I blogged about this while I was reporting, but given that Detroit story is now up, I wanted to give another shout out to two books which really helped me find my way. The first is Thomas Sugrue's The Origins Of The Urban Crisis. If you have any interest in the history of cities, this book is required reading. Someone asked the other day why I consider the term "White Flight" erroneous. I noted that the phrasetends to conjure images of scared and bigoted whites fleeing the encroaching onyx horde.
Between genteel Jefferson Avenue and the riverfront, the railroad created a reeking slum the likes of which were plaguing every industrial city. Enwreathed in the smoke belching from steamships, locomotives and factories, it was a district of unpainted and blackened wooden buildings. Cheap lodging houses, whorehouses, and tenements proliferated. Since lack of public transportation inhibited the expansion of the city, warehouses, stables and churches were converted into tenements. As the district spread outward, the wealthy abandoned their mansions and placed them in the hands of managers.Left to do with them as they pleased so long as they channeled a fixed income to the owners, the managers discovered they were in possession of property more valuable than the mines of Michigan. The more intensively they mined the property, the greater their personal profit. Windowless cubicles as small as fifty square feet were occupied by as many as two families each. Twenty persons sometimes slept in two beds. Thousands of others camped in cellars. Water dripped on them from the walls.Their dreams were swathed in the stench piles of stored manure. Pushcart peddlers sold vegetables, fish, needles, horse dung and opium. Itinerant artisans, purchasable females, cripples and blind men, children, chickens and pigs choked the narrow streets and alleys....The death rate rose more than 50 percent in a half century, and children died in fearful numbers. But, in a land with an abundant supply of food, men and women had the energy to breed two to replace each that was lost.