Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Michigan and cities

This piece rambles a bit.

Craig Ruff at Dome Magazine has an interesting series of stories on cities in Michigan. I agree and disagree with parts of it, but it is worth a read. The first one is Does Michigan Need Cities and the second one is The race factor.

Ruff and I have our biases. He says Michiganian for one. I have yet to know what a Michiganian is, but I know what a Michigander is. He's a Saginaw guy and grew up there. I'm from Livingston County before it became considered a exurban or suburb area. I was here pre-sprawl. Across the street from the house where I grew up used to be nothing but woods on two sides. Most of the subdivisions that propped up within 2 miles of the place were from the time I was in High School or afterward. The road is still gravel, and I hope it stays that way. I prefer the country or small towns.

One thing that we do agree on is that what happens in Michigan cities do effect the entire state, directly or indirectly.

From Ruff's article:
Do cities still matter? They surely do. They headquarter corporations, jobs, government, cultural legacies, and entertainment. Because of so many producers and retailers, consumers benefit from relatively low prices for higher quality goods and a plethora of choices. Talent thrives when confronted by a critical mass of other talent.

I'll give you the HQ for government (Lansing), cultural legacies, and entertainment, although the biggest museum in the Detroit area is Dearborn. Cultural legacies are in both cities and suburbs. Entertainment is mostly in the suburbs outside of Downtown. Corporations are in both in cities and suburbs. Most of the jobs are in the suburbs. Technically, the suburbs are cities and incorporated as such outside of occasional urban townships like Redford. Low prices? I can get lower prices at Meijers than I could in Detroit.

Young people flock to cities. They ditch their cars and ride public transit. They shop and play within walking distance of their apartments. Tourists, too, love cities because of their cultural and entertainment vitality and their historical treasures.

Cities are gritty and not simple. We put up with the often ill-tempered mood of frenzied residents and with jam-packed, sweat-laden buses and trains and horrific traffic. High prices. Dinky dwellings. Tons more concrete than greenery. Crime. Often poor schools. But for at least half of human history, the more people who live in a place, the more people who want to live there.

I never ditched my truck, even in college. In fact the fact I had my truck made me popular with many classmates who didn't have it, especially on those nights where I decided not to get hammered. There's benefits and drawbacks to cities. The entertainment is much better in East Lansing compared to here, but Livingston County is home. As far as tourism goes, where do Michiganders usually go on vacation? Up North.

Against the grain of history and in contrast to most populous states, the last couple of generations of Michiganians have eschewed cities. Of our 20 most populous cities, 15 lost people between 2000 and 2010. The gainers (Sterling Heights, Dearborn, Troy, Wyoming, and Rochester Hills) lie outside the central cities of their regions (Detroit and Grand Rapids). In these 10 years, some cities lost astounding percentages of residents: Detroit (25 percent), Flint (18 percent), Pontiac (10.3 percent), and Southfield (8.4 percent).

Michigan’s population declined by 54,852 between 2000 and 2010. Detroit lost 237,493 people and the remaining 19 largest cities recorded a net loss of another 66,000 souls. Were it not for the outflow from our largest cities, the state would have shown a gain of a quarter million people during the aughts.

A lot of ex-city dwellers prefer many things about small towns and country compared to the city. Better schools, less crime, less taxes, land, nature. Detroit's taxes are higher than even the Grosse Pointes. 62 mills. Plus the income tax.

That's not unique to Michigan though. It's not against the grain. It's typical of older cities in the Midwest, ultra-hyped Chicago has lost 1 million people since 1950. Milwaukee 150,000 since 1960. Toledo 100,000 since 1970. Cincinnati 207,000 since 1960. Cleveland 520,000 since 1950. Minneapolis 130,000 since 1950. St Paul 18000 since 1960. St Louis 540,000 since 1950. Gary 100,000 since 1960. South Bend 30,000 since 1960.

