Tag Archives: recolonizingdetroit

“No Man. No Problem.”

Fourth in the series of indeterminate length, Recolonizing Detroit

The root cause of the problems Paul Romer encountered in Madagascar was the local population. So how about founding these cities not just in unpopulated areas, but in areas people do not identify with as well? Could this be effective? From the European perspective, that’s what the era of colonization was, but most of us have a more expansive view of ownership now. Today, the only land that doesn’t have recognized claims on is Antarctica (Actually, it’s a bit more complicated on that, but more on that later.), but that location is not likely to attract many people to it. What if instead of land, these cities were built in international waters, or somewhere else unclaimed by any country? What then?

That’s right, we’re talking about micronations.
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Serfdom in the Magic Kingdom

Third in the series of indeterminate length, Recolonizing Detroit

Calling Paul Romer’s charter cities, “OCP-like company towns” is unfair. The towns presumably would be run like any other city controlled by colonial power; or at least like any other city occupied by the colonial power (i.e the indigenous population kept out of the highest reaches of power). However there once was a plan for a real Delta City: Walt Disney’s EPCOT. A state of the art, centrally planned town, where every resident would be an employee of the Walt Disney Company (retirees would be evicted), and no one would own – nor control – their own residences. (See Walt Disney tout EPCOT at the 9:10 mark.) The town would be run by the board of directors of the Walt Disney corporation, presumably with Walt himself as feudal lord. Anti-democratic?, Well as the OCP President said in RoboCop 2, “Anybody can own a share [of OCP]. What could be more democratic?” (Funny how often rabid anti-communists aren’t exactly democracy’s biggest supporters, isn’t it?)

EPCOT never got off the ground, and instead turned into a rather dreary part of Walt Disney World with a giant golf ball for a center piece. Even when I saw it in 1989, it seemed like the fabulous future of 1992 circa 1982. (A robot that can draw pictures! A computer that plays music! Zounds!) The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow didn’t completely die though. In 1996, it spawned Celebration, Florida, a town centrally planned by the Walt Disney Corporation.

Celebration, is planned according to the New Urbanism school. You may recognize this style from the town in the Truman Show, Seaside, Florida. Personally, I find the towns repugnant. The faux-small town feel, the “rustic” municipal architecture. It’s so saccharine. It’s Stepford, Connecticut. They leave me with impression zoning laws and homeowner associations that preoccupied with maintaining soul crushing conformity. Yet, I find the goals of walkable and picturesque towns enviable. It’s the idea of a master plan that bothers me, rather than towns simply being organic. I think this, but I ironically live in a country where pretty much every town was centrally planned to at least some extent.

It is obvious that Romer’s charter cities would be master planned communities, after all he posits that that new cities spring forth from undeveloped land relatively quickly. In order to do this, someone will have say what gets built and where. Unfortunately, whenever I think of new construction lots, I think “stifling.” Houses built every two feet, all with the same floor plan and different permutations of the same three architectural choices. (Do you want your door solid, or with an oval window? Dormers or no? White or cream? Rollaway basketball rim on the left or right side of driveway? No I’m sorry, nothing permanent can be attached to the front of the house. We must think of the property values you know!) Worst of all, since HOAs aren’t the government, you have no protections, no representation, and no benefits, all for the low price of $250 and three headaches a year.


Second in the series of indeterminate length, Recolonizing Detroit

The second story that spawned this series, was about Paul Romer’s “charter cities” idea. (Or as Metafilter put it, “neocolonial OCP-like company towns.“) Romer’s plan is get poor countries to cede governmental control of some unpopulated land to a rich foreign country and its investors, and let them build a city there. The city grows, becomes prosperous because capitalism and free markets, and then the rest of the country slowly begins to imitate the charter city. Essentially, he’s proposing creating a new Hong Kong, but without the warships and the opium.

