Sunday, July 28, 2013

Interview: What's Up With Detroit?

Here's my interview from February 2013 with Next News Network's WHDT World News Program with Gary Franchi. The topic was, "Is Detroit Doomed?" No it's not, I responded.

Rust and Riches Display

Some more photos from my Detroit collection.

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Detroit's Anarcho-Tree Farm Controversy

I have written before about the Hantz Woodlands Tree Farm project in the most blighted areas of Detroit's east side. This was a subject of great pain and controversy prior to the sale of the first land plots to John Hartz. In late 2012, the Hantz Woodlands deal was approved, allowing 1,500 lots to be sold to Hantz for his for-profit project. Billed the "world's largest experiment in urban agriculture," this issue was highly controversial from the get-go.

The controversy brewed because small - but vocal - groups of Detroit residents expressed the views that this was a "cheap land grab" in poor areas by a rich guy. Hantz was called an evil speculator, and in many cases, residents expressed the view that the Hantz purchase of property in Detroit was akin to slavery. Hantz is white, so the racial tensions and same-old-same-old polarization quickly became obvious.

Opponents expressed opinions that poor neighborhood residents would suffer as a result of an organized, managed urban agriculture project entering their neighborhoods, replacing 140 vacant acres strewn with tires, trash, blighted buildings, and occasional bones or dead bodies. Meanwhile, Hantz is paying taxes on the land while demolishing fifty blighted buildings, removing massive amounts of household trash and tires from his properties, and mowing down grass and weeds. So certainly, the poor are suffering from the oppressive clean-up of the areas they have allowed to decay for decades?

The land may have been fairly cheap on a per-acre basis, but when is the last time anyone has come in and offered to risk his money and turn miles of Detroit hellhole blight into productive use, while waiting years, or decades, for a return profit? In a December 2012 article on Truthout, there is this quote:
The foremost advocates and practitioners of urban agriculture in Detroit opposed the Hantz proposal. It is groups like Feedom Freedom Growers, Earthworks Urban Farm, the Garden Resource Program and D-Town Farm that have informed the nation and the world that Detroiters are serious about urban agriculture.
I have long acknowledged, supported, and given press time to the amazing urban agriculture that has been sweeping the city of Detroit. Even better, I support it with my dollars as I purchase a lot of my food from the local growers. And I agree that because of the city's bumbling crew of ragtag politicians who have been spinning in the wind without any forward motion, these creative and productive growers are not able to easily purchase vacant, unkempt land so that they can turn it into productive or profitable use. I blogged about Detroit urban agriculture homesteading in the past, including this short story on the repurposing of land in spite of government ineptness.

However, forcing an entrepreneur to endure the same level of political incompetence "to even things up" is neither beneficial or constructive for Detroit or its east side residents.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

MSNBC: "Detroit is America's Most Libertarian City"

Don't get too excited over that headline on MSNBC, because Ari Melber has not been reading my Detroit blog.

MSNBC's Ari Melber describes Detroit's plight with the usual media rinse-and-repeat conventional spin straight from the standard script: debt up the wazoo, decayed this, bombed-out that, no services here or there. Yawn. Seems I've read that 1,492 times prior. And this "condition" of decay he describes is what he deems as a condition one could expect to see as the result of libertarianism. According to Ari, a city that has been governed by unions and Marxists, and raped by nepotistic mobs, has presented to the world a visual of what libertarianism would bring us were we to put it into practice. Yet he never explains the connection between a libertarian philosophical framework and Detroit's 4+ decades of decline.

Ari states that Detroit needs to "look to Washington." Indeed, he says Detroit should be an outpost of the Potomac, just like the Banksters. Ari thinks that Congress should convene a special session to save Detroit. The Feds, he says, could bring jobs to Detroit, invest in property, and start up a Detroit branch of the Smithsonian to save the art of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).

These media twerps never express one intelligent sentence about Detroit's political history and sociological challenges as they pertain to the long-term decay and the current crisis. And now, finally, it can all be blamed on libertarianism and a too-small government. Melber is a boob. Follow me on Twitter @karendecoster. Thanks to Allan Caetano for the link.