The exceptions. Kansas City rebounded to 489000. It's down from 507,000 in 1970 but is higher than 1990 numbers of 435,000. Same with Des Moines at 203,000. Down from 208,000 but higher than 193,000. At their peak currently, Indianapolis is at 839,489 and has passed Detroit. Columbus is at 787,033. Madison is at 233,000. Omaha at 409,000. Sioux Falls 153,888. Fargo 105,549. Wichita at 382,368. The major manufacturing areas lost population. The heavy democrat areas outside of Madison and Kansas City lost population. So did Cincinnati, which leans but isn't overwhelmingly democrat (German population more republican, blacks vote democrat). Indianapolis and Columbus lean dem, but are competitive. It's difficult, but not unheard of for republicans to win there despite high minority populations (around 40%). The other areas are all competitive. I think politics are a major factor in the city declines across the region.

I recognize that our metropolitan areas, which include core cities, are holding their own. Indeed, they represent nearly 90 percent of all jobs and gross domestic product of Michigan. We may need to expand our thinking about what is urban — what is a city — to include the areas and people living places nearby cities.

Why Michiganians fled cities, in defiance of a long global and current national experience, unsettles me greatly. It is terribly destructive economically. You cannot explain cities’ depopulation simply because a downturn of this or that industry, important as that often is. Abandoning cities is damn near unique to Michigan (although one easily can point to other once-powerful cities, such as Cleveland, that share our cities’ distress) and requires you to suspend economic logic and the historical record.

It's not unique to Michigan, and is common in the Midwest and parts of the Northeast as well, particularly Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Philly, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Rochester. Oftentimes, Race is pointed to as the factor. It is to an extent in some areas, although doubtful in Scranton, Minneapolis-St Paul, and Wilkes-Barre, all of which are still largely white. That's likely due to the steel industry in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. I'm not as familiar with the Twin Cities. Pittsburgh still has a large white majority. In other cities, it may be a bigger issue as those cities are at least 40% minority.

The questions are this:

Is core city abandonment a good, bad, or neutral thing?

Should metro areas follow the Louisville or Nashville model of consolidating city-county? Grand Rapids considered and rejected it.

Is the destructiveness the abandonment of the city, or what pushed people out in the first place?

I'll get to those later.

Decitification in Michigan is a pressing matter. State public policy has not been on the side of cities. The State must take the lead in bolstering them. Our attitudes and behavior, too, are way out of synch with global societies. We have an attitude (I go so far as to call it a sickness) that begs for analysis. Our cities have characteristics, like woeful public transit and few outlets for groceries, that cling to a car-frenzied industrial age.

Cities do not appeal to a lot of people in Michigan. A couple of hundred years from now, historians may say that by letting cities wither we were, as Heath Ledger (The Joker) so creepily uttered, “just ahead of the curve.” That’s a bit like betting on the longest of long shots.

Michigan today, with nearly 10 million residents, has but one city, Detroit, that houses more people than Ephesus in the 1st century B.C. or Cordoba in the year 1000. From Ephesus, Cordoba, and Rome, we are unlikely to learn much about the reasons for Detroit’s evacuation and the decline (possibly fall) of less populated cities of Michigan. We learn far more from Chicago, New York, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Denver, and a host of American cities that attract people in the modern era.

Minneapolis and Chicago are dropping population. They are hyped. Reality is different than the hype. I'm not familiar with Minny outside of its weather, but Chicago's "growth" is a couple of areas. Much of the rest of that city is hung out to dry. Kind of like Detroit. It's downtown or bust.

Atlanta is also hyped heavily, but is like a Kansas City in size and rebounding effect. It has 420,000 people today, up from 390,000 in 1990, but down from 496,000 in 1970. Same with Boston. 617,000 now. Was 560,000 in 1980, but 800,000 in 1950.
Denver and Phoenix are growing. I wouldn't look to Chicago for learning. I'd look first to Indianapolis and Columbus, followed by many of the plains cities. They are Midwestern. They are closer culturally to Michigan.

