Downtown Detroit before lockdown

Since its resounding bankruptcy in 2013, the rebirth of Detroit * has been regularly announced. However, the signs are far from convincing. It doesn’t matter: the myth has become stronger than the reality.

The Renaissance ? Since the election of the first black mayor of Detroit in 1973, candidates have never ceased to promise it and the enormous glass cylinders of the ‘Renaissance center’ inaugurated in 1977 to proclaim it. But in 2008, the rebirth took a serious hit. In the midst of the ‘subprime’ crisis, the mayor was stripped of his mandate for embezzlement of public funds, extortion and tax evasion. His successor, David Bing, ex-basketball player, is not only committed to putting the finances in order, he is the first to hold a speech of truth: Detroit, shrinking city, will not regain its 2 million dollars. residents. But awareness comes too late. In 2013, after a long and slow sinking, it is bankruptcy.

Plagued by a debt of $ 18 billion, the city is placed under Chapter 11 protection to give itself the means to negotiate with the banks. Before, big cities like New York, Cleveland and Philadelphia had already found themselves on the brink. In Japan, the former mining town of Yubari, Japan, was even the first city in the world to go bankrupt in 2006. But it was only a city of 13,000 when Detroit has 700,000.

Investments that are starting to date

Is Detroit about to recover? If the press asserts it regularly, the examples supposed to attest to it are starting to date seriously. Owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, billionaire Dan Gilbert, from a working-class family in Detroit, has decided to set up his business in Detroit. But the announcement of this decision, as important as it is, dates back to 2007 and the move in 2010. The same goes for the famous Chrysler campaigns signed “ Imported from Detroit “. The first film showed Eminem, the famous local rapper, crossing town before descending in front of the legendary Fox Theater, joining the stage and letting go ” This is Motor City ».

In the second film, released shortly before Obama’s re-election, Clint Eastwood, yet a Republican at heart, described people without work and wondering what to do, before concluding ” The people of Detroit know a little more about it “. But, here again, these campaigns date back to 2011 and 2012. Just as Shinola’s installation within the College of Creative Studies in the iconic ‘Argonaut Building’, erected by the famous architect Albert Kahn, also dates back to before 2013. Since then, Chrysler has changed its slogan by adopting ” America’s Import And advertisements comparable to those of Dan Gilbert or Shinola have become scarce.

As for the takeover of the Detroit station by Ford for its conversion, this is unfortunately not the first project that has remained without a future. In 2008, the previous owners already declared that the real problem was not so much to find the financing as to propose a profitable use for the building.

The mirage of good real estate deals

An economy “ flat “? It would take more to overcome the myth of rebirth, if only because setting up a business or launching an investment program is enough to give credence to the idea of ​​a thrill. Above all, the possibility of doing good deals in the real estate market would prove that, even if discreet, the rebirth is no less real.

It is true that the price per square meter has been on the rise in recent years. But the market has come a long way. In addition, the turmoil is explained less by strong demand than by an almost non-existent supply in the most popular districts and particularly low prices. Outside of Midtown and Downtown, real estate investing remains a high-risk exercise.

After claiming that Detroit offered the prospect of ” rental profitability greater than 10% net », The world calls for caution by underlining the difficulty of finding solvent tenants in ” neighborhoods with poor school reputations, a key factor in real estate appreciation for Americans “. It prevents. The myth of Detroit combined with the promise of an excellent return on investment makes you lose your sense of reality. In 2020, several hundred French people lost their stake in a multi-million dollar real estate scam.

Detroit renaissance
@Mi Urban Farming Initiative

Degrowth as an alternative

Instead of ” renaissance “, Some propose to speak of” transformation “Or” transition »Towards a new urban economy and a new social model, more united and in tune with nature. The point is that Detroit is now playing the role of a showcase for the culture of ” Doer “, That of learning by” to do », Extended to (almost) all areas but recycling and repair, urban and organic agriculture, eco-districts, integration companies, etc.

Since 2011, Maker Faire Detroit has exhibited many projects on the issue of renewable energies every year. Political projects such as the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) aim to ” reduce the dependence of residents on telecommunications giants and cement communities through the mastery of digital technologies “. But for a city of more than 600,000 inhabitants, these experiments, as interesting as they are, nonetheless remain marginal and cannot make us forget that for the vast majority of the population, the break with the consumer society stems from poverty and not a political choice.

The cult of weak signals

The Detroit Paradox? The scale of the disaster offers more reason to believe in a rebirth than to finally turn the page. At the same time as bankruptcy sanctions a long descent into hell, the idea has settled that the city has reached the bottom and that from this stage, it can only rise again. Its motto does not proclaim ” We hope to improve the Ashes rise (We hope better things will arise from the ashes)?

Detroit with hope pegged to the body. Unless Detroit has become the very embodiment of hope. A hope so strong that unlike Saint Thomas, journalists do not go there to verify with their own eyes the reality of the rebirth of Detroit but to find evidence of this rebound at all costs.

In the same way that La Presse announced the revival of the city a few months before its bankruptcy, AFP tells us on January 1, 2015 that Detroit is ” ready for a new era “. In order to support the thesis of the restart (however timid), the journalist does not cast an eye on the finances of the city, nor on the figures of the economy. He prefers to rely on weak signals, supposed to be precursors of a new trend, namely art galleries that ” opened in the city center and take advantage of pedestrian traffic “, from ” people (who) line up to get a table at the Delicatessen restaurant “Or the decision of Dan Gilbert to appeal to” one of New York’s best-known architectural firms to redesign the now vacant Hudson department store site “. And it does not matter that these manifestations of local life are very derisory in the light of the dramatic situation in the city.

This truth that we don’t want to hear

Everyone knows the solution. It would be necessary to redensify certain neighborhoods and transform those which are deserted into parks or rural areas. But if the displacement of populations from disaster areas to denser areas, easier to serve, presents the appearances of common sense, it would be necessary to convince the inhabitants, to compensate them, to buy back their houses at a good price, to carry out rehousing … municipality does not have the means to do so.

In 2013, Detroit fell below the threshold of 700,000 inhabitants. Efforts to promote gentrification of the city center have generally failed. There are too few young artists and too little money to change the situation. Engineers who came to work in high-tech rarely set up in Downtown. As for the inhabitants of the outskirts, they have no desire to return to the city center and even less want to pay for its recovery. Who wants to hear this truth?

Franck Gintrand
Find all the Chronicles of Franck Gintrand

* Read also Detroit in the USA and medium-sized cities in France: same fate, same decline? and To put an end to urban agriculture in Paris (and elsewhere)

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