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Thread: People Just Don't Understand Detroit

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    People Just Don't Understand Detroit

    Just got the new issue of Planning. I read the letters page. Some writer from Massachussetts suggested some help for Detroit. He suggested that Detroit preserve/rebuild an area and reanimate/program it a la colonial Williamsburg. That idea has been tried, the brainchild of Henry Ford, called Greenfield Village, in nearby Dearborn. So if anyone can say why another faux trip back in time might work in Detroit proper, I'd love to hear how it might work. It might work, maybe, I can't say for sure. But I am tired of hearing all kinds of remedies to help "fix" Detroit. I am not a Detroit apologist, but some ideas just don't make sense to me. Are there any ideas out there planners might have that are serious? That don't sound silly? Any of those pontificators/futurists been to Detroit? Have you seen some of the intact neighborhoods? Been to Wayne State? Seen a game at Comerica Park? Heard the chickens at Eastern Market?

    Yes, there are many shoddy parts to Detroit. And yet there is still much life to see and do in the City, too.

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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    I know I cringe whenever I hear some sort of simplisitic single cause-action approach that professes to fix [fill in city]'s ills. Why if'n they'd just build a big factory or two downtown everybody would have a job and then there'd be lotsa money for schools and streets and flowers in the park and the local Captains of Industry would all be great patrons of the Arts and blah blah blah....

    hey I know Detroit is known as 'motor city' cuz it's famous for makin' cars. Why dont we make a museum/theme park about cars and folks will fly in from all corners of the globe! We could call it "Auto World"!

    Whaddaya mean that name's already been took?
    Last edited by Maister; 16 Jan 2012 at 8:45 AM.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    I don't have an answer for you. One thing is that in Detroit the old factories seem to be in undesirable areas. In Saint Paul, MN, there is a 122 acre Ford plant that just closed down and people are jumping all over each over on what to develop there. It's literally the complete opposite of Detroit's situation. They are thinking luxury condos and shops with light manufacturing. I'l l be blunt when I say it's the demographics of Detroit that scare potential investors away.
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

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    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    When I was in the core of the City a few times last summer, I thought it looked great. It is once you get outside the core that you see the problems. I have often wondered if they could abandon utilities to the area just outside of downtown (where there are currently blocks and blocks of empty lots) and establish a greenbelt around the downtown. Turn it into forest and farm land.

    One interesting question is what is the real problem in Detroit? I personally dont have an answer but I have theories of government corruption and social decay, but I am sure that there is more to it than just that. My Grandfather would tell me stories about being a Detroit City Fire Captain and how much different things were in the 40s and 50s than in the 80s. He once went back to visit his old fire house about 15 years after he had to retire, and he was appalled at the conditions. One of the trucks did not run, the hoses all leaked, nothing was kept up, and there was no sense of pride. The house that he lived in was now part of the ghetto and everyone had bars on their windows.
    It is in situations like this when the idea of civil disobedience and governmental corruption feed off each other that societies fail. It is a double edged sward in one establishes the other that the rest of us are forced out in a quest for safety or sanity.

    I have nothing but love for the City and I have faith that it can/ and will return to greatness again. But I fear that it has a long way down to go before it will get better.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  5. #5
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    My Grandfather would tell me stories about being a Detroit City Fire Captain and how much different things were in the 40s and 50s than in the 80s. He once went back to visit his old fire house about 15 years after he had to retire, and he was appalled at the conditions. One of the trucks did not run, the hoses all leaked, nothing was kept up, and there was no sense of pride. The house that he lived in was now part of the ghetto and everyone had bars on their windows.
    It is in situations like this when the idea of civil disobedience and governmental corruption feed off each other that societies fail. It is a double edged sward in one establishes the other that the rest of us are forced out in a quest for safety or sanity.

    I have nothing but love for the City and I have faith that it can/ and will return to greatness again. But I fear that it has a long way down to go before it will get better.
    I have friends who are fire captains, judges, police officers working in the City. Its not that there is not a sense of pride, its that there is only so long you can go without investing in basic infastructure. I also unfortunately had to move out several months back. The level of disinvestment had got to the point where even my once middle class neighborhood was expierencing horrible issues. I was broken into 3 times, the foreclosed home to the south of me had burned down, and the foreclosed home to the north of me had the windows stolen out of it... all within one month! I wish I could afford to live in one of the fancy areas of the City, but that would be cost prohibitive.

