Detroit

July 23, 2013

Abandoned van in Lower 9 Ward three years after Katrina.

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The city of Detroit, Michigan has declared bankruptcy-it appears to have about an $18 billion dollar debt-and will need to find a way out.  The city has played an integral part in America’s cultural history as Detroit is famous for the “Motown Sound” created by Barry Gordy of Motown Records-one of the city’s nicknames is “Hitsville USA”.  Detroit was also one of the industrial hubs of the U.S. and both created and was driven by (no pun intended) the car culture that came to be representative of the American lifestyle-another of its nicknames is “The Motor City” (hence Motown).  Thousands of people moved from the south to the north seeking jobs in those factories.  As the auto industry morphed into a global industry, the American car companies were slow to respond to the cultural changes mandated by increasing petroleum costs.  In the 1970s, Americans began to buy the more economical Toyotas and Datsuns (now Nissan) produced offshore that were a better fit for the new economic reality.  As the global economy crashed in 2008, General Motors and Chrysler very nearly collapsed and shed jobs by the thousands.  Were it not for the controversial Federal bailout, they most likely would have.  (The Ford Motor Company was the only one of the “Big Three” auto companies that did not accept financial aid.)  While the car companies themselves are on much better footing today, the city itself is not and $18 billion is a lot of money.  Time will tell as to how this is mitigated, however, discussions are being reported about the selling of the city’s art collection and changes to pensions for retirees and current employees as a means of covering the debt.  This is not only a financial issue, but a cultural one as well.  Locally, the latter is a strategy used during the successive sales of what used to be known as Bethlehem Steel.  As the U.S. steel industry declined in the face of cheaper imported steel, many who worked for years at the Point in decidedly unpleasant conditions so as to accrue enough wealth for a comfortable retirement, found their pensions and health care benefits cut, necessitating a modification in lifestyle at a time when it is the most difficult to do so.  There is just something fundamentally wrong with changing after the fact what was contractually agreed upon, regardless of where it happens.  That is not what folks signed up and worked for.

One of the uglier aspects in the discussion of Detroit is the perineal divisive interpretation of race.  Many of those migrating from the south to the north to work in Detroit were also people of colour.  As a result, the socioeconomic problems of Detroit (and New Orleans for that matter) are  sometimes framed in terms of race and once that happens, the individual people become stereotyped, then marginalized, and finally written off.  (NOTE:  The previous sentence also appears in the recent post about New Orleans and it is deliberately being used again here.)  As the jobs are lost, the tax base drops.  As the tax revenue decreases, so do the school systems and other public services.  The city decays.  Once that happens, people who are able to, move-this is often phrased as “white flight” as an inordinate number of those leaving are caucasian.  Those left behind are often the working poor or those below the poverty level.  (It should be noted that this is a very simplistic view of a complex problem.) 

With regard to race and stereotypes, it is important to note that numerically in America, there are more people who categorize themselves as White living in poverty than those who categorize themselves as Black living in poverty :  30,849,000 vs. 10,929,000.  This changes, though, when looking at the percentage of a race living in poverty: for those self-categorized as White, the percent is 12.8; for those self-categorized as Black, the percent is 27.6.  (These and the following numbers are from the U.S. Census Bureau for the years as specified.) With regard to Detroit, the percentage of residents living below the poverty line was 36.2% for the years 2007-2011, which compares to 15% for the entire nation in 2010-2011.  (The poverty rate for New York city during the same time period was 19.4%; for New Orleans, it was 25.7%.)  Finally, in 2010, the population of Detroit was 10.6% who self-categorized as White and 82.7% who self-categorized as Black.

This will be an important story to follow as the manner in which Detroit solves this problem may well become the model for how other struggling cities resolve their financial difficulties, as suggested in the New York Times article linked above.

Finally, the documentary Detropia is well worth a watch as the above issues and others that have led to the bankruptcy are presented and discussed by residents of the city.

NOTE:  The photograph the leads this blog is actually from New Orleans.  It was made in the Lower 9th Ward approximately 4 1/2 years after Katrina.

Take care.

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Thinking about NOLA

July 22, 2013

Destroyed sign in Lower 9 Ward three years after Katrina.

