I just finished reading Detroit: An American Autopsy. It was written by a journalist and chronicles both his professional and personal story about the decline of Detroit. It’s a gritty read and not for the faint of heart but it is a powerful reminder of how economy, culture and community are all interlinked. If one or the other takes a hit, it can bring down the others causing a vicious cycle. The author’s description of crime, drugs, arson, abandonment and the complete breakdown of civility in many neighbourhoods is something you won’t forget too soon.
It is tempting to blame Detroit’s fall on the decline in manufacturing (an economic cause) but in this book you read about how race was also a major driver of the decline. Politics, as usual, plays an out-sized role in the problems but it’s hard to say which came first – the chicken or the egg? Entitlement thinking of a different kind also played a big role.
I have said many times that it would be virtually impossible for ‘Detroit’ to happen in Canada. The social safety net, population mobility, a tendency towards support versus self-sufficiency and less of the race-related challenges (although there is some of this in many Canadian urban areas) make it hard to see how a Hamilton or a Sudbury or Saint John could become Detroit.
But we shouldn’t be complacent. We need as a populace to appreciate the importance of the economic base required to pay for good quality public services. The lady screaming in the face of the Premier recently about health care spending cuts probably doesn’t give a second thought to the link between stagnant GDP growth and health care spending restraint.
But she should. And someone should remind her.