In one sitting, I enjoyed reading this little book. I think other Detroiters, and ex-Detroiters will too. Outsiders from far away might get it and see their future while nearby suburbanites could learn from it, but if history means anything, they probably won't and won't care. It's a four star effort and worth the read.
That said, I paid my dues in Detroit: born by the bridge, four generations back on my mother's side, family buried in Elmwood, WSU grad, spent half my adult life in the city living at 7 Mile and the Lodge, mostly, working in the schools and for DSS, watching the city disintegrate, leading the resistance to organized decay.
I have only encountered one "Detroit book" that I really hated but have been frustrated by some others; Detroit Dissembled for example, where the text sullies the photos. Detroit Bio could have inverted that by offering one hell of a lot more pictures. But that is a small quibble.
My bigger spat with the author is that he fails to capture the feel of the glory days of Detroit, and the affect of its wreckage. And, as an empire-thinker who doesn't notice the failures of US capitalism and imperialism, able to bribe sections of the mostly white working class for years, then betraying them as it always must, there is a bigger whole he does not witness.
Once, driving or riding a bike down Jefferson, or a walk on Washington Blvd, winter or summer, was to pass through the beauty of the connection of nature, immense trees or white white snow, with the industrial age-magnificent buildings to huddle, or cool off, inside. Then Jefferson became a hub for pre-teen crack whores selling themselves along an avenue of ruined hulks just blocks from the RenCen and Washington became and urban embarrassment with an idiot neon overlay.
Olympia! Where you could nearly touch Gordie, Maurice the Rocket, the Pocket Rocket, and some many greats, and beloved Tiger Stadium with the Bless You Boys summer of Willie, Al, Mickey and so many more. The author seems to not know what it is to have your next door neighbor bang on the door shouting that his lovely neighbor, a beautiful well educated black woman with two delightful kids, has just shot and killed her husband in the middle of the street and still has the gun.
He hasn't seen the hundreds of desperately poor people wandering the halls of 640 Temple, only to meet some, a few, social workers who were as strung out as they were.
I kicked up a pheasant while searching for what was my mother's home, a lovely single family bungalow on Hibbard. Detroit once had more single family homes than any city in the US-thanks to the UAW and the sacrifices of thousands. Now, Hibbard is a field.
Last, he cites as solutions many of the same outside liberals, like the Skillmans, who have failed Detroit repeatedly over decades, well meaning but bumbling. Bing's decades old scheme to shut down sections of the city and force people to move is undoable on the face of it. Who is going to pay?
The CPUSA is a shadow figure in this book when, in reality, that organization controlled large portions of the city council for years, failing in its liberalism and opportunism over and again.
What of the betrayals of the UAW bosses and the other unions in, say, the newspaper strikes or the Mack Avenue Chrysler sit-down led, interestingly, by a grandson of on of the creators of Taylorism?
The schools are only mentioned in the closing epilogue but, clearly, the schools are the source and solution to the problem, now far more serving as a source. Thomas Sugrue did a great job on that, so perhaps Detroit Bio passed in appreciation.
Detroit's great tragedy, beyond the obvious which Detroit Bio rightly notes is racism, is that the city has failed to produce a cadre of honest and competent leaders for about 30 years, maybe more.
Detroit, of course, was always corrupt and Detroit Bio nods to that fact, but doesn't grasp its depth: remember the Little Black Book in Greektown?
White corruption, however, thrived as the city thrived and there was still some booty to share out. Black corruption probably never exceeded white, but when Coleman Young (best thing that every happened to Detroit's real rulers who played him more than he played them, while he played the population) came to power, there was less to pass around every year-eventually nothing but selling drugs and bodies.
The schools bear considerable responsibility for the absence of indigenous Detroit leaders (Detroit Bio might have hammered Dave Bing as what he is, a rich suburbanite way over his head). Taken over repeatedly by stupid, fearful and crooked suburbanites, DPS is now run by an aged former boss at Government Motors-a better example of the failures of US capital and today's corporate state would be hard to find, other than Goldman Sachs. Nobody should expect elites to solve Detroit; they have no interest in it.
But the school workers' force might have, and they have not. Led by a series of inept union bosses, the DFT oversaw the organized ruin of DPS, and did nearly nothing. With thousands of members laid off, with even the elite schools witnessing an exodus of the best teachers, it may be too late to salvage the DFT and DPS as well.
The core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of perpetual war and booming color coded inequality met by the potential of a mass, class conscious, integrated social movement for equality and justice--one that learns from the mistakes of, say, the CPUSA. In the absence of that: barbarism worldwide-and Detroit stands as an example. So, buy the book, check the excellent resources at the end, and dig into Detroit before it catches you.