07/19/13

Detroit: [Ironic Commentary] Capital of the World

The spirit of boosterism is alive and well in the United States, but with a darkly ironic undercurrent that becomes apparent in reaction to current events such as the recent bankruptcy news in Detroit. While officials in the former Motor City convened a news conference backed by posters that proclaimed “Reinventing Detroit,” the Twitterverse crackled with alternative slogans that were not nearly as flattering.  (See the slideshows on Huffington Post and Gadling.)

A view toward the Detroit skyline in 1942, when the city became one of the nation's "Arsenals of Democracy." (Library of Congress)

A view toward the Detroit skyline in 1942, when the city became one of the nation’s “Arsenals of Democracy.” (Library of Congress)

How far this all is from the Detroit promoted and envisioned in 1945, when civic boosters sought to lure the United Nations to a site on Belle Isle (by the way, a flashpoint for the race riot of 1943). The City Council’s resolution on the matter proclaimed:

Whereas, Detroit is strategically located upon the International Boundary line of 3,500 miles of unfortified frontier, between Canada and the United States, and

Whereas, as Detroit is located upon the great circle route of the Air Lines of the World, and

Whereas, Detroit with its manufacturing genius of skilled workmen and engineers in mass production, has played an important part in turning the tide of war into victory for the Allied Nations; and

Whereas, Detroit offers an ideal location for the permanent headquarters, dedicated ideally to World’s peace and International relationship

Be It Resolved, that the Detroit City Council, representing almost 2,000,000 population respectfully request that President Harry F. Truman or James F. Byrnes, Sec’y of State, receive a Committee composed of leaders of our State and City to present Detroit’s invitation and make known its advantages to provide a permanent headquarters for the United Nations Organization.

Adopted unanimously, October 9, 1945.

Related:

Detroit’s Quixotic Bid

The United Nations Placed on Belle Isle? (WXYZ, Detroit)

 

04/4/13

Detroit’s Quixotic Bid

In the twentieth century, Detroit earned a reputation as the automotive capital of the world — a declaration of pride in its manufacturing achievements. In the twenty-first century, the struggling city has cropped up in the news as the murder or arson capital of the world. Based on its massive consumption of salty snacks, some even regard it as the potato chip capital of the world.

But suppose Detroit were the capital of the world, known around the globe not only for its industrial past or post-industrial present, but also as the focal point of international diplomacy. Suppose that the United Nations had its headquarters there, and that the last six decades in Detroit’s history were framed not only by the decline of the auto industry, the racial tensions, and the plummeting population, but also the work of securing world peace. What then would we think of Detroit? And what might we think of the United Nations?

Detroit boosters proposed Belle Isle, an island park shown here in 1909, as a potential home for the United Nations. Small irony: in 1943, the island park proposed for the work of peace was a flashpoint for a devastating race riot that resulted in 34 deaths and $2 million in property damage. (Library of Congress)

In 1945 Detroit boosters proposed Belle Isle, an island park shown here in 1909, as a potential home for the United Nations. Small, unacknowledged irony: in 1943, the island park proposed for the work of peace was a flashpoint for a devastating race riot that resulted in 34 deaths and $2 million in property damage. (Library of Congress)

Continue reading on the web site of Foreign Policy magazine (requires free account registration). Featured in The Atlantic Cities Best #CityReads of the Week, April 6, 2013.