Public transport is also very overrated. Light rail and Wally trains to nowhere doesn't make a city. There's a bus system and the people mover. Chicago has a well known public transport. It still doesn't change the fact that they dropped a million people and still drop population. We like our cars in Michigan, but that's not unique here.

Grocery outlets. That's a chicken and egg question. Occasionally a big name grocery store opens up shop in Detroit. Usually it closes quickly. Meijer is supposed to open up one on 8 mile. Currently there is no Meijer, Walmart, or Kroger. There are a bunch of Spartan Stores (Think Glens Up North) locations here. There isn't a big selection, and the question is why in a city of still 700,000+ people is there no big selection.

Back to these.

A. Is core city abandonment a good, bad, or neutral thing?

I'd say it's bad IF the people living like a city environment and want to live in cities as opposed to small towns or rural areas. If people don't like a city environment, move out. Just please don't bring the city with you when you move to the country, particularly its nasty politics that caused a lot of the problems to begin with.

To those who like a city environment, why did they move out? In Detroit's case, it was largely schools, crime, high taxes, and bad services for the high taxes. That largely started when liberals took over the city. Jerome P Cavanagh. If Detroiters want those people to move back, they need to address those issues. I think Bing might be the best mayor the city has had in over 50 years, but he's got a tough road ahead of him with the council.

Should metro areas follow the Louisville or Nashville model of consolidating city-county?

Grand Rapids considered and rejected it. If there was any place in the state where that would occur, it would be there. It wouldn't work in Detroit's case, because the Detroit area is three counties. A Detroit-Wayne County government would never form. The suburbs would never vote for it, and that would be across racial lines. Same for a Tri-County incorporation. I think more likely, but probably wouldn't happen would be "City-County" governments formed with Oakland County or Macomb County. If that happened, you'd have a "city" with over 1 million people. Local control is strong in Michigan. That's why most counties have 16 townships, some villages, some cities, and several school districts, all with different administrations. That's a legacy from the horse and buggy era. In some cases that is good. In others, probably not.

Is the destructiveness the abandonment of the city, or what pushed people out in the first place?

I'd argue the latter. Cities are in competition. They compete with other cities, suburbs, and rural areas. The factors are jobs, cost of living (housing, insurance, land), taxes, regulations, services, schools, crime, property values and the community. If one city fails to do a good job in those areas, people will vote with their feet. Detroiters have voted with their feet. It's not just white folks anymore either. Blacks and Mexicans have also left the area. If Detroit wants to make a comeback, it will have to address those things. Stadiums, theaters, and casinos are good for visitors. Visitors. They visit, and go home.

Coach Tom Izzo of Michigan State used this quote to describe his national title winning 2000 team. ""We've got to drop the pretty-boy attitude and adopt a meat-and-potatoes attitude." I have no idea what Izzo's politics are, but that's the right attitude that can apply to cities, counties, townships, and government in general. If you want stable cities, they need to be built on foundations of families. If they will raise their kids there, they will often stay. It takes meat and potatoes issues for people and especially families to stay. Crime, costs, jobs, schools. Those are the big four. How many people if they had the choice would send their kids to Detroit Public Schools? School and crime. Property and income taxes in Detroit are outrageous. 62 mills and an income tax. That's plus insurance costs. The cost of living is cheaper even in Grosse Pointe outside of possibly initial housing costs. Costs. Unemployment rates are high. Jobs. Those are the big issues. The rest comes after the big four. Detroit can be fixed to a large part, if Detroiters want to fix Detroit and are winning to fix Detroit. That is a choice to be made. Detroiters must fix Detroit. Can they do it? Yes, if they choose to do it. It will require a change in their thinking. That doesn't apply just to Detroit, but all cities and municipal governments.

The second piece from Ruff on race states a lot of truth and discusses Ruff's experiences with his city of Saginaw. It's conclusion.

