Why did Detroit decline relative to Chicago and Toronto?

I’m not a blind booster, but Buffalo – the area inside the city limits – is a couple of orders of magnitude in better shape than Detroit. The Buffalo region’s economy has been in the doldrums for decades, some of the East Side is an urban prairie, and the “seen better days” vibe is quite evident in the built environment. However, the city still has a good-sized lower middle-class and middle-class population, along with the majority of the region’s old-money families. There’s some really vibrant neighborhoods. There was white flight from the old German and Polish neighborhoods on the East Side, but it’s still not a majority-minority city.

Detroit’s suburbs, though, are far more affluent than areas outside of Buffalo’s city limits, which are still mostly working-class and middle-class except in the northeast and southeast.

We’ll soon revert to a pre-industrial nomadic hunter-gatherer people who wear beaver skins and follow the deer herd for food. Many will die of starvation during the harsh winters, but that will only encourage breeding during the spring mating season. This is when anthropologists from the sunbelt will come to observe our culture. They will consider us a gentle but primitive people and warn their superiors against introducing us to civilization, as we would not be comprehend universal concepts such as decent public transportation, electric engines, or innovative Japanese technology. Occasionally, Christian missionaries will venture to our strange lands, but they will be killed and eaten.

Laugh now, but in the UP we’re 3/4th of the way there.

When trains did run from Toronto to Chicago, they went through the Sarnia/Port Huron rail tunnel, just as they have for years (the tunnel was built in 1891). But there is no rail tunnel or rail bridge at Windsor/Detroit–perhaps because the existence of one upriver at Sarnia/Port Huron meant one was unnecessary further south. Although I have little knowledge of CN schedules in the pre-VIA/Amtrak days (CN operated the Toronto-Chicago route in the 40s and 50s), I’d guess that you could get to Detroit from Toronto on the train, but it probably involved changing trains in Port Huron.

There has been a railway tunnel at Detroit, for years. The general fall-off in business has led to a failure of upkeep and a further reduction in business, but it still exists. I would guess that the Sarnia/Port Huron route was chosen and maintained because the sort of passenger traffic between Toronto and Chicago was simply not of the same sort as would stop (or originate) at Detroit. Once Michiganders discovered cars, nearly all passenger rail in the State fell precipitously. I can remember my Dad starting off on rail business trips from Royal Oak or the main rail Station on Detroit’s near west side prior to 1956, but before 1960 all those trips had evaporated, replaced by plane trips or, (if near enogh), car trips.

IMHO, the unions in Detroit were much more concentrated and universal - it was a part of the monoculture of industry.

I stand corrected. Thanks, Tom!

Having been born in in Detroit. lived there for ten years as an adult, and taught there for 34 years as a teacher, I know a bit about it. I have also visited Chicago at least a dozen times in my life, probably much more. And have been to Toronto on at least a half dozen occassions.

In a nutshell here is the brutal answer unvarnished and without any PC to make it sound acceptable:

Whites gave up on the city. Period. They kept moving “the line” every few years and eventually they were the minority and that was the end of that.

In Chicago and Toronto, whites kept many of their ethnic enclave neighborhoods and fought to keep them. They did not give up to the large extent that White Detroiters did.

The riots, Coleman Young, the deline of the auto industry - yes those are all factors — but they fit into the above reason and are just symptoms of the actual problem. Unions had nothing to do with it.

The white flight is true but the resultant lack of a tax base crippled the city. The schools are underfunded . The police don’t work for the poor. The youth are jailed and unemployed.
The riots had something to do with the problems. Many whites abandoned the city . Beautiful neighborhoods were neglected. The tax base shriveled.
Unions had nothing to do with it.

Gonzo - ever single thing you said is correct… except the schools. And I think it all that happened because of race. Detroit is a city very much identified by race.

I remember being in Chicago a dozen years ago and getting off the main drag and driving through the neighborhoods. I was looking for an old Jewish/German cemetary where the Haymarket martyrs are buried. I was struck how we passed through one ethnic neighborhood after another - complete with newspapers in foreign languages, restaurants and bakeries, and street names. It was exhilirating.

In Detroit, Whites with money started leaving in the late 1950’s. But the time of the riots over 300,000 of them were gone. You mention tax base and the Whites were indeed the tax base.

Okay -= the schools - when you add in the federal monies - which are considerable - Detroit Public Schools ranked in the top ten in the state in per pupil spending from the 1990’s onward. The district is rife with waste and administrative abuse of the worst kind. Here is one example:

Grand Rapids is the second largest district in the state next to Detroit. Based on a per pupil ratio, Detroit has 8 administrators to every 1 that Grand Rapids has. That is a tremendous waste of money which should be spent in the classroom but is not.

Good post Gonzomax.

Every year the news in Detroit run stories about how the Detroit school money is stolen. Warehouses where equipment is stored are looted. The money seems to get filtered away. If you go to the schools, you can see it does not get there.

Every year the news in Detroit run stories about how the Detroit school money is stolen. Warehouses where equipment is stored are looted. The money seems to get filtered away. If you go to the schools, you can see it does not get there.

Toronto’s parabolic City Hall collects and focuses positive spritual energy.

Detroit is not going to die. It was once known for the fur trade. It was also once know for tobacco (believe it or not). After automobiles, there will be something else - maybe fur trade or tobacco!

One idea I had to save Detroit is massively upgrading it’s network capacity. I’m talking Japan levels of broadband. Fiber to the curb with gigabyte home internet connections. Meanwhile spruce up, clean up the city and make it prettyful.

The idea is to attract telecommuters, people who could do their jobs from anywhere in the country. They move to Detroit to make use of the massive bandwidth.

Suddenly they’re bringing in money local, and Detroit has a shot turning into a midwest silicon valley.

You’d still have to explain why they ought to live in Detroit, however. Cheap housing and bandwidth alone won’t do it. People want to live somewhere nice, and they can do just as well in, say, Tennesee. Where we don’t have an income tax. And you get to keep all your pay.

But can Tennesee compete with the beautiful weather of Detroit that rivals Hawaii? I think not. :smiley:

hey! we had 55 degree weather in february just the other day! of course, a week earlier it was near 0 and it was snowing again within a couple days, but lets not confuse the issue with burdensome facts.

People who talk about “Detroit” should be aware that there is a distinct difference between thriving and vibrant suburbs and the city itself. If Detroit had kept changing its boundaries as the city grew as other cities did, they would still have a huge population and great areas to live in.

Very true for a long time. however, the suburbs are not nearly as “thriving” as they used to be.

It took a while, but the economic crapfest that is Michigan has spread to everyone now.

A lot of factors led to Detroit’s decline, here are a few:
-reliance on one industry (automobiles)
-corrupt city hall (since 1900)
-bad climate
-no natural reason for being where it is: CHICAGO is the confluence of the mid-West, with railheads reaching the far west, also, Chicago used to dominate the meat business (stockyards, meatpacking). Chicago and Toronto have large university and college communities-Detroit never had this.
hence, when the well-paying jobs slipped away, Detroit was stuck with a lot of low income, uneducated residents.It is really sad, but downtown Detroit is a ghost town. Even low house prices are not bringing people back.