As reported by the UK Telegraph,"Detroit bankruptcy: Life in the US city that went bust: In the Autumn of 2012 The Telegraph visited Detroit - America’s first post-industrial city - to explore the reasons behind its bankruptcy," by Alastair Good, on 19 July 2013 -- On the ground in Detroit, Michigan, with a population of nearly two million at its peak dwindling to under 800,000 today, the city is one of the first to have to deal with the very real problem of moving to a state of post-industrialisation which might soon be replicated across the country.
From people living in abandoned car plants to entrepreneurs making furniture out of disused school desks, the city of Detroit is trying to find a way to thrive again in a world that has seen industry move out of the Midwest, taking a large part of the city’s population with it.
“I like living here it gives me a sense of solitude. I can do what I like to do and I don’t have to worry about bills, bills, bills,” says Allan Hill, 67, a long time resident of the former forge room at the abandoned Packard Plant site in the city.
Hill and his partner bought the forge room building a few years ago and brought it back to life, running a small metal fabrication and car repair business from the premises.
Around them the vast car plant lies crumbling. The occasional ‘urban explorer’ comes with camera in hand to snap photographs of the massive site as it sinks slowly back into the earth.
Homes in the area around the factory have also begun sinking inexorably into the soil of the city.
John Carlisle, a local journalist who has spent time chronicling the lives of those still living in the Motor City describes the vast expanses of green fields where neighbourhoods used to exist: “People abandon the houses and after a while they crumble to the ground or get burned down and eventually you get these prairies where whole blocks once stood.”
And the city is struggling.
When Henry Ford began making vehicles in the city in 1903 a long tradition was born that saw General Motors and Chrysler both building huge factories that turned out millions of cars and trucks.
Competition from overseas, petrol crises in 1973 and 1979 and strong unions all put pressure on the car building industry and in 2008 the financial crisis brought things to a head.
The sub-prime mortgage crash coincided with an energy crisis that raised petrol prices and made American consumers think again about the cost of filling up their SUV’s and pickup trucks.
In Detroit, the big three had been focused on building these high profit models while their foreign competitors introduced smaller, more efficient cars and trucks onto the market. A lot of these cars were made on American soil by American workers but for foreign companies who offered much reduced pay and benefits to their workforce.
Chrysler and General Motors received billions in bail out money from the Bush and Obama governments.
Ford had already begun reorganising its business and only asked for a line of credit from the government to enable it to compete on equal terms with Chrysler and GM.
At Ford’s Dearborn truck manufacturing plant employee Armentha Young explains: “The auto industry has been the backbone to a lot of people’s lives. I hope that my children get a chance to see how vital the industry is.” A single mother, Ms Young supports two children with her job at the factory.
In Midtown you can see the outline of the Renaissance Centre from outside of the Green Garage, an incubation space for small companies with a sustainability component to their business.
Jason Peet is an entreprenuer who decided to set up a business re-purposing unwanted materials in the city.
One of his first commissions was to find desks for the companies who will be based at the building and he soon discovered that the shrinking city had a growing surplus of furniture as the reduced population meant the city had to close schools.
There are two main opinions on what to do about Detroit, those who want to see more investment in the city by the federal government to help bring industry and people back and those, like Mr Peet who feel the city has to accept it has changed and look to the future: “It’s not going to look like the Detroit of 1950. Its not even going to look like Indianapolis which has 500,000 people. It has to be something unique.” (source: UK Telegraph)