Monday, July 28, 2014

Detroit Motor City = Trot To Mediocrity (Detropia movie review)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

A while ago, my brother and I were talking about Detroit and how it was possible to buy property for $100 or less.  The down side was that you could very well have had to sink six figures into repairing or building a house.  I don’t know how serious he was about doing this.  I think it was just something he was looking at out of passing interest.  However, this was recent enough to be taken as a sign of the city’s current troubles.  Detroit has been on a downhill slide for years now and has filed for bankruptcy.  Well, someone decided to turn a camera to the streets of The Motor City, resulting in Detropia.  It’s not a pretty picture.

The movie starts with the demolition of a house; one of the demolition men saying how there’s no shortage of lists of similar houses.  He finishes one list and goes back for another.  This seems to be the only boom industry in the city.  (Yes, the bailout of the car companies saved millions of jobs, but we may have serious competition from abroad.)  Detroit went from being the fastest-growing city in the world in 1930 to the fastest shrinking city in the U.S. in 2010.

This leaves a big problem for Mayor Bing.  There are a lot of blocks that are either entirely vacant or have just one house.  He wants the residents to consolidate so that services like fire rescue and mass transportation will have an easier job.  The people living in those houses aren’t willing to move, though.  Mayor Bing points out is that there’s not going to be a pot of gold waiting for those that are holding out, but it may not be that easy.  Some of the people have grown up in that area.

There’s also the cost of moving to consider.  There’s the president of a UAW chapter, George McGregor.  He’s shown telling the members that the plant wants to cut wages.  This could mean a loss of $20 to $150 per week, depending on the person’s job.  The workers are hurting so much that one moves to not even vote on it.  (If they can’t afford to stay where they are, how are they going to move?)

Another person featured in the documentary was Tommy Stephens, owner of the Raven Lounge.  He was able to buy a cheap house, for I think $6,000.  (It did look like he was going to have to do some renovation.)  He’s able to hang in there, but a lot of people aren’t.  He was commenting that a lot of the houses on his block were vacant.  One was even set on fire.

I get the impression from this documentary that Detroit is in trouble, but I know that from reading the newspaper.  I think we all know that.  The documentary just shows the level of decay that the city is in.  We get to see an abandoned train station.  There are also gutted apartment buildings that were probably nice at one time.  This is where the movie is interesting to watch, if you’re in to that sort of stuff.

There really aren’t any solutions offered.  Yes, it’s a complicated issue.  It’s not like anyone has some sort of magic wand they can wave over the city to fix everything.  The movie doesn’t really even seem to point at any one cause of the decay.  There’s a sense that your city could be next, but there’s not much to be learned.  It’s not like if you do A, B and C, you’ll go bankrupt.

The movie does also sort of ramble a little bit.  We see clips of the Stephens at work, then going to a car show.  We also see some tourists at a coffee shop and the woman working there thankful that the opera house across the street occasionally sends her customers.  We also see McGregor fielding calls from union members asking if the have a vision (as in eyeglasses) plan, which had to be cut as part of a deal.

The documentary ends with Stephens talking about a hypothetical neighbor’s house being on fire.  He says that if you don’t help put out the fire, your house could be next.  The thing is, how do you put out a fire when you don’t have the tools?  Yes, it’s a complicated issue, but I would have liked to see more.  The movie served as a good starting point, showcasing some of the problems Detroit has, having to worry about services and even having to cut some back.  I’m wondering if there are other documentaries about Detroit out there. 

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