For Release Friday, August 2, 2013
Most of us can think of reasons why our community is different from Detroit. Unless you’re in an older industrial city, Detroit probably doesn’t look much like where you live: The largest of America’s Rust Belt cities, Detroit’s aging infrastructure is visibly crumbling as nature retakes empty factories and once-proud neighborhoods. Haunting images of such decay accompany much of the recent web coverage about Detroit’s fiscal woes.
Yet the picture on Time’s cover shows something different: It’s the top of General Motors’ fortress-like headquarters, known locally as “RenCen.” The futuristic slice of 1970s architecture would be a great backdrop for “The Jetsons” and their flying cars. Unfortunately, the flying cars never arrived for GM, and the company sank into the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. So it stood to reason that the city of GM might eventually succumb to the same fate.
It’s ironic that the obsolescence that companies like GM built into their cars now permeates our thinking about place. Just as many drivers regularly trade in their old ride for a new, shinier one, generations of Rust Belt residents have traded in their gritty hometowns to retire in the warm places where they once vacationed. Expectations that the trend would continue prompted massive growth-related outlays in Sunbelt municipalities. But the 2008-09 downturn wrought havoc north and south: slashed retirement accounts and stalled home sales locked many older workers into jobs and housing they couldn’t afford to leave; Sun Belt communities faced huge bills with too few residents to pay them.