dead cities dysfunction and stilts

So.Stilts suess4

If I read one more story tearing apart the dysfunction and mismanagement of Detroit I am going to spontaneously implode.


I don’t know diddly about government or running a city … but I do know diddly about managing a business.

And while I imagine I could discuss revenue versus expense, cronyism in management, mismanagement in general … I won’t … I will discuss stilts.



Businesses know quite well the precariousness of standing your business on stilts.

The two main stilts?


One business or one customer.


If you are dependent upon one of these ones <or both> you are living a precarious business life. Standing on these stilts doesn’t mean you will, or will not, fail … it just means … well … you are standing on stilts.


Detroit and stilts?

Dependent on one business: automotive.


Once the automotive market became globally competitive <and the US automotive companies didn’t respond well … which is a completely different post on past mismanagement of business> the landscape of the Detroit economy change significantly.

And the city did not respond to the change. One stilt was gone <or possibly just cut significantly>.


Therefore they are now forced to respond and make needed changes … or just admit death <but please don’t ask anyone to drop more money into that suckhole of wasted investment>.


I do find it odd that we seem to be shocked about Detroit’s failure because it was “the 8th largest city in the US.”

Does it mean simply being large, or one of the largest, makes you immune to mistakes let alone failure?

Does it mean that cities and towns shouldn’t, or don’t, fail?

That is silly.

While it is certainly tempting to associate ghost towns and abandoned cities with America’s Old West, ghost towns boasting a diverse range of ruins exist on every continent.

In fact … the world is filled with ghost towns …usually the remains of a single economy community that met its demise or because of war.



Suffice it to say that abandoned towns exist all over the world.


What do they all have in common?

When the money or luck ran out, so did the residents, leaving behind empty house and businesses.


I would point out that almost all towns and cities ebb and flow in prosperity but instead I will discuss what we Americans like to discuss most … not allowing ‘failure.’



What to do? Adapt <if you want to not become a ghost town>.


 “There are as many reasons for towns dying as there are towns,” says “Some towns were bypassed when highways were built or, in one-economy towns, when production decreased, like in logging camps. If the need for the town was gone, the town went bye-bye—unless it could adapt.” – Gary Speck, a ghost town expert and author of books including Ghost Towns: Yesterday and Today.


Adapting takes some kahones.

steps takingBut here you go.


Me <the non government guy> would take <at the most basic level> these two steps:



–          Resize the market and city

It is currently a city of 7000,000 people … with an infrastructure for a 1.8 million population. Businesses face this all the time when resizing or restructuring … and the main issue? Ego. It is difficult to think of yourself as anything other than ‘the 8th largest city in the US” … or the “greatest automotive city in the US.” Well. Get over it.

By the way … this may actually mean letting parts of the current city leave and become a new municipality. Whew. That sucks, huh? You bet. Start over and restart Detroit. Even better idea? Maybe make Detroit a conglomerate <or even a corporate franchisor> of a number of different profit center smaller cities.

Ok. That is some wacky thinking. But it is no more wacky than putting an already dead city on a respirator.


–          Expand the business base

I know … I know … easy to talk about but hard to do. Yes. It is difficult. But mostly it is only difficult because you get caught up in your own angst of how to go about doing it. Despite what ‘experts’ say … there is no formula.

You can expand as an extension of existing business <become everything to the automotive world>. You can expand through some existing expertise that the main business has taught you <you know transportation better than anyone else>. You can expand simply by doing something else <nothing related to transportation or automotive>. It doesn’t matter. Just do it.


I imagine my fear is that overall dysfunction will insure no one will make the hard decisions to not only help Detroit adapt but also insure good money is spent on top of bad money.

Worse? We could be using Detroit as an example of how to ‘renovate’ city structures to adapt and successfully survive … but <insert sigh here> … I will not hold my breath. But I don’t know how to walk on stilts so what do I know.

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Written by Bruce