A story on buying a house Detroit

Yes, I know… buzzfeed… but it’s a pretty moving account of a guy who bought a house in a neighborhood on the east side of Detroit, equal parts full of despair and hope–it’s worth the time to read through it:

My question for you lot is what should be done, if anything about Detroit? Is it too far gone? What about programs like write a house? Are they helpful? What about the bankruptcy and the inability of residents to vote for their own public officials now? Should the city sell off its paintings? What does all this say about the state of capitalism, the US, and even race relations?

Incidentally, I tend to like the buzzfeed long forms. Some of them are really good, like this one.


This one is unbelievably good. Drew did bring up write a house and some other stuff like an urban garden project. He seems to have conflicted feelings on write a house and less conflicted (but not happy) feelings about the urban garden project.

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Yeah, I agree about being conflicted about write a house. On the surface, it sounds really interesting. I could imagine wanting to apply if I thought I could get a job at like Wayne State, which is in downtown detroit, but at the same time, it brings up all sorts of sticky issues that goes along with gentrification. That one block he described sounded pretty amazing and I was ready to pull up stakes and move right in. I think on some level, detroit is a model of what can happen when you have a government almost completely pull out–it does open up opportunities, for both bad stuff and the good. Maybe it’s stuff like this that makes me not entirely unsympathetic to some libertarian arguments, especially if they are representative of the old school Emma Goldman brand of anarcho-syndicalism vs the modern meaning which is tied to Objectivist notions of the modern state as always bad. Sure, no government means you can do things like have an urban farm or make an impromptu skating rink… but it might also mean gun shots near by and people trying to break into your house, making a gun of some sort a necessity.

Another thing that struck me was the protest about the incinerator that’s near that section of detroit, with the out of towners. I think this gets to the whole concept of glocalization. Sure, you can travel around and join in various protests against what you feel are wrongs, but in order to really make a difference (unless you are somehow a high profile person), the most effective strategy seems to me to be to sink roots somewhere and work locally. I suspect maybe that’s the only way to really get anything of note done now a days. But maybe I’m wrong about that…

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No, I think you’re right. Especially illustrated by the group that had a conference there and staged a protest. Left the local community to clean up after them. Sounds like a fucking mess. Can’t be part of the solution if you’re not part of the community.

Detroit is now at roughly 1918 population levels, and it shrunk really fast.

Basically half the population left between 1970 and 2010, Which has obvious implications for … well, everything.

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It is also interesting to me that by the mid 80s “Detroit is terrible” was already a comedy trope:

Sure, but I’m interested in the why and how, and what that means. That’s I think the interesting story the guy is trying to get at. I think I generally buy Thomas Sugrue’s argument in Origins of the Urban Crisis:

I have to say, it also bothers me a little that people are so willing to mock poverty in such a way. On some level, there but for the grace of god (or the FSM) go us. Take NYC, for example… it’s a rich, affluent mecca, but in the late 70s the city went bankrupt. Sure NYC in the 70s gave us punk rock and hip-hop, but what about the social and political impact of the people who lived there and had no choice about it?

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Hmm, I would say it is about the money. The oil crisis starting in 1980, rising oil prices, increasing competition from non US auto manufacturers. The general decline of the US auto industry, which Detroit is the center of.

I am sure race is a contributing factor, but people leave when they can’t find work or make a living first and foremost. Plenty of cities had brutal race policies and didn’t lose half their population in the last 40 years, pick any Deep South hub city you like and compare. Heck, pick Birmingham, Alabama.

True enough… I’m equally skeptical of singular explanations about this sort of thing, but that’s not really waht Sugrue does in his book. Deindustrialization began happening in the 60s and 70s–prior to the first oil crisis in the 70s, and really impacted the rust belt, as many places of business fled to the sunbelt… and this does correlate with the biggest push for job equality in the rust belt. Saying that racism is the singular cause of deindustrialization might be more than stretching it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a factor and a major one at that. We also need to keep in mind that the rust belt was heavily unionized, and many of the jobs that popped up in the south were not unionized and actively kept unions at bay as much as possible. In her book about race and industrial work in the south, the chair of my department, Michelle Brattain argued that race was actively deployed as a wedge to keep shops from being unionized - incidently it’s about my home town, which is kind of neat:


But back to sugrue-- he doesn’t ignore the class dimension, pointing out that African-Americans who had the means did indeed flee the city like their white counterparts, and poor people–disproportionately black–were left to pick up the pieces.

