Sunday, February 24, 2013

Accidental Bus Depot

Photo taken in Detroit's warehouse district.

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Is Detroit a Self-Defense Haven?

Detroit has been getting a lot of attention for its recent shootings. Not the usual criminal stuff, but the step-up in self-defense shootings as people have come to realize that the police only exist to mark the outlines of bodies with chalk.

Here is the story of a shootout at a tax preparation business in a suburban Detroit residence. A couple attempted to rob the tax preparer in spite of the fact that a security car was sitting out front. What did the security guard use to defend his clients? One of those demonized AR-15s. But of course, no one could possibly ever have a reason to need a high-capacity magazine.

 - Another Detroit senior has shot back at apparent criminals. His story is that two teenagers tried to attack and rob him, a 70-year-old girls' basketball coach of a Detroit high school, as he escorted a couple of his players to their cars after a game. One of the criminals intending violence was killed. All I saw on the news that evening is the family members of the two teenagers talking about what great kids they were, and how they would never do such a thing. Yet one of them had already been expelled from school, according to ABC News. Then it was revealed that the coach is also a Detroit Police Dept reserve officer. While the mother of the dead child claimed her son would never do any such thing, the Wayne County's Prosecutor's Office called this a textbook case of self-defense.  

- A candy store owner was almost the victim of a thug who intended to rob his wholesale business. The owner pulled a gun and shot the guy dead. 

- Another great defensive measure occurred when two kids (brothers) attempted to rob two utility workers as they came down a pole. One of the utility workers was armed, and he shot the attackers, hitting both. Immediately following the incident, the family once again chimed in with the usual response:
"My 16-year-old, he's a smart kid, intelligent kid. He wasn't no ghetto gangster, no robber, never beat up a person or nothing like that," said Mitchell. "I never heard of my sons carrying no guns. I just don't understand."
Really? Smart, "good" kids who have so little respect for human life that they sling around guns as if they were toys. This man who saved two lives may be punished for carrying a gun while on the job.

Now here are some stats from The Daily:
Justifiable homicide in the city shot up 79 percent in 2011 from the previous year, as citizens in the long-suffering city armed themselves and took matters into their own hands. The local rate of self-defense killings now stands 2,200 percent above the national average. Residents, unable to rely on a dwindling police force to keep them safe, are fighting back against the criminal scourge on their own. And they’re offering no apologies.
Now - before you brand Detroit as being unique in this regard (crime), these desperation crimes are occurring all over, whether it is Memphis, St. Louis, Oakland, or, of course, Chicago. Just try defending yourself in Washington, D.C. or the wonderful city of Chicago, America's gun-free killing field. At least here we can defend ourselves, and without - for the most part - overzealous prosecutors incarcerating victims who choose to serve and protect themselves and their family.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Detroit's No-Tax Property Tax

As I have been fond of reciting, Detroit's city government is so inept and thus so powerless that it can accomplish almost nothing outside of the scope of employing and paying its inept and entitled employees. The city can't even collect $130M owed to it in property taxes, even while it is on the verge of immediate financial insolvency. According to this story, almost half of Detroit city property owners did not pay up last year. Many of the non-paying residents are refusing to pay because they no longer receive city services that their taxes are supposed to be financing.
“Nearly half of the owners of Detroit’s 305,000 properties failed to pay their tax bills last year, exacerbating a punishing cycle of declining revenues and diminished services for a city in a financial crisis,” the report notes, citing more than 200,000 pages of tax documents. 
“Some $246.5 million in taxes and fees went uncollected, about half of which was due Detroit and the rest to other entities, including Wayne County, Detroit Public Schools and the library,” the report adds. 
In fact, according to The News, delinquency in the shattered city is so bad that that 77 blocks had only one owner who paid taxes in 2012.
The county government is so overwhelmed by foreclosures that it is "looking the other way" on property seizures. An inept, powerless government is one step closer to no government. Thanks to Jackie Brentwood for the story. Follow me on Twitter @karendecoster.

Detroit's White Flight in Reverse

After decades of white flight from the city, including the flight of dead, white bodies from Detroit cemeteries, the flight path has taken a 180-degree turn back to the city. As Time magazine's "Detroit Blog" reported back in 2010:
According to new studies, white people are moving back into Detroit proper in increasing numbers for the first time in nearly 60 years.
Yes, the city has become cool again, especially the central downtown area and its adjoining neighborhoods - Midtown, New Center, Woodbridge, Lafayette Park, Corktown, and the Riverfront. The new residents represent a diverse demographic group: professionals, retired empty nesters, hipsters, students, and the creative class. Mostly, they are members of the curious and adventurous middle class.  

The data above shows that the greater downtown area of Detroit is experiencing a much larger return of white flight than the rest of the city. While 2010 census data shows that 21% of downtown residents were white, only 11% of the residents of the city as a whole were white. That said, a general uneasiness exists among some of the poorer black residents who are concerned about the new productive class. One black resident is quoted as such:
“Nobody’s saying we don’t want white people in Detroit. Nobody’s saying that. We recognize the economic benefits to that. But in the same token it’s not fair that you can come in on the block and build up and buy this lavish house and mine’s is falling apart and I’m trying to get illegal cable and water. I’m not even going to say cable. I’m going to say basic water and electricity and heat and I’m rigging up stoves and opening up stoves to be hot at night. But you got a loan to pay off your house?”
My observances, as well as that of my friends, would acknowledge that these types of attitudes are in the minority and are not representative of the population as a whole. Still, these small pockets of resistance to change and gentrification are visible and vocal. On the whole, Detroit, and especially the greater downtown area, has become a melting pot of diverse and interesting people who have been willing to invest their time, money, and lives in a city that has been painted as a graveyard by media bobbleheads who have never even set foot here.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

In the Shadow of the Renaissance

This is a recent photo I took in Detroit, from the warehouse district, with the aptly-named Renaissance Center in the background.

