Entire neighborhoods in Detroit were destroyed

Detroit is getting up again

Summary: Detroit is the poorest metropolis in the United States and leads the violence statistics. The financial crisis of the 2000s hit the former metropolis hard and brought the economy to a standstill. But there are again signs of an upswing: residents are returning, investors are buying huge plots of land for little money, companies are settling here and new businesses are opening every day.

In the middle of the poorest metropolis in the United States there is a flat, brightly painted house. Inside, Anthony Hatinger plants his seeds in the glow of a greenhouse light and hopes that they will come up. With the pointed end of a ballpoint pen cap he picks up three tiny basil seeds from the palm of his hand and places them on damp, lumpy earth plugs, he calls them "brownie bites". Thousands of young tilapias swim in large pools in the basement. Their excretions are pumped up and fertilize the plants that pull out the nutrients. The water filtered in this way flows back down into the fish tank and the cycle starts all over again.

Something is happening again in "Kory's Market" in North Central, eight kilometers from the city center. This place was an institution in the past - as a liquor store. The whiskey bottles used to be in the basement, where the fish swim in the tubs today. Today the shop is not yet one of the “hip” places again, but that could change. Because the city he's in is suddenly cool again: Detroit.

Detroit has always been a place the world looked at. It was once a symbol of the economic rise of the big cities. Here Henry Ford ushered in the high phase of industrialization in 1913 with the mass production of the Ford T. The dream of “ascent for all” was first dreamed here. The nightmare of the crash was just as archetypal. This decline began in the 1960s and bottomed out in the 2000s. When the financial crisis hit and the world's largest companies went to their knees, Detroit was hit like hardly any other city in the world. General Motors and Chrysler had to file for bankruptcy, the unemployment rate soon rose to 18.2 percent, and around a third of Detroiters were considered poor. The city had to file for bankruptcy in 2013.

And today? Can Detroit be taken as a global example of how a city can revive itself? And this not only through government rescue measures, but through the private commitment of the people who live in it.

Hatinger, 25, black mother, white father, is a silent partner in this change. He studied religion and horticulture; and works for a Christian sponsor on one of the many neighborhood projects that are transforming Detroit from the ground up. Hatinger and his colleagues deliver the fish and vegetables from their own production to well-attended new restaurants as well as to food markets in the poorer areas of the city.

Every day Hatinger walks or cycles on the way to work through a kind of open-air museum of decline and rebirth: dilapidated buildings, houses that are being rebuilt, fallow land. “In Detroit, I learned a lot about the human soul and about perseverance,” he says. “You hear incredible things, how some people keep trying to get something off the ground. With so much heart. I'm in the right place here. "

May I introduce you to some Detroiters here? I met her when I returned to the city where I was born and where I worked for 25 years. I haven't bothered to make an appointment with Mike Duggan, the energetic new mayor, the first white chief in a black town in forty years. Not even the executives of the big corporations and foundations who donated hundreds of millions of dollars to rescue Detroit from bankruptcy. Or with multimillionaire Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, the largest online mortgage financier in the United States. Gilbert moved Quicken Loans to his hometown, bought more than 70 properties, financed dozen startups and has an estimated 12,500 employees.

In this play, I was less interested in the big stars than in the supporting actors, who are now reinventing the lost Detroit. Some have come with specific plans; others build castles in the air. But one thing is clear: Of all things, the decay of this city is its engine today. In no other American metropolis can you achieve so much with so little money.

The new Detroit shines in the city center and in neighborhoods like Corktown and Midtown, but around this glowing core still lies the old Detroit, acres of acres of decomposition and destruction, prairies on which only a few lost houses stand. The graffiti-sprayed concrete is crumbling on the old car factories that once made the city rich. Millions of windows in this city no longer have panes.

But the Detroiters I met see their opportunity in these very places. You trust in an uncertain future. Anyone who could no longer muster up hope has long since moved away.

TED video: City planner Toni Griffin shares her vision for Detroit:


Of course, you can easily drive downtown without seeing Detroit, which is still damaged. Robert Hake also deliberately drove past it for a long time, months after he had relocated his prosperous company from a suburb to the city center. MyLocker.net specializes in individually designed sportswear. Mainly locals work in his company; He is currently hiring 70 Detroiters, almost doubling the number of his employees.

But at first Hake, 41, had his doubts. It was not for nothing that Detroit was called the “murder capital of the USA” in the 1970s. “Wind up the windows and lock the door,” his parents used to say when they drove into town with him. "My decision to do something here had nothing to do with the fact that I wanted to revive Detroit," he says, while the city skyline is reflected in his shiny, three-meter-long desk. He just wanted to get a bargain - an empty auto parts factory, commercial space the size of two soccer fields. "But now that I belong, it just carries me away."

Detroit is reinventing itself, building by building, idea by idea, person by person. Now that the city is out of its $ 18 billion debt, it can do a little of what needs to be done: 40,000 streetlights have been replaced, the average time it takes the police from one 911 to the scene has been reduced to one Hour reduced to less than 20 minutes.

NG-Video: Detroiters tell what they live in their city

Antonio "Shades" Agee, the graffiti artist who designed the MyLocker commercial building, grew up in the middle of town. His mother, a Latina, still lives in his childhood home, in a neighborhood he doesn't like to visit anymore. It's not "the new Detroit". Agee, 44, is a typical Detroit citizen - courageous, ambitious, someone who had to fight his way through. At 15, he started drinking, doing drugs, and spraying graffiti. Detroit's main street, now full of glittering shops and expensive condominiums, "was dead enough to work any wall and no one minded."