Michigan has had, for a half century, a pernicious walking-away epidemic among whites from cities with growing black populations. I rationalize, in part, our cities’ declines to an ugly racial history. While increasing numbers of middle-class blacks have been leaving our cities to avoid crime, find better jobs, and get better schools, even greater numbers of whites flee or have fled not only for the same objectives, but also to avoid blacks. It boils down, in large part, to voluntary racial segregation.

That's true. Michigan is a largely segregated state, especially in the Detroit area. It used to be segregated due to housing codes, redlining, restricted covenants, and in some cases the Klan. Quasi De jure, little different than the Jim Crow South. Today it is because Michiganders largely choose to live in segregated areas. De Facto. I'm not saying that as an insult. It just is what it is, and it is as part of Michigan as the automobile. While the black population has migrated out some, the vast majority are clustered in cities, or even neighborhoods. Even in "integrated" areas, the cities are still often segregated.

White city/suburban folk move away when areas - especially schools - become increasingly black. The pattern is whites move to new area. Black middle class and professionals move there. No problem. Black population gets to about 25% or so, whites start moving out before or when the inner city starts moves in. Property values drop. Black professionals follow white suburbanites out to escape the new "inner city." Repeat. The other scenario is schools of choice accept a large number of Detroiters. Home district whites move out then too. Often times it's these "tolerant white progressives" that start moving out. They love "diversity" and sneer from their high horse until "diversity" moves to their school. I get a real laugh out of redistricting where more and more of democrat portions in Oakland County get placed into a Detroit based congressional district. I wish Pleasant Ridge and Ferndale and that area were added as well. They asked for it.

That's part of the reasons of city "abandonment", but there's another cultural factor as well. The culture factor is the big one.

Personally I don't care about color, but if you leave the city - or suburbs - and come to my area, leave the city behind. That goes for all colors. It's not the colors that destroyed Detroit and increasingly some of the suburbs. It's the attitudes of the majority of people in the city who kept electing the same people there over and over again and enact the same policies you had at your own home. Democrats destroyed Detroit. Progressives destroyed Detroit. Democrats of all colors destroyed Detroit. White Jerome Cavanagh democrats and black Coleman Young democrats.

My personal bias is stronger against white progressives. They are the threat to me. They want to control people's lives. Black inner city democrats are not a threat to me. While they enable white progressives, they don't want to control people's lives. In addition, moderates are less apt to vote for an inner city candidate. (Obama aside, and he's from Hawaii and Cambridge before he moved to Chicago)

Where race does factor in is that blacks in Michigan vote over 90% democrat (and I have all the respect in the world for that 10% with the pressure put on them). If my area starts going from moderate republican to liberal democrat on a consistent basis, then it's time for me to go. That is no longer my home. Is that racial flight, or is it cultural flight? I'd argue the latter. I don't want Ann Arbor leftism here either, and that's prominently white. One problem is those who move from one area and keep their voting habits, policy values, and change the area they move to if it is different to the same area they left with more regulations and more taxes. I happen to know a lot of ex-Farmington Hills residents here. They aren't liberal like much of current Farmington Hills is today either. They haven't tried to change Brighton. However, Farmington Hills has changed from 1990 and even 2000. Even Rocky (who won 3 times there) didn't win there in 2010, a good GOP year. Neither did Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson who made it close, but no cigar. It's pretty much gone outside of a landslide year. Demographics. What I don't want to see is the same thing coming to Livingston County that is happening more and more in Oakland County.

Under status quo, white liberals will move further and further away from core cities (and closer to this area) as more and more blacks move into their current homes, away from the core cities. That's a problem. Those white liberals if they stay that way want to change the new area to their old area. That is the bad part about urban sprawl, and it creates more of it. One of my favorite sayings from a tavern is "Be good or be gone." Those who move into an area need to respect the believes of the community of the area. It doesn't mean agree 100%, but it does mean that you shouldn't go into the area and try and change it to the same thing you left. If your goal is to change the community to what you left, you need to be gone - or preferably fix your own city.

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