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Immigrant Visa Type: D-1 (Detroit)

First in the series of indeterminate length, Recolonizing Detroit

Before I start, I encourage you to check out Forbes Magazine’s interactive map of American internal migration. It is fun on a bun.

Matthew Yglesias idly suggested that instead of shrinking Detroit, issue visas for immigrants willing to relocate there. This would work like an EB-5 visa, but would target people without money. Ironically, Detroit, and indeed all of Michigan, is notably absent from the list of approved Regional Centers for EB-5 investment.

He’s not the first to suggest such an idea. The reason why you want to attract immigrants is because Americans clearly aren’t interested in Detroit. Ideally you’d want to bring in people to invest, but since there are a limited number of these, you most likely will need to attract those from countries where Detroit is a step up. Yglesias specifically mentions Haiti, Gaza, Myanmar, Chad, and Nicaragua as potential sources for immigrants. Detroit already home to one of the largest Arab-American communities, and the largest mosque in the United States, so it is possible that immigrants from the sub-Sarharan Africa would find an existing community into integrate.

Predictably there were those claiming he wants to create some sort of immigration concentration camp, but that wasn’t the proposal at all, and mostly betrays an opinion of Detroit. I’ve been to Detroit, and while it’s the only place I’ve been where the nightlife was in the suburbs instead of the city, and peeking over the sound dampening walls reveals a city that has clearly seen much better days, it is not Detroit Maximum Security Prison.

The biggest problem with Yglesias’s idea is that simply replacing the residents with people from some of the poorest, and slowest economically growing parts of the world, doesn’t bring the investments needed to make Detroit stabilize, let alone thrive again. If poor people was all that what was needed, then subSaharan Africa would be rich. Is Detroit too corrupt to succeed? I doubt it, Prisoner 702408 notwithstanding.

The real impediment seems to be failing to diversifying the economy beyond automobiles. Detroit is, and should remain, a manufacturing city. Its location on the Great Lakes, between steel and energy production sites is perfect. Ann Arbor, home of the top engineering schools is close by, so an educated workforce could still be attracted. What is needed is leadership and money, not just people. How simply attracting the tired, poor, huddled masses, wretched refuse, and homeless changes this situation isn’t clear. Of course, the history this country has been one of dregs of all different societies coming for a better life; and it appears to have worked out for us.

On the flip slide the meme of the self-made rugged individualist is a myth. Rugged individual has always relied on the government to establish the conditions, and relied on the established elite (which includes the government) for aid in achieving the “self-made” endeavor. How this hypothetical poor immigrant ingratiates him/herself with the gatekeepers of capital, remains a mystery.

Recolonizing Detroit

Zeroth in the series of indeterminate length, Recolonizing Detroit

Two months ago, I began thinking about how economic growth could be promoted in depressed areas. The catalyst for this was reading two ostensibly unrelated articles. The first explicitly referred to Detroit, the second was a more oblique reference. Both of these articles did discuss how immigration, investment, and governments interact to promote or discourage growth.

Originally I was going to put these thoughts down in a single post, but as I wrote it, it grew so large and meandering that it became unwieldy for a simple blog post. Instead decided to break it up into a series of smaller and medium sized posts.

I’m doing this for two reasons. First, trying to write something long in the WordPress editor just doesn’t work. A word processor may just be a glorified text box, but somehow writing in WordPress just feels awkward. Maybe it’s due to a unconscious bias using a web browser elicits. I don’t know, but it’s not working for me. Second, I don’t feel like I have the time to devote to a single long and well organized writing. Even if I did have the time, part of me doubts that it would be any good. This isn’t an essay, since I’m not arguing for anything. I don’t know what this would be. It’s just a collection of thoughts, some more thought out than others. By breaking my thoughts into smaller pieces, perhaps will disguise these failings.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to have this blog careen over the hill and into the chasm of lefty political blog. I still have plenty of electronic plants to post about, so art will always remain the focus. Think of this as logical extension of the infrastructure posts.