Deep south hubs tended to remain deeply segregated well into my youth and still are to some extent. Atlanta has been seeing a major influx of young, mostly white, affluent people into the city, and people less able to afford rising rents are moving into the inner ring of suburbs. It’s an interesting phenomenon to be sure, and it’s still playing out, I think.

@daneel please do not nuke the DIA, it’s one of the finest museums this nation will ever know. even if the city sells the paintings, the Diego Rivera murals will remain, and it is one of the best things in the world.





this^ is a bench, to give you an idea of the scale.

I’m pretty sure the mass arson was the biggest factor. that started the flight even thought the auto industry was still robust in the late 60s and early 70s

when I was little, I used to fantasize about taking over all the neat old abandoned buildings in Detroit. I applaud those that are figuring out how to do it, BUT I’m not going to join them: I get depressed seasonally and also in the absence of sunshine. Industrial pollution+Great Lakes=grey skies almost always, and winter (brutal, brutal winter) lasts from October to like April or some shit. Fuuuuuuuck that. I’ve done it. I’m not interested in that as an adult who is capable of choosing where he resides.

EDIT: to be clear, I’m totally fine with the living in the lawless-and-decayed part, I just can’t deal with the weather. I crawled around a parking lot on my belly with my camera on a mini tripod to get a shot of some buildings at 1am right by where Woodward Av. starts back in 96-ish.
“Hey man, you need some drugs?”
“yo, check this out, I’ve got some freaky hoes, they’ll do you, me, whoever.”
“I’m good, just getting this flick, thanks.”

That was really dumb of me, I could’ve easily been mugged, but I’ve just never been nervous about that stuff.

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The Anthony Bourdain, “Parts Unknown” on Detroit is quite enlightening.

Turns out you can but a sky scraper there for 5 million dollars. Houses for spare change.

I think my main objection to @daneel would be not nuking the people, but yes, I’d like to save the art, too, especially those works…

oh yeah, that too… durr.

ETA: @Mindysan33 this was a great link, I’m glad you posted it for us.

I’m a bit behind the times, though; what is this negative consensus vis-a-vis Buzzfeed? it’s ordinary content is what? clickbait-y? pedestrian?

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I’ve often found that when I’m crawling around at 1 am with camera gear and run into others they just want to be left alone too. Or if they’re trying to sell me illegal things just want to know if I’m a customer or going to call the cops.

It’s the raccoons I really fear.


That’s probably it. But sometimes I find myself clicking through some of their listicles when I’m avoiding work I need to do…

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I haven’t been to buzzfeed much but every time I have prior to this one has been a bit of a sour experience.

It does seem pretty clickbaity. I have some guilty pleasures on the “pedestrian” side of the street so I don’t think it’s that alone.

Perhaps it’s the relative editorial strength of Cracked’s listicles (more than ever, you must swear off reading comments to bother with Cracked at all), but buzzfeed’s seem low on content and high on meme pics/gifs I’ve mostly seen before.

In terms of entertainment, I’m largely not entertained. In terms of information, I don’t come out of buzzfeed feeling more informed nor even feeling like I’ve been exposed to something that could lead to interesting research. So, I’m not a fan. Saves more for others, though. :slight_smile:

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the more and more you’re in those situations, the more you realize it really is about how you handle yourself. you can be a lone weirdo. you can refuse any advances as long as you are friendly and polite. any combination of fear, nervousness, or belligerence on your part is a huge red flag for the local person. it signals that you might be there to rip them off/cut into their business or rat them out etc. that makes you a problem. If you aren’t a problem for them, there’s no reason for them to become a problem for you.


It seems any time Detroit comes up in any thread, anywhere in the webtubz, inevitably someone posts Daneel’s comment. I’ll bet 1 internet that Daneel has never entered Detroit proper (driving through without getting off the freeway does not count). About 5 million people live in the metro. Must be something here worth not nuking, eh?