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Detroit's Anarcho-Parking Garage?

The city of Detroit is getting what it deserves: a privately-funded parking structure to suit its renaissance personality. Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert is tired of the same old crappy structures, and like any good entrepreneur, he is doing something about it.
Rock Ventures is going to build a 535,000-square-foot, Z-shaped parking garage and retail development that will zig zag from the corner of Broadway and East Grand River to the corner of Gratiot and Library, the company announced Thursday. The structure will have 33,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and 1,300 parking spaces. The project is scheduled to begin this month and be complete in December 2013. The resulting building will be “a distinctive structure utilizing color, glass and original artwork,” the company said.
Gilbert, whose company now owns 15 buildings with a combined 2.6 million square feet of commercial space in Detroit, has said that this will not be the typical "holding cell for automobiles." At a recent leadership summit, Gilbert noted:
 “This is what I’m talking about,” he said, referring to typical parking structures. “I got a spreadsheet here, I’m going to build a parking garage as cheap as I can. If I do that, I’m going to get rid of all that dumb retail on the lower level, because I can get more spots in. If I can get more spots in, I can sell more parking. … We don’t think that way, we’re thinking in a way, you know, we’re never going to put parking on a lower level of the city where you want people to be walking around and have an urban core, that’s ridiculous.”
What Gilbert is referring to is the usual government central planning model wherein there is no profit motive to design and build urban structures that will attract core businesses and draw paying customers to the urban environment by embracing beauty and functionality. Private entrepreneurs like Gilbert see the larger vision that takes into consideration the "organic whole" of cities.
“We’re going to design this in a unique way, with lights and art around it,” he said. “Each floor is going to painted by graffiti artists, with all kinds of cool colors and numbers … So it becomes an experience. When people come to Downtown Detroit here, before they even get into the garage, before they even park their car, it’s an experience. Because if we can’t compete against the suburbs on things like this, then it’s going to come down to a spread sheet and cost.”
The media likes to make note of Dan Gilbert's "war on spreadsheets," but what Gilbert really means is that the old model of looking only at ROI (return on investment) is no longer useful to him in a time and place where qualitative factors and long-term objectives aren't captured in relatively simple financial models.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Words of Rocco

Sometimes, folks who are well-read and "educated" can over-analyze and think too deeply about stuff. At times, we don't see the simple truth through all of our philosophical meanderings. We look for complexity where there is an absence of adornment. We expect too much of life and appreciate too little. We are often so concerned with the details that we ignore - or don't recognize - the obvious things which seem infinitesimal, yet are significant overall in terms of enriching our quality of life. Simple thoughts are often conveyed better by simplistic people.

Take Rocco, for instance. I met him while taking photos in the Detroit hood. As I was photographing a wall mural, he approached me and proceeded to tell me all about the artist that painted the artwork right next to the gas station where he works. That fantastic wall mural, "Detroit Lives," is the backdrop for this blog. He told me, out of the blue, "if you like what you are doing with yourself and your mind, every day, you will never have a bad day. You will always be blessed and happy." He then told me how and why he came to his spiritual thoughts about life in general, and not necessarily just religious spirituality. Rocco just spoke from his heart and 60 years of life experience. He keeps things clean and organized at "the cleanest gas station in town." He takes great pride in his work. We all have something to learn from the Roccos of the world.

Rocco inspired the design of this blog.

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Friday, February 1, 2013

Detroit's Anarcho-Bus Company

I've always despised buses. All of the government-run monstrosities are designed like reptilian hoosegows on wheels, and the political purpose of these public blots on the landscape has been to further the social mission of centrally planned transportation and defeat the mindset of independence, while also creating another massive layer of entitled, government workers with Cadillac benefits and lifetime pensions.

This year saw the birth of a new, private bus company in Detroit, and it's called the Detroit Bus Company. The owner and founder, 25-year-old Andy Didorosi, was a guest on Mitch Albom's show today, where he stated that his company is "trying to change what people think about buses." In other words, his company does not tool around the city in monstrous, shabby, dirty, disgusting cages on wheels that are driven by 400-pound, sedentary maniacs who have nothing to lose, especially their union-protected, government job. The company's buses are visually stunning while sporting graffiti-laden exterior designs that match the rustic-artistic city where the buses operate.

The buses also have wi-fi, live tracking apps, and you can call or text to have a bus come pick you up. And, there are no standard routes as with the government's bus systems. They also play great music on the buses.
Using our brilliant logistics software, we’ll figure the very best route to get you right to your destination while picking up or dropping off other riders along the way the quickest way possible. This is the bus system of the future: No more static routes, no more long wait times.
Imagine that! Comparing the private Detroit Bus Company entrepreneurial business model to the government cages centrally-planned model is like comparing an open farmer's market to Soviet bread lines. The buses run on soy-based biofuel that is produced and harvested locally. Didorosi calls this "brewing your own fuel." I love that idea because burning soy is sure as heck preferable to eating soy. Oh, and government prohibition is unmistakably absent, as you can also drink your own alcohol on all of the company's buses.

The company has limited hours and days right now, as they are still tweaking technology and systems before they grow their routes and fleet. I've used the service and I love it. Detroit's rustic-industrial culture is a perfect place for this amazing, entrepreneurial venture.

Photo by Debbie Merlo