Dead Streets

I rode by this house today.

Just another destroyed house in Detroit. There’s nothing exceptional about it; it was a lot like the house my grandparents lived in, which was about 15 blocks north and 8 blocks west of here. It had been standing, empty, for sale, for as long as I’ve been riding down Lafayette, where it used to stand. From the ruins, it looks as if the back had been set or caught on fire. I guess that’s why they bashed it into bits.

This house was two miles from the heart of downtown Detroit, and a block off Jefferson, where the streetcars used to run. It’s a half-mile from Belle Isle, the park in the Detroit River designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. I imagine it dates from the 1920’s, when Detroit was becoming the center of the universe in the car business.

Who lived here? What dreams did they have? Babies born. Birthdays celebrated. Easter Eggs hidden. Joy. Tears. Life. Maybe a son came home, lucky to be alive from World War II, and got a good job at Dodge Main or Chrysler’s East Jefferson Assembly.

We had hopes then.

Riding down Kercheval from Chalmers Avenue to Connor Avenue, (where there’s still a Chrysler factory) there is not one block with 4 functioning corners. Every intersection has either an abandoned building or weedy empty lot. The desolation picks up again after the plant for 22 uninterrupted blocks until you get to Indian Village, an historic district, and so, pretty well maintained.

In the past, the fallen from World War I would be remembered by having their names read aloud at church services. Imagine the tolling of a bell, and read aloud the names of the dead streets I passed today.

Chalmers Ave.

Lakewood St.

Newport Ave.

Eastlawn St.

Lakeview St.

Coplin Ave.

Drexel St.

Lenox St.

Dickerson St.

Gray St.

Springle St.

Algonquin St.

Break for the Chrysler Plant.

Remember, every one of the following blocks has an abandoned building

or an empty lot on one of the corners where it intersects with Kercheval.

Lycaste St.

St. Jean Ave.

Defer Pl.

Beniteau St.

Lillibridge St.

Fairview St.

LeMay Ave.

Montclair St.

Harding St.

St Clair Ave.

Garland St.

Bewick St.

Hurlbut St.

Cadillac Blvd.

Pennsylvania Ave.

Parkview St.

McClellan St.

Belvidere St.

Holcomb St.

Hibbard St.

Crane St.

Fischer St.

How did we get to this point? How does a city in the richest country in the history of the world fall so far? How can we accept this? How can we consider ourselves rich in an environment like this?

We ran away. Ran away to suburbs, then exurbs. We built non-towns with cul de sacs and no sidewalks. We lived in developments, not communities. And the farther we went away, the easier it was to forget the reality of our collapsing cities. So we did. We moved, like John McCain, to cities populated by white people. And the richer, the better. Look where he owns homes: Coronado, California, Sedona, Arizona, La Jolla, California, Phoenix, Arizona, Arlington, Virginia. He never sees this; it’s no wonder he thinks the fundamentals of our economy are “sound”.

What kind of future can we expect, when our fellow citizens live on dead streets? Do we hope they’ll just ‘go away’? Do we really expect that they’ll be able to participate in some beautiful high-tech future, each designing and assembling silicon chips? Every wrecked corner means less income for the city of Detroit. And less money for its schools. What hopes do those kids have?

Everyone laughs at Detroit. That’s easy. Because laughing means you don’t have to truly think about the implications of its destruction.

Doing something is hard. Bill Gates and Mayor Bloomberg recently put up $500 Million to encourage people not to smoke. Don’t you think every sentient person in the country already knows smoking is bad for you? Why not do some real good, and give the money to the Detroit school system. We’re spending $10 Billion a month fixing Iraq. And we’re going to spend nearly a Trillion dollars bailing out companies, one of which had had an average salary of $600,000 a year per employee. Including all the support staff; not just the executives.

Maybe it’s time we woke up. And all tried to build a better future.