    Growing up in the City, and among parents who were mostly City employees had a profound impact on me. I did not leave a sheltered life, but I still don't think I will fully understand all of the problems here. I am willing to keep trying though.

    I too saw the Williamsburg letter today and just laughed. Absolutely clueless. Many of the worst areas were built after the roaring 20's. Much of the areas that were vibrant in the 1920's are still pretty well lived in today, or already gone.

    Regarding the recently closed Ford Plant in St. Paul, that does not surprise me. We have so many closed facilities throughout the entire region it is mind boggling. We are seeing some redevelopment, but the reality is that these areas take up so much land area and we are a shrinking region. On the plus side we are filling one: I recently found out we are going to be manufacturing televisions which will build upon the engineering, manufacturing, and distribution assets the region has and diversifying the goods that we make.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    One thing that really surprises me is the huge level of vacant lots inside Detroit city limits. Even in the worst neighborhoods in the Twin Cities there are still full blocks and no empty lots. If something is burned down it gets rebuilt.

    Detroitplanner, can you give us the three sentence synopsis of why Detroit has fallen so hard? Is it simply all their eggs in one basket or demographics, or what?
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    How can Detroit even begin to overcome the lack of decades worth of infrastructure investment when their tax base continues to decline? I mean the scale of the issue is more than what a single city can deal with. I just don't see their being much potential for government assistance due austerity practices and Detroit's history of corruption though.

    The idea I keep coming to is why doesn't Detroit unincorporate large sections of the city so other suburbs can maybe annex part of it to share the burden? Is Detroit such a no man's land that something like this isn't even viable?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Blide View post
    How can Detroit even begin to overcome the lack of decades worth of infrastructure investment when their tax base continues to decline? I mean the scale of the issue is more than what a single city can deal with. I just don't see their being much potential for government assistance due austerity practices and Detroit's history of corruption though.

    The idea I keep coming to is why doesn't Detroit unincorporate large sections of the city so other suburbs can maybe annex part of it to share the burden? Is Detroit such a no man's land that something like this isn't even viable?
    It's not that it's a no-man's land. It's that there is still a pervasive "us" versus "them" attitude that trickles down from the City Council.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  9. #9
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    Moderator note:
    split from RTDNTOTO

    I know I cringe whenever I hear some sort of simplisitic single cause-action approach that professes to fix [fill in city]'s ills. Why if'n they'd just build a big factory or two downtown everybody would have a job and then there'd be lotsa money for schools and streets and flowers in the park and the local Captains of Industry would all be great patrons of the Arts and blah blah blah....
    You hear the same thing out of the armchair planners in Buffalo, many of which still believe in silver bullet fixes.

    One thing impressed me about Detroit's residential neighborhoods; where they are intact, the housing is gorgeous; solid, brick/frame Craftsman-style housing from the 1920s, most of which is architecturally intact. Buffalo's mostly frame vernacular housing stock from the same era is altered beyond recognition. The intact portions of Detroit's bunalow belt seemed to weather the aluminum and vinyl siding craze far better than Buffalo's equivalent neighborhods. Detroit also had the benefit of somewhat larger building lots and shorter blocks than Buffalo. Buffalo's extremely dense single family-dominated bungalow belt neighborhoods made for some vibrant shopping districts in their day, but the residential blocks aged poorly for the most part.

    Detroit bungalow belt (Chandler Park): http://g.co/maps/cfmkz
    Buffalo bungalow belt (Kensington; my childhood neighborhood): http://g.co/maps/39yz4

    Shrink in a smart manner, concentrating its population into those remaining intact neighborhoods, would be a great start.

    A few things Buffalo has that Detroit doesn't: ethnic and racial diversity, decent public schools in lower middle class and better-off neighborhoods, old money families and their accompanying institutions (exclusive private schools, private clubs, etc) which remained in the city for the most part, and vibrant hipster/urban mommy-friendly neighborhoods like Allentown, North Buffalo and Elmwood Village. The "blue ghetto" of police officers and firefighters remains in the city limits. In the Buffalo area, the best restaurants are generally located in the city more so than the 'burbs. This may sound politically incorrect, but whites and Asians don't consider Buffalo off-limits in the same way their peers in southeast Michigan consider Detroit. White and Asian city are a curiosity in Detroit; in Buffalo they don't register as out of the ordinary.

