I left a variation of a story I tell my students as a comment at Kunsler's blog two weeks ago, a shortened version of how and why Detroit became the Motor City in the context of its place in the Great Lakes regional economy and what might be in store for it in response to a remark by Kunstler.
“I’m convinced that the Great Lakes region will be at the center of an internally-focused North American economy when the hallucination of oil-powered globalism dissolves. Places like Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit will have a new life, but not at the scale of the twentieth century”I transitioned out of that passage by promising to repost it to here in a more refined form. Honestly, I think it's good enough. Now follow over the jump for responses to it and to another comment about Detroit I posted this week at Kunstler's blog.
In my classes, I spend a good chunk of a lecture on the roles of Great Lakes cities. It was pretty natural that North America’s manufacturing would be centered on the Great Lakes, as all of the natural resources required for making things out of steel were there–iron ore, coal, and lime–and the entire region was connected by a vast natural waterway, making shipping cheap. All that was needed to make cars was imported rubber. Detroit ended up with the distinction because of its central location, skilled manufacturing work force, and money looking for something to invest in once the timber boom ended. Now that cars are winding down, the city is looking for something else to make. Urban farming and trade with Canada aren’t enough to support a metropolitan population of four million.
It also helped that all the rest of the Great Lakes cities had something else to do already. Buffalo is a trade center between New York and the Great Lakes to the west. I suppose the Erie Canal might get revived as a functioning trade route in the post-petroleum future. Cleveland was the original oil capital and secondary manufacturing center. Now, it’s trying to become a tourist attraction. I’m not sure what it will do in a future without mass tourism. Toledo is the Glass City, which means its a subsidiary of Detroit. It’s still a trade center where the Maumee enters Lake Erie, but the rest of its future depends on what Detroit does.
As for the cities to the west, Chicago is the ultimate trade center, where the raw materials of the west get sent to the manufacturing centers of the east and the manufactured goods get sent to the west with Chicago profiting as the middleman (think Chicago Board of Trade). There will still be room for such a role in the future, even if it’s smaller. Milwaukee is the place where milk and grain become beer and cheese. Again, that’s useful, but how much of a mass market will there be for it?
All of the above is a story I tell my students that helps them understand their place in the world. Now they have to help create their own story so that they can keep a place in the world.
Ozone responded to my prognosis for Detroit dimly.
“Now that cars are winding down, the city is looking for something else to make. Urban farming and trade with Canada aren’t enough to support a metropolitan population of four million.”That was echoed this week, when I speculated about the effects of immigration on Detroit at Kunstler's blog.
So it then follows that there will BE no metropolitan population of four million. (That may be a bit on the dark side, but we should think pragmatically when facing resource contraction.)
Last year, former NYC Mayor Bloomberg suggested sending all the immigrants to Detroit, where that would be one of the results. When I moved here from southern California, I found the idea of a major city full of abandoned house and vacant lots was unimaginable. In Los Angeles, there were always immigrants to move in. And in the areas where immigrants do live, like Hamtramck, the neighborhoods are full of activity. But I doubt Detroit can return to being a bustling city of 2 million on the strength of small businesses serving immigrants and their families alone. That’s what makes Bloomberg’s suggestion such a daft idea. If there were enough ways of making a living to support them, then Detroit wouldn’t be so empty in the first place.Florida Power followed in Ozone's footsteps.
“But I doubt Detroit can return to being a bustling city of 2 million on the strength of small businesses serving immigrants and their families alone.”Yes, finding that source of wealth creation is the big unanswered (and if Kunstler and Greer are right, unanswerable) question.
This raises the question of how wealth is created. If it were just a matter of plopping down X number of people in a set geographical area then why would there have been migration at all? Could they not have done the same sorts of things — as in taking in each others’ laundry — in their homeland? Services arise within the context of a true wealth creator, which is either grown, mined, or manufactured.
Back to the responses to my comment on "That was then, this is now."
Crue pointed out that one of my predictions is already coming true.
“I suppose the Erie Canal might get revived as a functioning trade route in the post-petroleum future.”Here's the story Crue linked to: Barge Traffic Increases Along Erie Canal.
It’s already happening.
New York's Erie Canal is reviving its history to again be an economic corridor for commercial shipping through upstate New York — after decades of being mostly used by recreational boats. Shipping from Canada it expected to lead to a level of commercial traffic not seen in decades.Well, hot damn. I'll be sure to add this detail when I discuss Buffalo the next time I tell the story to my students.
The Erie Canal opened in 1825 and upstate New York's biggest cities grew up along it. Freight passing through the 500 miles of narrow waterways and locks peaked at five million tons at the middle of last century. Once the interstate highway system and competing St. Lawrence Seaway to the north opened up, that number dropped way off.
As commercial shipping slowed to just 10,000 tons a year, recreational boats became the dominant user of the canals. They still are. But more and more barges are traveling through the locks again. Last year, the canals saw four times their average freight. And this year, the Canal Corporation is expecting to see more than 100,000 tons shipped through New York's waterways.
Canal Corporation director Brian Stratton says as more crops come in from Canada, thanks to new laws governing the industry, the canal just happens to be in the right place again.
Finally, Mr. Darling had two replies, first to Ozone and then to me. Ozone got the long critical one.
Ozone & All,I got the short sweet one.
Detroit was planned for a population of 8 million. It seems to have been re-planned for 1/2 million (Mr. Orr is there to facilitate that ;).
The current plan calls for a preserved historical-landmark studded hub, hugged by upscale neighborhoods with belts of mid-market housing radiating outward and new greenbelts created over demolished housing detritus.
Underpinning this there’s supposed to be a very active ‘hi-tech’ sector headquartered there (tech billionaires don’t donate a billion+ dollars for the fun of it, no matter how scrupulous their corporations are).
The only teensy-weentsy problem with that is that growth prospects for the NASDAQ’s front-runners got clipped by the Snowden Disclosures [*]. This required damage-control and repositioning… And this is that sticky little part of the real world, where overseas reaction impacts domestic audiences.**
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[*] This will kick the timing of Detroit’s Urban ‘Pivot’ into the crapper… And may give some of the less fortunate denizens a little more time to scramble out of the way.
Nice on-the-fly analysis NV.Thank you, and cheers to you, too, neighbor!