2010 Census numbers are slowly being released (with a picture of one of my favorite restaurants).
Last time Detroit was this small (1910) Henry Ford had not yet started paying workers $5 a day (1914). Some apparently think Ford’s (as the old-timers say) would like to return to $5 a day. But I think that rumor has been greatly overstated.
What isn’t overstated is the sad state of the city of Detroit. The only city in the country to lose a great percentage of it’s residents in the last decade appears to be New Orleans. And they had Katrina. Before you blame the auto industry problems, remember that most of the autoworkers lived in the burbs, not the city. In other words, Detroit’s problems are not separate from the auto industry, but neither are they identical. They are worse; they are deeper; they are systemic.
And there really are no meaningful solutions to the problem. Mayor Dave Bing is trying to downsize the city by getting people to move into selected areas, thus relieving the city of providing services to such a huge area (the city of Detroit is almost 140 square miles). Other areas would be turned into urban farms.
Mayor Bing is also trying to come up with another 40,000 people in order to reach the 750,000 person threshold for certain state and federal aid. That will help get more money—other people’s money—to solve problems Detroit is not willing to take on and solve themselves. Let’s face it: As long as Uncle Sam will shove some dough your way, you can keep wasting money on political enterprises instead of fixing the problems. So 40,000 more people is important to keep the political enterprises healthy.
“Cynical,” you say? Sure, but well founded.
Given Detroit’s ability to work the numbers in the budget, I have no doubt that they can come up with 40,000 people on a census, because as everyone knows with the budget, numbers are just numbers; they do not actually need to correspond to anything in reality.
Now, if they can only find a way to tax these 40,000 people. Except those 40,000 probably don’t have jobs and that will raise the already atrocious unemployment rate (put by some as high as 50% in the city of Detroit). But they will be mythical people so it really won’t matter anyway.
And at the end of the day, whether 713,000 or 750,000, Detroit will still be a failing city with small-visioned leaders who lack the character and political will to solve the problems.
The Detroit public schools are failing beyond belief and the newest solution apparently involves 60 student classrooms. The school board who got the schools where they are (in part by turning down a $200 million dollar charter school grant) is complaining about the guy who is trying to change it and has taken him to court multiple times. Which goes to show that education is a talking point, not a task, not even a goal.
The house vacancy rate in Detroit is said to be about 22%. I think that’s actually lower than the real number. But it means more than one out of every five houses is empty. Probably 1 of the remaining 4 is probably in a very bad state of disrepair. Burned out houses are more common than you might think, particularly in certain parts of the city (like Delray that I drove through last Friday on the way to Armando’s for dinner).
And when I drive through I wonder, What is the place of the gospel in a city like Detroit?
Detroit doesn’t need more churches. It has churches all over the place. What it needs is more gospel—a gospel rightly defined, a gospel boldly preached, and a gospel practically lived out.
I think there are some good gospel works going on in the city by friends of mine and others whom I don’t know but know about. But I don’t sense there is a big push towards urban church planting or church revitalization in Detroit.
Some years ago I had a “Ten in Ten” concept going on in my head. Ten churches in ten strategic areas (think the parish concept) in the city of Detroit. Start some preaching points and see what develops.
I would still love to see it happen, but it’s going to take some committed people who are willing to live in what amounts to a North American version of a third world country.
“Harsh,” you say? Sure, but well founded.
Drive around a bit in Detroit.
And when you do, look at the faces of the people and dream of a church being built out of them. Dream of the litter of idols smashed by Jesus rather than the litter of trash left by citizens. Dream of the reclamation of lives destroyed by drugs and violence rather than buildings destroyed by time and neglect.
And look for places for gospel churches to meet, where the hope preached doesn’t rest on the city council, the mayor’s office, or the courtroom.
And pray for the souls of these people who are hopeless and trapped, and who mistakenly think living jobless in drug and violence ridden Detroit is their worst problem.
And pray for workers to go out into the harvest. Perhaps gospel people can give “urban farming” a new spin.