Ten years ago this weekend the Detroit riot of 1976 was in its final phase. The streets were still patrolled by the Michigan National Guard and 2,700 U.S. Army paratroopers.
But the city had calmed down after 43 deaths, 342 injuries and the wounding of many feelings among both whites and blacks who had thought Detroit was a model of civic deportment and advanced race relations.
Detroit was neither. It was a typical big American city that had suffered economic dislocation, had permitted its municipal employee unions to grab it by the throat and had shoved its racial problems under the rug.
The 1976 riot in Detroit was not completely a race riot, as it has been called. In 1967 the blacks were the chief losers. It was primarily their homes and their businesses that were torched. Plenty of whites were among those who looted the supermarts of 12th street and bashed in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, a mile from the center of the disturbance. But the blacks paid the price and received the blame.
It would be pleasant to think that Detroit has been purged by the flames of 1967 and now, purified, is free to pursue noble goals.
Detroit is not pure, but it is becoming vaguely aware of the fact that the city as it used to be will never be reconstituted. Detroit was close to 1.6 million population 10 years ago. It is now about 1.3 million an falling.
Unemployment in the central city, at around 14 per cent, is 4 per cent above that in the southeastern Michigan area, and the rate among young inner-city blacks is a subject for wild conjecture, but probably close to 50 per cent.
In the old days a good auto year would take care of that, but Packard and Hudson closed years ago, and automation has made it possible for the auto producers to increase their output with a minimum of new hirings.
Chrysler Corp. is the city's largest employer. Cadillac is the only General Motors car-producing plant in town, a prosperous but not a big employer. American Motors went to Wisconsin years ago. Ford has not produced a car in Detroit proper in half a century.
The Detroit public schools are in shambles, and school crime is a serious problem. Two tax-increase referendums have failed in the last 12 months. They were athletic and music and art programs, which were dropped last year.
A more serious school problem is the expiration of a tax levy next June. It must be renewed to permit even the present limited operation. The school board is alienating the white voters, who still number close to 50 per cent of the population of Detroit, by closing off some white contractors from bidding for school work, even if their bids are lower than black competitors. Board members are making both whites and blacks angry by demanding chauffeur-driver transportation, a relatively small-cost item but a perquisite that doesn't sit well with people who are not chauffeur-driven.
The city has had other shocks. The Detroit Lions moved from Tiger Stadium to a new facility in Pontiac. The hockery team, the Red Wings, is thinking of following them. The city managed to retain the baseball team, the Tigers. By buying the ancient Tiger Stadium for $1, with the promise that the city would renovate it if the Tigers would stay. That's going to cost a bundle - $15 million.
The city was sadly decimated by the Federation Housing Act of 1963, which turned square miles of city property into a wasteland by permitting the selling of over-priced houses to people who did not know a faucet washer from a rake.
Much of this was almost inevitable. A large position of the housing stock was built between 1905 and 1920, with the development of the auto industry, and became old at about the same time.
The houses were not great when they were built. Thousands were on 35-foot lots. Detroit prided itself on being a city of homeowners, but ownership became a luxury as fuel prices went up and maintenance skills went down.
Last year Detroit had housing starts of 17.710 dwelling units, but almost all of them were apartments, and many of them are subsidized units for senior citizens.
The construction of a private home in the Manoogian Mansion area, where Mayor Coleman Young lives, was a sufficient novelty in recent times to rate page-one hosannahs.
Young Detroit's first black mayor, is running for re-election. A one-time United Automobile Workers union official and member of the Michigan Legislature, he plays the customary tunes, including the black-white power cadenzas.
Blacks are doing fairly well in Detroit politics. Schools Superintendent Arthur Jeffeson is black, as is Wayne County Sheriff William Lucas. So as Police Chief William Hart, although the force, at about 20 per cent black, is a long way from representing the racial composition of the city, despite heavy affirmative action. Four of the nine City Council members are black.
Young has attempted to keep costs under control, which includes bucking the sanitation workers, almost all black, who want more pay and fringe benefits. Young's concern for the city's future seems genuine. That's where the pluses come in. Despite the exodius of white families and businesses, the city's assessed valuation of nearly $55 billion in real estate and personal property, is nearly $200 million more than at the time of the riot. Only $27 million of this comes from Ford II's new Renaissance Center.
The tax base will be raised by around $170 million by next year, as Ren Cen's office towers become completed and occupied.
The newly started riverfront arena may yet keep the Red Wings in Detroit and, in any event, will provide needed expansion for Cobo Hall, a booming riverfront convention and auditorium center.
Crime is down. The hard winter had some effect on that, but the declining homicide rate has carried into the summer.
Woodward Avenue is being renovated into a covered mall, and Washington Boulevard, for decades Detroit's version of Fifth Avenue, is being turned into an avenue of parks, restaurants and hotels through which theads a new antique trolley line, the city's answer to San Francisco's cable cars.
Far from drying up the downtown office station, the new $300 million Renaissance Center has caused other downtown landlords to be competitive and start paying attention to the needs of their tenants.
The trends in Detroit are subtle and far-reaching. The city ceased being completely dependent on the auto industry more than two decades ago, when service industries took over a majority of the city's economy from auto manufacturing.
Detroit has a heavy burden of the elderly, the ailing, the functionally illiterate and the unemployed young people, black and white.
The rise of a black middle class is beginning to be apparent, as is minority hiring in newspapers, banks, brokerage houses, supermarkets and shops.
The blacks are no different from the whites when it comes to protecting what they have. Ten years ago, blacks with shotguns sat on the roof Louie's Parkstone market on the edge of Indian Village to protect their neighborhood's only source of milk and bread.
Louie, now dead, was white.
Detroit could easily have another riot. The same conditions exist. The poverty. The poor education. The alienation. The possibility, and the probability, that those of the welfare generation will never have a job, even a bad job.
But the shape of the Detroit of the future is beginning to emerge: not the jam-packed, nuts-and-bolts place that the old-timers recall so wistefully, but a greener, more spacious community, containing, probably even fewer people than it does now.
Right now it is frontier life, 20th Century style. Frontier people have great stories to tell their grandchil- [TEXT OMMITTED FROM SOURCE]