Ideas like that are far more revolutionary, made necessary by necessity, than Philadelphia's bike lanes. Ideas like that are born of a desperation that has not yet gripped Philadelphia. Maybe it should.
Detroit suffered two catastrophes that Philadelphia did not - the devastating 1967 riots, and the collapse of automaking, the industry in a one-industry town.
Detroit's population has imploded to 700,000 from nearly 2 million in the early '50s, and Motown is coming off what Detroit News columnist Brian O'Connor calls "the last half-decade of its petulant self-destruction and humiliation."
So, while Quicken CEO Bill Emerson talked up the rebound of the town that Aretha Franklin refers to as "Dee-twaah," local Fox reporter Charlie LeDuff rails against a rising crime wave and a collapse of city services.
LeDuff, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former New York Times roving national correspondent with a lean and hungry look, raged Friday morning, and by Friday evening I had proof of his dark vision.
The husband of Diane Ketcham, she being a retired New York Times columnist, had noticed blood in his urine during the day, but said nothing. Typical male. By dinnertime, he shared the problem with his wife, who was alarmed.
She called 9-1-1 and waited. And waited. And waited. The hotel, the Westin Book-Cadillac, called 9-1-1. Fifty-five minutes later, with no help on the way, 9-1-1 advised Ketcham to take a cab to the hospital.
Only 11 EMS vehicles serve the city of Detroit. The husband, Terry Ketcham, had surgery 1,000 miles from home and seems to be OK as of this writing.
I was last here in 1997 to watch a hapless Flyers team get swept by the Red Wings. I stayed in the gleaming towers of the Renaissance Center, along the Detroit River, and the hotel entrances had security that the TSA only dreams of. About the only safe place to go, I was told, was Greek Town, the nearby food-and-fun district. Even while poised on the cusp of an NHL victory, Detroit was grim, fearful.
Today, while Ford, Chrysler and GM labor to post figures in the black and build cars for less that the rest of the world will buy, everyone knows that the Big Three will never again make Detroit their bitch. That power's gone forever, and it's why the city that sometimes calls itself "Big D" (infuriating Dallas) struggles to find another revenue stream in high tech.
TV reporter LeDuff has a love/hate affair with his hometown. In one breath he's admiring the "beautiful skyline" of the "wonderful city," while in the next he's agonizing over "taxes that are the highest in the state, services that are the worst."
He wants Detroiters to have "a decent place to live."
He says that 48 downtown skyscrapers are vacant and that the urban farming idea is destined for failure. "Would you eat corn that came out of this ground?" he asks, implying that food coming from a toxic brownfield might not be nature's finest.
Giving me a tour, LeDuff drives his battered Ford past a gruesome abandoned building right next to a school, and asks, "What about the kids?"
On air, in a sometimes over-the-top style, he demands of city government, "Where is the money?"
We drive on broad Woodward Avenue, through the once prosperous East Side neighborhood, and he ticks off, "Liquor store, liquor store, nail salon, auto supplies, liquor store, liquor store, pawnshop, nail salon . . . "
He says the city's leadership is corrupt, ineffective and defeatist, and that energizes him.
There are two Detroits, he says - the one of the white hipsters with money and the one of the black people without, the majority. Bitterly, he notes that the windows of the auto executives' offices in the Renaissance Center symbolically face Windsor, Ontario, not downtown Detroit.
"I love Philly," he says. "I want what you got," illustrating that the grass is greener when it's not located on a brownfield site.
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