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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

Title Page

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Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-

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Preface

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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...

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Prologue: Two Daughters of Detroit

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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...

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

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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...

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2. Sculpting Detroit: Polity and Economy Trump Geology

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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...

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3. From Fort to Ford to . . . ?

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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...

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4. From Old World to Old South and Old Testament

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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...

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5. Who Will Feast on the Fruits of Labor?

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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...

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6. Turf Wars

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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...

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7. Wrestling for Pieces of the Proletarian Pie

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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...

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8. Feasting on Fear

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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...

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9. The Dynamics of Decay, Abandonment, and Bankruptcy

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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...

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10. What Drives Detroiters?

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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...

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11. From Motown to Mortropolis

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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...

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Epilogue: Two Daughters of Detroit Revisited

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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

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pp. 285-288

Index

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pp. 289-302

Acknowledgments

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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
Series Editor Byline: Judith A. Martin, Series Editor

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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.
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