Congress Denies Detroit 'the Bankster Treatment'

Oh no! Detroit has been denied the glorious opportunity to have the Feds come in and bail the city out with taxpayer booty and centrally plan the city's future via another few decades of political pandering and bureaucratic bumbling. From the Bloomberg article:
In interviews with 10 U.S. lawmakers yesterday, one of the few to support a bailout for Detroit was Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “There might be something we can do to help,” Harkin said. “Helping with infrastructure development, rebuilding the inner cities, helping them modernize their city, making it a livable place once again, that creates jobs.”
So that means the city will have to rely on entrepreneurial vision, private planning and investment, grass roots (bootstrap) voluntaryists, risk-taking preservationists, and lastly, private security forces that rise up to replace the near-invisible public police department for the provision of security. It's distressing to think that Detroit won't become an outpost of the Potomac!

I chronicle Detroit's anarcho-libertarian renewal at my blog, Detroit: From Rust to Riches. Follow me on Twitter @karendecoster.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rust and Whatnot

Some more of my Detroit Photography. Directed at nothing in particular.

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Daniel Hannan on Statism and Detroit: My Analysis

For those who aren't familiar with Daniel Hannan, he is a Member of the European Parliament, representing the conservative party in South East England. He is a Euroskeptic, a prudent Jeffersonian, and a rebel with a cause. He digs Ron Paul, and he has appeared in the American media with Ron Paul and Judge Napolitano. He is also a very active (and talented) writer and blogger. I like Hannan - a lot

Hannan has published a new article in The Telegraph, "Statism is turning America into Detroit – Ayn Rand's Starnesville come to life." Several folks forwarded this article on to me, asking for comments. Since Detroit is the media darling of the world these days, and Hannan has offered his attention to our plight, this article is worth a few comments. (See my post "Out of the Wreckage Comes Detroit ... the Brand.")

Unlike the majority of the outside media critics who write about this city from behind their Google Glasses, Hannan actually came here to experience a small taste of reality.
I spent a couple of weeks in Detroit in 1991. The city was still functioning more or less normally, but the early signs of decomposition were visible.
The big joke about me in the workplace is that I am "so precise." A poster child INTJ. I actually enjoy my boss, and others, teasing me about my peculiarities. All in good fun. To be precise without excessive wordiness, Hannan has way over-simplified the truth in this statement for the purpose of making a point that fits into the editorial parameters of his platform. Luckily, I have no such restrictions.

In 1991, Detroit was in a stage of advanced decomposition, so "early signs" is not an accurate description at all. In fact, in 1992 the city was, for the most part, a mega-shithole under Marxist rule, with a serious decline in city services, rampant criminal activity, racial disunion, and the city was under siege to the point of making international headlines for its Devil's Night chicanery. At about this time, Ze'ev Chafets published his book, Devil's Night and other True Tales of Detroit. His book was an accurate portrayal of Detroit at the time. Also at this time, I was living in Detroit's East English Village on the East Side. I had secured a house in that neighborhood when I was one day past the age of nineteen, hoping to figure out the city and its reputation by making my own tracks and forming my own opinions based on my experiences.

In December 1991, one block from my home, a man twice my size tried to stuff me into the back of a Chrysler New Yorker that was occupied by three other co-crazies blanked out on dope. Using my athletic prowess, I escaped the grasp of my attacker, and I immediately realized that had I not been able to throw off the attacker, I probably would have been just another number in the city morgue archives: gang-raped and dumped in an alley, only to be found several days later by someone cutting through the alley on the way to nowhere. My husband and I packed our bags and left the city the following spring. After ten years, we were done with The Experiment. The Marxism, crime, anti-white racism, tax rates, and lack of stable neighborhoods chased us out of town.

In reality, the city died in 1967, with the riot that changed the city for decades. The decomposition occurred immediately thereafter. My father, a firefighter, worked a 72+ hour shift during the riots, putting out fires while being shot at by rioting civilians. He told me stories about the lack of police protection, and thus having to fight off gangs of rioters and looters by pulling out what is know as the 2 1/2 inch handline, the ultimate firefighter tool.

Hannan also invokes the downward population argument - as if downsizing from a mega-city is a bad thing. Big cities = bigger governments ... meaning more political control, more organized corruption, more taxation, more bureaucratic theft, and less freedom for the entrepreneurs and individuals who actually contribute to the development of a thriving city. My advice to Hannan and others is to stop invoking the less taxpayers = less prosperity rationalization. Decentralization and downsized government is clearly a step in the right direction, which is the exact reason why Detroit is riding the popularity train in 2013. I celebrate Detroit's downsized return to independence and prosperity on my blog, Detroit: From Rust to Riches.