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

There has been a domino effect on my thinking lately.  I started watching Treme, which is set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  The storylines of most of the major characters serve to illustrate the changes brought to the lives of the residents as a result of the devastation from the storm.  On vivid display is the culture of New Orleans, as represented by the music, the food, and infused throughout, the committment of the people to re-build, both materially and emotionally, in the area considered very strongly to be home.  Some do better than others.

Gutted interior of house in Lower 9 Ward three years after Katrina.

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

That led me to re-watch When the Levees Broke, the HBO documentary by Spike Lee.  This creates a very different viewing experience as it is much more raw and evocative as these are real people, not characters in a show.  That is not to be interpreted as a criticism of Treme-it just is.  Treme is a representation; When the Levees Broke is the reality-at least as seen through Spike Lee and the individuals interviewed.  It is striking to layer one on the other and reflect on how they overlap on the themes mentioned above.  Importantly, the documentary adds a much wider scope: geographically, more area is covered as, after all, Katrina was a huge storm affecting the entirety of the Gulf Coast of the United States; visually, there are many more images of the totality of the destruction, especially the airborne footage, which absent the video, is difficult to comprehend. (Even with the video it is hard to wrap one’s head around the catastrophic failure of the city’s infrastructure.); and finally, politically, as the friction between the local government of New Orleans and the state government of Louisiana, and between the state and the Federal government, is presented in much greater detail in the documentary.  Herein lies some of the most important information to the understanding of how it is that such a disaster could occur in the first place, let alone the amount of time it took to mount any kind of effective response.  Indeed.

Trash outside house in Lower 9 Ward three years after Katrina.

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Former Mayor Ray Nagin often called New Orleans a “chocolate city” in reference to the number of people of colour residing there.  As a result, the socio-economic problems of New Orleans are often  framed in terms of race and once that happens, the individual people become stereotyped, then marginalized, and finally written off.  This is unfortunately true in both works of fiction and reality.

NOTE:  It is important to recognize that these three photographs were made in January 2008.  That would be 3 1/2 years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

Take care.

A Bit of Difference

July 18, 2013

Asiatic Lilly

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Trash has dominated the posts lately, so this is going in a different direction.  The rain that we have had lately has done wonders for the flora in the area.  The current heat wave?  Not so much, but that too shall pass.

Take care.

July 5, 2013

July 7, 2013

American flags draped from windows.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The United States celebrates its birthday on July 4th.  It is a time of displaying the colours, cooking out, and watching fireworks.

Multiple bins of trash awaiting pickup.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

While walking around on the fifth of July, it struck me that the red, white, and blue colours show up in some uncommon ways as well.  My previous post alluded to the trash that may be left behind after the celebrations and, in some respects, there was not as much strewn about as was anticipated.  Most of the above appears to be heading for recycling.

Trash bin filled to brim.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Folks seemed to have used the available bins, which were mostly filled past the brim.

Newspapers strewn along sidewalk.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Of course, that was not always the case…

Empty Budweiser bottle stuffed in rusty pipe.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

and while this  bottle was carefully placed where it took some effort to find…

Three empty bottles left on newspaper bin.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

others were left where the contents were apparently consumed.

Empty peach vodka bottle left on steps.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

American flag thrown in trash can.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

All of which would appear to mean the party is over.

Take care.

One Bottle’s Fate

July 1, 2013

Bottle laying next to trash bin.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

This is a brief photo essay of one bottle’s fate.  It appeared that this particular bottle was first discarded on the sidewalk remarkably close to a nearby trash bin… 

Running past bottle next to trash bin.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

…and in the few minutes I was there, was passed several times…

Running past bottle next to trash bin.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Running past bottle next to trash bin.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Stopping to put the bottle in the trash bin.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

before someone stopped, picked it up, and put in the bin.

Having photographed in this area many, many times, it is fair to say that there are many, many bottles (and cans and paper bags and…) left on the sidewalk, if not in the actual street, and it would be an annoyance to stop and pick up each one when out for a morning run or walk.  This last person did exactly that, though, as it is also unpleasant to see the amount of trash left on the ground, especially when there are bins for its disposal.  

Imagine what our neighborhoods would look like if everyone took the responsiblity to properly dispose of trash in the first place.  This last thought is worth considering as the Fourth of July holiday is right around the corner.

Take care.