    The ANC in post-apartheid South Africa acknowledged that they needed the white population, and their money and skills, if the reborn Rainbow Nation was to have a fighting chance at success. What about Detroit's city leaders?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  10. #10
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    Detroitplanner, can you give us the three sentence synopsis of why Detroit has fallen so hard? Is it simply all their eggs in one basket or demographics, or what?
    Much of Detroit is/was covered by single family homes and factories. Like so many other places the suburbs represented paradise. The manufacturing base dwindled, but we still are an engineering and tech center. In the 1930's the Ford Model T plant employed 40,000 working 4.5 shifts pushing cars out. Today an assembly line can get the same amount of productivity from a few thousand worker working 2 shifts. Therefore, over time we had too many factories and fewer jobs. Increased competition from outside producers also had an impact. Many of these producers either put production overseas or in areas where politicos gave away the farm to lure them to places like the south. These places also had the benefit of having lower wages, but this was a trade off as most of the suppliers are still in the area surrounding Lake Erie. The region has however secured many of the engineering jobs of outside competitors (nearly all auto companies have a presence here, and the area is seen as an innovator for engineering).

    Blight ensues, property values drop, tax revenues drop, the cost differential between living in the really nice suburbs with good schools in the metro and the City proper blur, hence the fall into Dante's seven layers of hell. Heck even cheap @$$es like myself and WSU can afford to live in some of the wealthiest suburbs in the region on our salaries! In fact moving from my small bungalow in the City to 48170 gave me 400 additional sq feet, an attached garage, and dropped my monthly bills by $80 a month (thanks mostly to savings in car and auto insurance).

    So yeah a lot of it lies in being like New York's garment district on steroids. The movement is there to diversify, but we also need to be cognizant that we need to keep momma happy (GM, Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, Mazda, Hyundai/Kia, Isuzu). Cuz if momma ain't happy nobody's happy.
    Last edited by DetroitPlanner; 18 Jan 2012 at 11:37 AM.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  11. #11
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Buffalo bungalow belt (Kensington; my childhood neighborhood): http://g.co/maps/39yz4
    All those driveways are ugllllly. Alleys are the way to go!
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    I read this the other day and immediately thought of this thread:

    A Disney-esque automotive attraction for Detroit could rev up Motor City

    Thank goodness cooler heads are offering helpful rebuttals:

    Another AutoWorld? Just think of the fun rides we could go on

    It's hard not being snarky about all this. But since the head of Quicken is furthering the conversation on this, his idea might have legs. In Michigan, we're not that far from Cedar Point or Kings Island, so it would be interesting to know if there would be market overlap with such a thing, or if it is so unique that it just might be feasible.

    Myself? I am skeptical. But if it looked like this, then my opinion could change.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    I don't have an answer for you. One thing is that in Detroit the old factories seem to be in undesirable areas. In Saint Paul, MN, there is a 122 acre Ford plant that just closed down and people are jumping all over each over on what to develop there. It's literally the complete opposite of Detroit's situation. They are thinking luxury condos and shops with light manufacturing. I'l l be blunt when I say it's the demographics of Detroit that scare potential investors away.
    St Paul is the state capital and Minneapolis has the U of Minnesota which gives the metro a huge, stable base of middle income professional and administrative jobs that profoundly affects the local economy for the better. I lived in Albany, NY for a dozen years, and Albany, less than half the size of Buffalo, had both the state capital and SUNY Albany, so I've seen this first hand. I think that you will find that the metros of most state capitals are considerably more prosperous than the cities around them, especially the cities that depended upon manufacturing, and especially heavy industry.

    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I have friends who are fire captains, judges, police officers working in the City. Its not that there is not a sense of pride, its that there is only so long you can go without investing in basic infastructure. I also unfortunately had to move out several months back. The level of disinvestment had got to the point where even my once middle class neighborhood was expierencing horrible issues. I was broken into 3 times, the foreclosed home to the south of me had burned down, and the foreclosed home to the north of me had the windows stolen out of it... all within one month! I wish I could afford to live in one of the fancy areas of the City, but that would be cost prohibitive.

    Growing up in the City, and among parents who were mostly City employees had a profound impact on me. I did not leave a sheltered life, but I still don't think I will fully understand all of the problems here. I am willing to keep trying though.

    I too saw the Williamsburg letter today and just laughed. Absolutely clueless. Many of the worst areas were built after the roaring 20's. Much of the areas that were vibrant in the 1920's are still pretty well lived in today, or already gone.

