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Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Decline of the Motor City

I often blog about technology's intersection with our culture. Most of the time, I think that on balance, technology is a positive influence. But every now and then I see something that makes me wonder.

I recently came across a survey of 3400 hundred people done by TripAdvisor.com in which Detroit was ranked as the most hated city in the United States. That is quite a contrast to the Detroit of the mid 1960's. In those days, Detroit was at the top of its game.

I was reminded of this by a video I came across in the Internet Archives. I was looking for a reference to an old radio program that used to be on WJR in Detroit. The Internet Archive has a promotional video made by the radio station in 1966. It is a wonderful snapshot of technology at that time. There are shots of the old (then state-of-the-art) radio broadcast equipment, the newsroom with typewriters and teletype machines, cars with AM radios, kitchens of the era, and shots of shiny new GM cars. The narrator in the film talked about the prosperity of Detroit. The city had disposable income 15 percent above the national average, and seventy percent of people were home owners. What a difference forty years makes.

Now, Detroit is a virtual welfare case. I doubt that in their wildest imagination the boosters of Detroit in 1966 could have seen their bleak future. Technology created Detroit and failure to stay current with technology, and bad management, was the city's undoing. What new Detroits are among us today, the failures in our future? Can we do something different this time to re-write the outcome? Can Detroit be resurrected? Tough questions but questions that won't go away.

Here's the video. It runs about 20 minutes but it is a fun look back.

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