Opinion: A Microcosm of Detroit


mi·cro·cosm [mīkrəˌkäzəm/] noun: microcosm; plural noun: microcosms; noun: microcosmos; plural noun: microcosmoses; noun: micro-cosmos; plural noun: micro-cosmoses

1. community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristic qualities or features of something much larger.

Occupied Home, Detroit, MI

Occupied Home, Detroit, MI

This Detroit home is, I believe, a microcosm of the city.

Allow me to explain.

Detroit is about 140 square miles, and a city of that size with the appropriate infrastructure is designed to support around two to three million residents. Around 1950, the population peaked at 1.9 million or so. Lately, though, the number is less than half that, at around 700,000. Now, do the math. This city was designed to support 2-3 million people. But there are nowhere NEAR that many people living here. So, how to you maintain the infrastructure?

Answer: You don’t.

What you DO get is failing city services, blight, poverty, crumbling bridges, roads and buildings, streetlights that don’t work and on and on. As a result of those sorts of conditions, there are only certain areas of the city that are habitable at all. Downtown. Midtown. Indian Village. Perhaps a few more. But the neighborhoods. Not so much.

Which brings us back to the house in our photo.

There’s something going on with this place you don’t see much in the suburbs. Yet, I see it more and more as I not only travel the city streets, but spend time in homes all across the city. Look at the windows of the second and third floors. THERE ARE NO WINDOWS, MAN.

No windows.

Sure, some of the openings are “defended” against the Michigan weather with PLASTIC. Others with only a flimsy FABRIC SHEET. Now, check out the first floor. There are not only windows, but some appear to be fairly new. And the basement windows. Glass block. If I didn’t have to spend a fair amount of time in houses just like this one, I may not even notice it. Or, perhaps, I’d just assume the place was abandoned.

But this home is not abandoned. People LIVE here. And more families live in homes just like this one all across Detroit.

Now, back to the microcosm thing.

Detroit, as a city (macro), can’t afford to pay its bills. As a result, everything is getting shrunk down except for one thing – the SIZE (140 square miles) and INFRASTRUCTURE (buildings, roads, bridges, sidewalks) of the city. So, the money needed to run this huge city has been going bye-bye for years (since 1950 or so). What little money IS left does not make it to the extremities, i.e. the NEIGHBORHOODS. In medical terms, we call this SHOCK. In other words, a guy gets shot and he starts to bleed out. Without that life blood, the body cannot sustain life unless it takes necessary measures to save itself. So, it shunts off (sacrifices) the extremities to keep the blood circulating in the more important parts of the body like the brain, lungs and heart. And SHOCK, if I have learned anything as an EMT, if not treated quickly and properly, leads to DEATH. [/EMT]

Now, back to the home (microcosm) in question. The people in this house have begun to “abandon” parts of their own home and, in effect, cannibalize it. Maybe it started with the smaller third floor rooms. Just block them off. “We can’t afford heat or electricity in those rooms anyway”. Then the second floor. “We’ll all just have to fit in the first floor”. Then some of the windows from those upper floors are appropriated to serve on the occupied first floor. Notice, the house is staying the same size, but the habitable area is getting smaller and smaller!

The city of Detroit is doing the SAME THING.

It has been “abandoning” the neighborhoods to save (what THEY claim to be) the most important parts of the city. Don’t believe me? Drive through the three square miles that make up Downtown and Midtown. Then drive through the OTHER 137 SQUARE MILES of the city, including Farnsworth St. to the east or Buchanan St. to the west. Both just blocks away from the Downtown and Midtown areas. For all the funding and attention being thrown at the city’s “gems”, there is very little attention and even less money being spent on the neighborhoods.

But, unfortunately, it’s here that my analogy fails and takes a dark turn.

Inside the house in the photo, there are NO PEOPLE living in the abandoned second or third floors. But, in Detroit, the MAJORITY of the city’s 700,000 residents are trying to STAY ALIVE in these NEIGHBORHOODS.

I don’t know what the solution is, friends, but what I DO KNOW is you don’t leave grandma up in that freezing cold room with no windows, electricity or heat to fend for herself while you sit in your heated living room eating Thanksgiving dinner while watching the Lions on your flat screen!

But, if you ask me, that’s what’s happening in this city.

We look around and say “Oh, look at those abandoned houses and buildings”. What we SHOULD be saying is “What is the city doing to help the abandoned PEOPLE of Detroit”.

One man’s opinion.