, dying hands for the upcoming protest in Hart Plaza and I'll have a brain aneurysm. Good riddance.

  2. vitriol is an understatement. bitter? cyanide is sweeter than this rant on negativism. There will always be people who'll receive some lurid satisfaction by running down the efforts of others, mainly because they never do shit themselves. go ahead and be the prick who pops the bubbles, I place greater value on someone of Valerie's ilk than I do w/oxygen thieves like you. I know you won't print this GY, and frankly who gives a double standard flying fuck? you two can go and pull on each other's egos. This is a waste of time and energy.

  3. Bustdup, you're probably right, but ya can't go getting so worked up about stuff you read on the internet.

    I'd never say this to Valerie's face and why would I? There is nothing wrong with anonymously venting. She chose to put her stuff out for the world to see. As long as you're not threatening or totally crude I don't see anything wrong with a counter argument even if it makes me look like a negative nancy.

    Yeah, this blog is a waste of time, but so is the internet in general and television and solitaire and stamp collecting and on and on and on. Most conversations are a waste of time and this is really just a high tech conversation.

    I've enjoyed your posts in the past and I've got at least 50 or 60 more years to kill so please don't throw in the towel just cuz of a little pee and vinegar. You can't spend your entire life being productive. I'll bet even Gandhi talked trash some of the time.

    So to sum up, you're right about negative attitudes, but you shouldn't just quit something you like to do because of someone else's occasional jerkiness.

  4. Bustup, relax man. Most things in life are a waste of time if you get right down to it, but that doesn't mean they can't have some meaning. It's not like I think my scans of Safetyville tickets is changing the world.

    But I do think your comments add to an understanding of Flint and what's happening there. So keep commenting.

    And I refuse to pull on Wurstside's ego.

  5. Hey bustdup, I think you're mostly right. I'll try to be less of a jerk as long as you don't quit posting. You're one of the most consistently interesting commenters here.

    Gordo, you don't have to pull on my ego if you don't wanna, but whatever you do keep your hands offa my id.

  6. I would say the real challenge for any city is producing enough wealth to raise the standard of living for the majority of its inhabitants. Flint and Detroit had it, and lost it. It's not to say that wealth is equal to happiness, or quality of life, or hipness, or anything else, but in my travels when alot of people are scraping to get by, there is very little room for the things that make a place truly great. There was a time when Flint produced something the world wanted and the rewards for that rained down upon the town. It allowed people to stay home, raise kids, volunteer, build an arts community, hospitals, safetyvilles, etc. So the question is what will power prosperity going forward? looking out on the horizon (albeit from Atlanta), I see Flint (be it its Government, Industry, Technology, Education system, workforce, or natural resources) as being FAR from ready to catch the next wave of anything. Genetic technolgies? Green transit? Alternative energy? Let's face it, the town is ready to build car like stuff again, but I don't think that call is coming.

  7. Well, there was that piece about the Chevy Volt plant. That could be the start of a turn around.

    Alot of people say the unions got too strong and that's why the company's left. I'm sure there's more to it than that (ie. CEO greed?, local taxes?). If anyone has insight into this, let me know. It can't just be globalization...

    But am glad Chevrolet decided to place that plant in Flint. Let's face it, the real estate is cheap.

  8. I've only just now come across Würstside Warlord's thoroughly acidic and generally hostile rant about the efforts of Vanessa Miller and others like her, and here I mean not just the so-called "young bohemians" he refers to, but all those who make an effort to find and/or create something positive about the negative environment they live in as well as those who cooperate at the neighborhood level to make things just a little safer. What the f are you supposed to do, WW, just sit there in total inertia and let it all disintegrate around you? That "it won't change so why bother" attitude is not only apathetic, it's just plain pathetic. Yeah, maybe a lot of the people you refer to will all move somewhere else at some point. Why? Because they CAN and for all the usual reasons, but in the meantime are they all supposed to just drop every community effort, whether block clubs, joint security watches, collecting the neighbor's mail when they are away, helping each other at the bike shop, putting on an art show, bringing the neighbor a meal when their spouse passes away, and the countless other small efforts that show a bit of humanity to those who have NO OTHER F'in OPTION but to stay? If all you can say is "good riddance" to those small efforts, whether they effect large-scale change or not, then I have on other choice but to agree with your self-description as "bitter" and "washed up." I'll understand if you don't print this geewhy, but I would certainly appreciate it if you send it to him personally.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at