    Regarding the recently closed Ford Plant in St. Paul, that does not surprise me. We have so many closed facilities throughout the entire region it is mind boggling. We are seeing some redevelopment, but the reality is that these areas take up so much land area and we are a shrinking region. On the plus side we are filling one: I recently found out we are going to be manufacturing televisions which will build upon the engineering, manufacturing, and distribution assets the region has and diversifying the goods that we make.
    I think what we are seeing with many cities in the "Rust Belt", and possibly elsewhere, is that the middle class, especially the bottom of the middle class, is being driven out of the cities by crime, declining quality of life, and poor public schools. The wealthy and upper middle class who can afford security systems, only inhabit "selected" areas, and send their kids to private schools find city life "wonderful". Other people, NOT so much.

    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    You hear the same thing out of the armchair planners in Buffalo, many of which still believe in silver bullet fixes.

    One thing impressed me about Detroit's residential neighborhoods; where they are intact, the housing is gorgeous; solid, brick/frame Craftsman-style housing from the 1920s, most of which is architecturally intact. Buffalo's mostly frame vernacular housing stock from the same era is altered beyond recognition. The intact portions of Detroit's bunalow belt seemed to weather the aluminum and vinyl siding craze far better than Buffalo's equivalent neighborhods. Detroit also had the benefit of somewhat larger building lots and shorter blocks than Buffalo. Buffalo's extremely dense single family-dominated bungalow belt neighborhoods made for some vibrant shopping districts in their day, but the residential blocks aged poorly for the most part,

    Detroit bungalow belt (Chandler Park): http://g.co/maps/cfmkz
    Buffalo bungalow belt (Kensington; my childhood neighborhood): http://g.co/maps/39yz4

    Shrink in a smart manner, concentrating its population into those remaining intact neighborhoods, would be a great start.

    A few things Buffalo has that Detroit doesn't: ethnic and racial diversity, decent public schools in lower middle class and better-off neighborhoods, old money families and their accompanying institutions (exclusive private schools, private clubs, etc) which remained in the city for the most part, and vibrant hipster/urban mommy-friendly neighborhoods like Allentown, North Buffalo and Elmwood Village. The "blue ghetto" of police officers and firefighters remains in the city limits. In the Buffalo area, the best restaurants are generally located in the city more so than the 'burbs. This may sound politically incorrect, but whites and Asians don't consider Buffalo off-limits in the same way their peers in southeast Michigan consider Detroit. White and Asian Detroiters are a curiosity; in Buffalo whites and Asians don't register as out of the ordinary.

    The ANC in post-apartheid South Africa acknowledged that they needed the white population, and their money and skills, if the reborn Rainbow Nation was to have a fighting chance at success. What about Detroit's city leaders?
    I think that Dan is dead-on except on the schools issue. The biggest impediment to Buffalo turning itself around is the fact that the Buffalo public schools are in bad shape. Buffalo has a tradition of supporting a dual school system going back probably a century, and that's the problem. Too large a percentage of Buffalonians have never bought into the idea of public schools in the way that residents of other cities and certainly suburban residents have. Only in Buffalo in Upstate NY has a dual education system of public and charter schools developed. In fact, Buffalo may have a higher percentage of students attending charters than even NYC. The plain fact is that the city can't afford to fund 1 decent school system, much less two. It also can't afford to have a bunch of 400 student high schools, either, but it has them because of politics in the city education department, but that's another thread. If Buffalo could reconfigure it's schools and stop busing students all over the city (another money-waster), it might actually start attracting people back into neighborhoods rather than pushing them outside the city limits to suburbs like Kenmore and Tonawanda.
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

  14. #14
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wannaplan? View post
    So if anyone can say why another faux trip back in time might work in Detroit proper, I'd love to hear how it might work. It might work, maybe, I can't say for sure.
    Not too long ago, TexanOkie introduced me to a video produced by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce: Be a part of a city on the rise: Oklahoma City



    What impressed me about the video was that it was very forward looking; it emphasized the city's emergent nature, its bright future, and what's in it for people who might move there. Oklahoma City is depicted as an aspirational city for young professionals, and there is no shortage of scenes showing crowds of people at hip restaurants, art galleries, concerts and the like.

    Compare that to the latest effort from the Buffalo Convention and Visitor's Bureau, Buffalo For Real. It dwells on past glories and the city's "authenticity". Lots of old buildings, lots of art, but few people actually having fun, and very few young professionals.



