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Razing Detroit: nothing but flowers?

There are those who claim that we've experienced too much economic growth. There are those who complain about the impact of industrialization. And there are those who say there are too many people. But, if you want to see what a world of negative growth, deindustrialization and depopulation looks like, check out what is going on in the once-prosperous motor city, Detroit.

Monday’s New York Times ran a feature article on how Detroit is shrinking. Population has declined to 790,000 residents, from 951,000 in 2000 and almost 2 million at its high-point in 1950. More than a quarter (27.8%) of the residences are vacant. Earlier this year the city government began a program to demolish 10,000 empty residential buildings. The city says it can’t afford to service the more sparsely populated areas.

The decay has set in so far that nature is making a big comeback. A homeowner, Mae Reeder, finds that her bungalow is “surrounded by blocks that are being reclaimed by nature, complete with pheasants nesting in vacant spaces where people once lived”.

But, believe it or not, some are putting a positive spin on this decline. A non-profit trade group, Community Development Advocates of Detroit, calls for an abandoned area to be designated as “agricultural”. The Times reports:

An urban homestead – one of the more popular parts of the plan – would be tantamount to country living in the city, the plan says, with homeowners enjoying an agricultural environment and lower taxes in exchange for disconnecting from some city services like water.

Enjoying an agricultural environment”? Talk about looking on the green side of life! In the past, this process would probably have been described as regression, an unthinkable return to pre-civilized ways. And disconnecting from “some” services “like water”? Oh, yes, just water, no big deal. Decay seen through a green-tinted glasses becomes tolerable, or even “enjoyable”.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite Talking Heads songs, “(Nothing but) Flowers”. A more recent David Byrne performance of the song is below, and here are some choice lyrics (full lyrics can be found here):

This used to be real estate
Now it's only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it's nothing but flowers
The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we'd start over
But I guess I was wrong...

This was a Pizza Hut
Now it's all covered with daisies
you got it, you got it
I miss the honky tonks,
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
you got it, you got it
And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
you got it, you got it...

This was a discount store,
Now it's turned into a cornfield
you got it, you got it
Don't leave me stranded here
I can't get used to this lifestyle

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