Posted by: Tony Carson | 26 October, 2009

Picking at the corpse of a once proud body politic

No one likes to see someone down on his luck. It’s troubling, it’s depressing and it hits us where it really hurts: in the ego: there but for the grace of God go I.

But a man is one thing, a whole city of men is another.

We’ve all watched the once-great city of Detroit catch its disease and slowly wither away. We weren’t there, but we’ve heard about it; we’ve seen the pictures; we’ve watched the drive-by footage. Mesmerized. Where was the healthcare?

Abandonment, social rot, urban decay. We see bits of it in our own communities, bits at the margins. And we try to do something about it … or we turn away. But only the really cruel can turn away from the wreckage of the Motor City. It appears totalled. A write-off. A dark and forgotten corner in the junkyard of history.

Detroit is now the icon of the Rust Belt, a withering testimony to contemporary manufacturing, unionism and economic stability. They’re all gone, or going. Everywhere. The products, the jobs, the predictable future.

If we can’t pull Detroit out of its morass, what about the next big city and the next?

It must have been a truly pathetic scene. Almost 9,000 Detroit homes were up for auction, seized for their back taxes. Put together they would be the size of NYC’s Central Park. Total vacant land within Detroit now occupies an area almost the size of Boston.

As this Reuters article, Detroit house auction flops for urban wasteland, points out despite a minimum bid of $500, less than a fifth of the Detroit land was sold after four days of the most ambitious one-stop attempts to sell off urban property since the real-estate market collapse. It was the second try to find buyers since September.

It is a typically American approach, and highly laudable, that regeneration of a city be left to the forces of the marketplace. But how much profit is there in this amount of decay?

And what is the message of the city as carrion? Who really benefits by watching profiteers picking at the corpse of a once proud body politic?


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