Can the Big Three die and the People Live?
Over the past week, the media and everyone who could jump on the bandwagon of wagging fingers, frowned brows, and we told you so’s in relation to the Big Three has. While I don’t think all of these sentiments are misplaced, I wonder the most about the people of Detroit, not the Big 3. I’ll make a clear distinction here. The Big 3 being GM, Ford, and Chrysler represent the business interests of the automotive industry. The people of the Detroit Metro area are beneficiary’s and burden bearers of the Big Three’s ability to remain solvent and even profitable in these turbulent financial times. Pretty much we’ve come to the point that industry is realizing that we’re pretty far down the rabbit hole and major changes are going to come down the line. The thing that both scares, and maybe even reassures me a little, is that Detroit has been at the bottom before.
Detroit remains the classic example of the “failed city” the “dead city” the city that was forgotten. Well, while the economics, politics, and social organization of Detroit has been on decline for years, the people and their commitment to change has not been. In many ways, the one thing that these stories don’t talk about are the people in Detroit who despite increasing layoffs, increasing segregation, asset sucking casinos and odds that increasingly mount against them, continue to fight to build a better Detroit.
There is a boatload of critical work happening in education there. There is the push for viable public transportation. There is the movement to slow the “invisible hand” of foreclosures. There is work on urban space and converting brown fields. There is a vibrant arts scene. These people and these voices will remain invisible. Sure, their voices will never get as much press as the Big Three, but they demonstrate a resilience that the rest of the nation is going to have to come to grips with really soon. The age of watching industry fall in one area and not have it affect another is gone. Are fates have been intimately linked and we’ll see these connections with even greater consequence during this financial debacle.
The way people from Detroit tend to get mentioned in these discussions is if they are sitting around getting fat off of union pensions and benefits. If you’ve been to Detroit, lived in Detroit, or know folks who have worked for years for the Big Three, it’s simply not the truth. As we watch the Big Three scramble for assistance, be sure to watch who gets thrown under the bus first. Is it the 20,000 dollar jets or the family that lives on 30,000 a year?