As an amateur historian, I often like watching old news and documentary clips; via LA Observed, I came across a fascinating one featuring another metropolitan area:

The background:

This public domain film narrated by then-mayor Jerome P. Cavanaugh was made in 1965 to promote Detroit. The city faced many urban problems and its population was in decline. These difficulties were amplified by the 1967 riots, which are seen by many as one of the most significant events which led the city into a forty year decline. Since the mid 50s, the population has dropped by half and the infrastructure has been destroyed or has decayed due to abuse and neglect.

In fact, my parents moved the family to Detroit from upstate New York in 1962…when it was the fourth-largest city in the United States with the highest per-capita income in the nation.

However, by the time I graduated from Wayne State Univeristy in 1985, I left for better economic opportunities. And while Bryan Jacoutot noted that the unfunded liability problem was the core reason for the city’s need to declare bankruptcy, I was able to closely observe another: Toxic racialist rhetoric.

Hughey Newsome, a business consultant in the D.C. area and a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21, wrote an excellent analysis for The Daily Caller that describes its harm to Detroit:

For example, the Motor City almost lost the prized North American International Auto Show after the once-illustrious Cobo Center convention hall was allowed to deteriorate. When influential merchants sought to force the city to cede control of the building, former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers — who later went to prison for taking a bribe — shouted that suburbanites (understood to mean whites) could not come and take the “jewels” of the black city. Councilwoman Barbara Rose-Collins stated: “European rulers have traditionally taken what they wanted from other people, be they white, be they black or be they brown. No one is taking anything.”

Fortunately, the Cobo Center’s renovation was later managed by a Regional Authority and the auto show remained in Detroit.

There are many similar examples of corruption and divisiveness involving city leadership where race has often been used to rouse and incite but – most importantly – to distract from ineptness and unethical behavior.

Why is this dangerous?

Playing on peoples’ sensitivities and fears distracts attention from holding elected leaders accountable. Detroit’s political class understands this, and regularly delivers racial division rather than doing the hard work of attracting investment in the city.

As I pointed out in my most recent Canto Talk discussion, no matter how cheaply houses are sold in Detroit (i.e., $1), most Americans would not feel comfortable moving into any neighborhood in which racial tensions were the rule and not the exception.

Without people living in cities, businesses can’t thrive. No businesses or residents means no tax base. No city can live on government workers’ salaries alone….no matter the color of the population’s skin.


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