    Collectively, Detroit seems to be making the same mistake. It's dwelling on its Motor City past, instead of looking beyond that.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    In the spirit of this thread, I feel the need to inquire further about this statement -

    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Collectively, Detroit seems to be making the same mistake. It's dwelling on its Motor City past, instead of looking beyond that.
    Really?

    Observers of cities in decline will tell you that the causes of that decline are complex and cannot be reduced to a singular mistake. Assets and opportunities in declining cities are also hard to come by, and when all you've got left is your history, at least that's something worthwhile and worthy of pride. What else could the marketers at such a Chamber of Commerce hang their hat on? There's no need here to apologize for Detroit, though to be fair, let's cut some slack to the Chambers of Commerce for potentially lacking the creativity and vision on the best way(s) at cracking the What-Makes-My-City-Special-nut.

    Of course, if one were to spend a week-end in Detroit, there would be scenes abound in the City with crowds of people at hip restaurants, at art galleries, and at concerts.

    I think I know the answer to this, but given that all cities are complex entities, I wonder, what is it that still makes people think Detroit can be so easily distilled into that one mistake or that it is in need of one big easy solution?
    Last edited by Wannaplan?; 31 Jan 2013 at 4:28 PM. Reason: Added some clarity to my point (I hope).

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Newark, NJ has many things in common with Detroit. Although nowhere near as big geographically or population wise, it's suffered many of the same issues: industrial decline, white flight, subpar housing stock, property investors/speculators resulting in 20% homeownership rates, many renditions of corrupt government (most resulting in prison sentences), huge tracts of vacant land owned by a variety of public entities without hope of development, kooky real estate deals for the developer that have come in that add few ratables to the tax rolls and fewer jobs for actual residents, and non-preforming public schools. While the downtown is going through some redevelopment in the past few years, it's largely because it's cheaper to locate in Newark than in Hoboken, Jersey City or New York yet it still has excellent transportation connections with them. The residential areas with the exception of the Forest Hill neighborhood haven't seen any concerted effort by the city to improve housing conditions, streetscaping, or much of anything else.

    Brick City Development Corporation actively promotes the downtown development but not much else.

    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  17. #17
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    I went back to Detroit last year for the first time in a decade (only for funerals and weddings), and took DW. She was blown away by all of it, including the widespread - even in the inner-ring suburbs - lack of care and attention to detail. When you look at the built environment in places where people actually want to be, there is at least a pretense of caring.
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  18. #18
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    If Washington DC can turn it around Detroit can as well.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Not too long ago, TexanOkie introduced me to a video produced by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce: Be a part of a city on the rise: Oklahoma City



    What impressed me about the video was that it was very forward looking; it emphasized the city's emergent nature, its bright future, and what's in it for people who might move there. Oklahoma City is depicted as an aspirational city for young professionals, and there is no shortage of scenes showing crowds of people at hip restaurants, art galleries, concerts and the like.

    Compare that to the latest effort from the Buffalo Convention and Visitor's Bureau, Buffalo For Real. It dwells on past glories and the city's "authenticity". Lots of old buildings, lots of art, but few people actually having fun, and very few young professionals.



    Collectively, Detroit seems to be making the same mistake. It's dwelling on its Motor City past, instead of looking beyond that.
    IMO, the biggest impediment to Buffalo turning itself around is its so-called "leaders" in politics, business, and the media (ie, the local newsrag). They constantly brainwash locals into believing, among other things:
    • there are no decent jobs in the Buffalo area ...
    • there are no assets in Buffalo area ...
    • there are no young people in Buffalo ...
    • everybody in Buffalo is poor ...
    • NYC is draining all of Buffalo's wealth ...
    • Buffalo's public sector jobs, especially high level elective and appointive offices, exist only to provide employment for family and friends ...
    • there can be no better way to do things than the way Buffalo has always done them ...
    • Buffalo's past leaders never made god-awful mistakes and should be canonized for sainthood at least ...
    • Buffalo would be prospering now if only the Buffalo Bills football stadium and the SUNY Buffalo campus had been built "downtown" but those were all on "Albany" ...

    I don't know if they believe their own propaganda, but they sure do spread it around ad nauseum, and the locals, especially the ones who have never lived anywhere else, just parrot their bull manure like a huge Greek chorus. The people who look to improve the city tend to be either people from somewhere else (even young people with decent jobs!) or locals who have returned from living somewhere else.
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

  20. #20
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Forbes article about what people can learn from Detroit.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshlink...id-detroit-mi/
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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