Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis

Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis



The Pequod Review:

Detroit City Is the Place to Be is probably the best book yet on the subject of Detroit's decades-long economic decline. Mark Binelli doesn’t approach the subject with a predetermined political agenda, but instead takes an intelligent and nuanced perspective on the various contributing (and reinforcing) causes:

Just as various factors converged perfectly to make Detroit the Motor City, so did harsh new realities conspire to steal the title away: the automakers’ desire to escape the strong local unions, which benefited southern states; the lure of the low business taxes offered by the new suburbs, which could get by with less revenue, having far fewer expenses than an aging city like Detroit, with its larger, more impoverished population; pressure from the pentagon for industry to move, with cold war leaders, afraid of nuclear strikes, convinced that the cluster of American military production in Detroit posed a threat; and the simple need for more land.  It was much more difficult to expand a preexisting plant, let alone build a modern new facility, in a congested, older city, as opposed to the open fields of the suburbs.

Binelli also notes that: (1) the 1968 riots are often cited as an inflection point, but the declines actually started at least fifteen years earlier as racial issues and a weak auto industry caused the city's population to fall 17% from 1950 to 1968; (2) a core problem today is the dispersed nature of the city; as a comparison, Detroit is 139 square miles while the city of San Francisco (despite having 30% more people) is only 47 square miles; and (3) the land area of Detroit’s abandoned property, which is unhelpfully spread across the entire city, is more than double the size of Manhattan.