Hannan, in the rest of his article, is right about public sector salaries and pensions. The public sector, under Marxist control for almost three decades, robbed the city by borrowing from its future. And he is right about the catatonic-robotic masses who would rather obsess on Trayvon Martin and Obamanomics, and how that leads us down the road to Starnesville. While many neighborhoods in Detroit are Starnesville on steroids, the more dense areas of the city are blooming roses thanks to the population downsizing, affordable opportunities, and vigilant entrepreneurs.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Some Rust, Some Not

Here are a few of my scattered Detroit photos, conveying no particular theme at all.

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster
Photo by Karen DeCoster
Photo by Karen DeCoster

Detroit Jail Fail

A couple of months ago, I wrote about Detroit's jail blunder and the potential work stoppage on the construction of the massive facility - on prime downtown property - that was over budget on all counts. Work on this addition to incarceration nation has finally stopped, and five developers have submitted bids to develop the area for ... god forbid, private development and city life enrichment for the people who live here.

Dan Gilbert wants to develop not only the jail fail property, but also nearby detention center properties for the purpose of building a "mixed-use retail, entertainment, residential and office development that would serve as a gateway to downtown from the east." All to the good, of course. And the FBI is investigating the political scandal that created this project. While I never cheer on an FBI investigation, I may make an exception in this case. Oh but I forgot - the project wasn't for the purpose of lining pockets and bolstering reputations of proud politicos. It was designed to "save money" for the poor tax feeders.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Detroit Go Boom

The media duked it out to see who could post the story first. It's no surprise to the savvy folks here in Detroit, especially after a bankruptcy pit bull was hired to come here and prepare the city for the topple. If I see one more headline "Largest Municipal Bankruptcy Ever," my yawns will snap my jaw. As is often the case, Matthew Yglesias offers up an unsophisticated and lifeless assessment of the issue in about 190 dull-as-dishwater words. Ho hum. But he made it into the "firsters" club. All that Mr. Matt can put out there are meaningless factoids about a shrinking city and a shrinking tax base. I'll quote him: "But the basic reason Detroit needs to do this is pretty simple." Blah, blah, blah.

Really? Did he really write that? Highly, highly original. Yawn.

Everybody is an expert, but none of the "experts" actually come here to Detroit to understand the unfathomable political history, the prevailing political environment, or the amazing potential beyond the media images that showcase the same old baloney: ruin porn (please show me one more picture of the train station), population loss, industrial carnage, and the host of ostensible government saviors. 

Interestingly, there are libertarian types here - locals - who are quietly celebrating the fact of bankruptcy. There. was. no. other. way. I am mindful of the phrase "be careful what you wish for," but from a purely financial and 'move forward' perspective, this is the best case scenario. Some of my Detroit buds will not like me for the truth. I know you may be saying - where's your substance? I'm just trying to make it on the tail end of the "firsters" club! Much more to come from me on this, but for now, going paddleboarding in the 90-something degree heat is my priority.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Out of the Wreckage Comes Detroit ... the Brand

It's interesting to note how Detroit has become a hot-selling brand as the national and international media have become so closely focused on what is taking place here. Laura Berman of the Detroit News recently wrote about this, and she notes that:
For years, “Detroit” has been a slur of a city name. Out of the wreckage of what was once the city’s most notorious neighborhood, it’s beginning to stand for something else.
Detroit is a hot item, and "Detroit" labeled goods are selling like crazy in and out of the city. Stores such as The Detroit Shoppe are popping up in the 'burbs, luring once apprehensive suburbanites into the city to see what the fuss is all about. Each time I walk into stores selling the local flavor, they are packed to the gills with youngsters who are inspired by the new, hip Detroit, as well as older folks who reminisce on the likes of local landmarks such as Faygo Pop, Vernor's, Motown music, Better Made potato chips, Cass Corridor, and our famous coney island digs.  

In 2012, Forbes published a piece from filmmaker Eric Proulx about the Detroit brand, and he had this to say about his time spent here:
I’ve spent the better part of two years traveling to The Motor City to film “Lemonade: Detroit,” allowing myself to be absorbed by its zeitgeist, trying to find stories of reinvention that accurately reflect its brand . . . A brand I could have never fully – nor even partially – grasped without the first hand experience of being there. 
There are anecdotes of promise everywhere you look that belie what you think you know. I couldn’t begin to list even a tiny fraction of what makes Detroit’s brand so resilient, so proud, so inspiring.
These are sage words from an outsider who took the time to come here and experience Detroit rather than regurgitate the predictable perception spin created by the sensationalist media that circle the streets of Detroit like hungry hawks looking for fresh carnage. Maybe that's why entrepreneur Ted Serbinski wrote a story for Crain's Detroit Business about why he moved from San Francisco to Detroit, a city he calls the "ultimate entrepreneurial playground" with the "perfect storm of economical drivers."

