We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Driving Detroit

The Quest for Respect in the Motor City

By George Galster

Publication Year: 2012

For most of the twentieth century, Detroit was a symbol of American industrial might, a place of entrepreneurial and technical ingenuity where the latest consumer inventions were made available to everyone through the genius of mass production. Today, Detroit is better known for its dwindling population, moribund automobile industry, and alarmingly high murder rate. In Driving Detroit, author George Galster, a fifth-generation Detroiter and internationally known urbanist, sets out to understand how the city has come to represent both the best and worst of what cities can be, all within the span of a half century. Galster invites the reader to travel with him along the streets and into the soul of this place to grasp fully what drives the Motor City.

With a scholar's rigor and a local's perspective, Galster uncovers why metropolitan Detroit's cultural, commercial, and built landscape has been so radically transformed. He shows how geography, local government structure, and social forces created a housing development system that produced sprawl at the fringe and abandonment at the core. Galster argues that this system, in tandem with the region's automotive economic base, has chronically frustrated the population's quest for basic physical, social, and psychological resources. These frustrations, in turn, generated numerous adaptations—distrust, scapegoating, identity politics, segregation, unionization, and jurisdictional fragmentation—that collectively leave Detroit in an uncompetitive and unsustainable position.

Partly a self-portrait, in which Detroiters paint their own stories through songs, poems, and oral histories, Driving Detroit offers an intimate, insightful, and perhaps controversial explanation for the stunning contrasts—poverty and plenty, decay and splendor, despair and resilience—that characterize the once mighty city.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Metropolitan Portraits

Title Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (68.2 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (45.2 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (42.9 KB)
pp. vii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (327.6 KB)
pp. ix-x

A great portrait executed in paint has many layers; it builds a depth of character corresponding to the pigment. The best portraits do not merely mimic the surface of their subjects; they also reveal their subjects’ characters. The same principles apply to executing...

read more

Prologue: Two Daughters of Detroit

pdf iconDownload PDF (167.0 KB)
pp. 1-2

Detroit’s story is, of course, an amalgam of millions of stories of men, women, and children who have loved, toiled, played, and made lives in this place since 1701 when the city was founded. But the essence of what this city represents, both to itself...

read more

1. Riding on the Freeway: A Riff on the Place Called Motown

pdf iconDownload PDF (26.9 MB)
pp. 3-44

“Made in Detroit.” This seems quaint, now that the label “Made in China” screams at us from virtually every product we pick up, belying the proud industrial heritage that once was America’s. This heritage was forged and stamped and pressed and cut...

read more

2. Sculpting Detroit: Polity and Economy Trump Geology

pdf iconDownload PDF (4.3 MB)
pp. 45-68

If you cut away the hyperbole and cut him some slack for exaggerating (OK, lying) to make a political point to his boss, you must admit that the found er of the City of Detroit got to the heart of its rationale. Detroit started because of its living natural...

read more

3. From Fort to Ford to . . . ?

pdf iconDownload PDF (483.9 KB)
pp. 69-91

Though popular consciousness permanently welds the auto industry onto the economic frame of Detroit, for two- thirds of its history the city did something else for a living. The region has had three distinct economic bases. From its inception until the close...

read more

4. From Old World to Old South and Old Testament

pdf iconDownload PDF (469.9 KB)
pp. 92-108

Although written out of the experience of blacks, the sentiments expressed in “Lift Every Voice and Sing” equally apply to generations of other ethnic groups who came to Detroit seeking a better life. Despite common motivations, peopling this region tapped...

read more

5. Who Will Feast on the Fruits of Labor?

pdf iconDownload PDF (454.5 KB)
pp. 109-135

The stage that is Greater Detroit’s featureless plain has now been set. The antagonists have taken their places: the capitalists and the laborers of different racial backgrounds. How will the plot play out? In Greater Detroit, the story line developed historically...

read more

6. Turf Wars

pdf iconDownload PDF (9.9 MB)
pp. 136-166

Immediately on pulling his canoe ashore at the narrowest point of the Detroit River, Monsieur Cadillac established a precedent that would define this place for centuries to come: grab some land and then defend it to the death. The log stockade called Fort Pontchartrain...

read more

7. Wrestling for Pieces of the Proletarian Pie

pdf iconDownload PDF (447.5 KB)
pp. 167-196

Workers in Greater Detroit not only battled over turf but engaged in a fierce, sustained, and oft en violent economic competition delineated by ethnic or, more powerfully and perpetually, racial categorizations. This competition was naked, and groups...

read more

8. Feasting on Fear

pdf iconDownload PDF (396.8 KB)
pp. 197-214

Greater Detroit is gripped by deep- seated fears. It is a place where everyone has a gut feeling, “They want what I have, and will stop at nothing to take it.” This is understandable, given the never- ending, no- holds- barred competition between its ethnic...

read more

9. The Dynamics of Decay, Abandonment, and Bankruptcy

pdf iconDownload PDF (5.0 MB)
pp. 215-240

Perhaps the Detroit car culture’s fetish about the “latest model” and “planned obsolescence” carried over into its housing market. Perhaps the subliminal...

read more

10. What Drives Detroiters?

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.8 MB)
pp. 241-269

People are people, and psychologists have observed some common behavioral and psychic characteristics that unite our species. What humans everywhere need are three basic sorts of resources: physical (like food, clothing, shelter, time...

read more

11. From Motown to Mortropolis

pdf iconDownload PDF (396.0 KB)
pp. 270-282

What happens when you drop a giant, oligopolistic, land- hungry auto industry on a featureless plain in a state that gives tiny local governments the power to control their own development patterns and to decide who lives in their communities? What happens when...

read more

Epilogue: Two Daughters of Detroit Revisited

pdf iconDownload PDF (324.2 KB)
pp. 283-284

Greater Detroit’s struggles for respect between labor and capital, blacks and whites created a landscape of radically different opportunities. This landscape’s topography is shaped not only by things that people partly can control, such as their educational...

Selected References

pdf iconDownload PDF (337.4 KB)
pp. 285-288


pdf iconDownload PDF (392.8 KB)
pp. 289-302


pdf iconDownload PDF (328.7 KB)
pp. 303-305

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206463
E-ISBN-10: 0812206460
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812244298
Print-ISBN-10: 081224429X

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Metropolitan Portraits

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Detroit Metropolitan Area. (Mich.) -- Social conditions -- 21st century.
  • Detroit Metropolitan Area. (Mich.) -- Economic conditions -- 21st century.
  • Detroit Metropolitan Area. (Mich.) -- Race relations -- 21st century.
  • Suburban life -- Michigan -- Detroit Metropolitan Area.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access