Today Agee is booked as a graffiti artist by Reebok, Fiat and Chrysler. He knows he belongs to the tough, creative, proud Detroit that has become a cool brand. It annoys him that people who hardly know the city wear Detroit's logo on T-shirts - because they think it's chic. “This new bloom is really great,” he says. “Many now want to save Detroit. But Detroit can't be saved. You have to be Detroit. "

The broad river, the boulevards, the historically significant architecture - the city was formerly known as the Paris of the Midwest. More automobiles were assembled in “Motor City” or “Motown” than anywhere else. The workers had regular jobs with collectively agreed wages, they could afford a house, a boat, perhaps a weekend cottage. Some claim that America's middle class was born here. When new highways were built in the late 1950s, many migrated to the suburbs. After the devastating race riots of 1967 at the latest, tens of thousands moved away, mostly white families. The city dried up. Since then, Detroit has repeatedly been prophesied of a new bloom - the first time a year later, when the Detroit Tigers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the baseball final.

I was three when my parents moved from here in 1957, as soon as more than half of the citizens. But my heart stayed in Detroit, where Grandpa Zielinski grew roses and garlic and Grandma bought Pumpernickel with me at the Polish bakery.

A boom seemed to be on the horizon in the 1970s when Henry Ford's grandson built the majestic towers of the Renaissance Center. But with its fortress aesthetic, the building complex had a rather repellent effect on visitors. Then a 4.7 kilometer long elevated railway inaugurated in 1987 was supposed to revitalize the city center, but hardly anyone drove it. Three casinos opened in 1999 and 2000; that was not the solution either. After all, the American football Super Bowl in 2006 was supposed to be the turning point. Again nothing.

The ailing city was knocked out by the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler and the real estate crisis. Houses and schools were orphaned, looters, drug dealers and criminals ruled the streets.

Like a migraine that slowly subsides, the mood in the city has gradually improved. Alex Badasci Lindmeier, 36, has just bought a house on the eastern outskirts, a 90-year-old brick building in Tudor style, so close to the river that you can hear the complaining horns of the cargo ships. Lindmeier and his girlfriend almost bought a one-room apartment in their hometown Hong Kong, but then they said to themselves: "We'd be rid of all our money and wouldn't have done anything exciting with it."

He designs websites; she does online marketing. You can work anywhere, so they started looking around America. In July 2013, Lindmeier learned that Detroit had filed for bankruptcy. A few days later he packed a suitcase, a cooler bag and his black Labrador hybrid Maya into the car and drove across the country to Detroit. From a motel he explored the area and one day happened to be in a neighborhood festival in Jefferson Chalmers: people of all skin colors barbecuing together. A few weeks later he bought a vacant house on the same street for $ 8,300, and within a year he also owned the property next to it, as well as four other houses and four apartments. "We spent a lot of money," he says, "$ 150,000."

His new house was badly messed up: windows and household appliances were missing, cables and pipes were torn out, the oak floors soaked with rubbish and rotting food. Today the plastered walls are painted a casual denim blue, and behind the house he built raised beds and set up a beehive.

Aamir Farooqi was sitting at the Savoy Hotel in London some time ago when he was told about Detroit's potential. Shortly afterwards he came to town for the first time. At the airport, a customs officer said he was crazy if he invested a cent in the city.

He did it anyway. Farooqi, 54, Pakistani and former top manager of a multinational corporation, bought 150 houses with his Australian partner, which they renovated and rented again. Lots of international investors have bought dirt cheap homes in Detroit, but Farooqi also lives here for most of the year. He fell in love with the city and sometimes gives interest-free loans to “young people who have guts and brains and take risks”.

The city itself is still barely able to provide everyday services, such as punctual buses or functioning street lighting. The problem is simple and yet almost unsolvable: Detroit is not only poor, it is also very extensive. In 1950, 1.8 million people lived in the city, about 84 percent of them white. By 2013, the population had fallen to 689,000, of which about 83 percent were African American. Half of households live on less than $ 25,000 a year. Even if murder rates are falling, Detroit still tops the violence statistics for cities with populations over 100,000. The education minister calls the city's schools a “national disgrace”.

To date, there are still vacancies in the three remaining car plants. But most of them require special qualifications. It is no different with the numerous technological start-ups in the city. Detroit has the highest unemployment rate of the 50 largest cities in the United States. A new shop seems to open here every week - grocery markets, juice bars, cafes, even bicycle manufacturers.

As I drive out of the city center on a sunny late afternoon, my eyes fall on two workers working on a two-story gray corner house. It belongs to Steve Johnson, 50. He used to be a construction worker, now he's trying his hand at real estate. He has rented the house in front of which he stands for ten years, now it is totally run down and he is currently trying to replace the broken windows. Half of his ten apartments in the area are empty. But soon, he is convinced, the tenants will come here too, in this formerly neglected area that is now touted as North Corktown.

“The lot was $ 50 when I grew up here,” says Johnson, squinting and wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. “For a while you could just grab one another. All you have to do is fix it and mow the lawn and the city gives you it. Now they are all sold. ”He himself lives in a godforsaken area eight miles from here. But now all his hopes are on this side of the motorway, the upswing, which must come here too. But is he really going to do that?

Johnson thinks about it for a moment. Then he says a sentence that many of the brave adventurers in this unpredictable climber drama could say: “I bet on what I have.” Whatever happens with it.

(NG, issue 5/2015, page (s) 119 to 135)