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.