Friday, July 5, 2013

Smoking Anarchy in Detroit?

One thing I love about my city is that the authorities are too incompetent to enforce anything, and everyone knows it. Everyone laughs or brags about it, which is even better. The politicians are only concerned with empowering their offices and staffs while enlarging their circle of swindle. Given a choice, I'd rather have the legalized criminals paying attention to their own pockets if the trade-off is that they leave the rest of alone to conduct our voluntaryist lives of interaction, transaction, and entrepreneurial vision. Because this insolvent city is tilting toward bankruptcy and lacks a police force to keep up with serious crime, business are, for a large part, left alone to conduct business as they wish. This is because Detroit just does not have the political manpower or police wherewithal to enforce absurd laws, including state laws.

I stopped in to a local bar on a recent Sunday, via bicycle, near the Detroit Warehouse District, for a Detroit microbrew and a bite to eat. The place sits on a quiet side street near the Detroit River, with ample parking, few cars, and my favorite thing in the D - outside seating. It's a must for me to sit outside in the warmer months.

As is the normal course for me, while waiting for my meal I ended up in a long conversation with one of the friendly employees about conducting business within the confines of government  strangulation. As is typical in the D, this gentleman was an anarchist in spirit, if not in actual definition. We ended up talking about the myriad idiotic local (Detroit) regulations that govern outdoor seating, as well as the Michigan laws banning smoking in public places.

First off, he noted that the bar's business had plopped because of the fact that it is a "winter bar," making its money off of locals hanging out all winter, as well as folks heading to the Detroit Red Wings games. The Michigan anti-smoking laws killed business for the owner. He also noted that the city laws regulating the outdoor seating conflicted with the state laws regulating smoking, potentially hurting the bar's summer business. He said that no one really understood how the city's outdoor seating rules accommodated (or conflicted with) the state's smoking rules because allowing smoking in outdoor seating was dependent upon whether or not you were just drinking, or eating, or whatever the heck, and that they really didn't know what is or isn't legal in the outdoor seating area. How in the heck can any business owner cut their way through any of this bullcrap?

I don't smoke, and I personally despise smoking because it is something I will never do. However, these smoking laws - as all libertarians understand - are totalitarian. If I don't like smoking, then the onus is on me to reject any establishment that doesn't conform to my preferences.  As to sitting outdoors, if the smoke is really bothering you it's a no-brainer to sit upwind from the smoker(s), and additionally, most times smokers will accommodate you if you ask them nicely to switch tables to stay upwind of their smoke. A little kindness and human interaction goes a long way.

The gentleman told me that because of the stupidity and complexity of trying to figure out what is or isn't allowed, and when, they just gave up and allow patrons to conduct business as usual. As he said, "The city won't bother us so we're not worried about it." A common - and heroic - theme here. Follow me on Twitter @karendecoster.


Detroit's Anarcho-Building Preservation

There are many great efforts in the city of Detroit to preserve the city's breathtaking architecture from the past. One of my favorite mentions is the G.A.R. (castle) building at Cass and Grand River. Dan Austin of the Detroit Free Press writes this about Sean Emery, one of the business partners who bought the building.
It’s worth pointing out that this is a Detroit-based small business saving one of the city’s architectural treasures, not a major real estate developer or major hotel chain or billionaire’s business. That’s not to discount the rebirths of the Book-Cadillac and Fort Shelby hotels or the Broderick Tower, but this is a little guy dreaming big and doing his part to turn our city around.
“For anyone else who wants to try, now’s the time to do this in this city,” Emery said. “There’s an incredible private-sector, do-it-yourself mentality that’s more or less erupting in Detroit right now. ... When you look around the city and see these businesses taking the chance and succeeding, it is literally infectious. The opportunity to make a difference, grow and build something worthwhile is greater in this city than it has been in decades and is probably unique in the country. Get out there and do it.”
Sean Emery, David Carleton, and Tom Carleton are just three regular guys, and business owners, who bought this abandoned gem with a flashlight, a vision, and $220k. In addition, these self-made historians are repurposing as much of the building materials as possible, as well as replicating building characteristics that cannot be saved due to the building's condition.

There are no public funds to gloat about, and there will be no politicians or Detroit "celebrities" showing up at the opening of this building. But these grassroots entrepreneurial efforts are the essence of this city's phenomenal voluntaryist economy. Follow me on Twitter @karendecoster.