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  • Centauri Dreams remembers Ben Finney, this time from the angle of a man with an interest in space colonization.

  • Crooked Timber wonders what will happen to the Anglo-American tradition of liberalism.

  • Dangerous Minds imagines the VHS tapes of Logan and Stranger Things.

  • Far Outliers notes the Soviet twist on Siberian exile.

  • Inkfish notes that Detroit is unique among cities in being a good place for bumblebees.

  • Marginal Revolution wonders if modern Germany really is a laboratory for innovative politics.

  • The NYRB Daily looks at José Maria de Eça de Queirós, the "Proust of Portugal".

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw updates his readers on his writing projects.

  • Torontoist reports on how Avi Lewis and Cheri DiNovo have advocated for the NDP's Leap Manifesto.

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  • blogTO notes Niagara Falls' new light show.

  • Body Horrors reports on a 1980 epidemic of MRSA among Detroit drug users.

  • Centauri Dreams describes the final orbits of Cassini around Saturn.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper suggesting Tabby's Star is being star-mined.

  • Language Log looks at an element of Chinese slang regarding telecommunications.

  • The LRB Blog argues against blaming migrants for problems on the left.

  • The Planetary Society Blog discusses the continued Dawn mission around Ceres.

  • Savage Minds talks about the need to slow down in a time of crisis.

  • Seriously Science notes research suggesting whales jump out of the water for purposes of communication.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes that, in the United States, flag burners cannot be stripped of their citizenship.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russians would like the West to make up on Russia's terms and looks at the embassies and delegations of Russia's component regions.

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The Toronto Star's Sammy Hudes reports on how Toronto's streetcar rollout is behind those of Detroit and Los Angeles.

As major delays continue to plague the TTC’s order of 204 new streetcars from Bombardier, other cities like Detroit and Los Angeles are celebrating the arrival of their fresh transit vehicles, built by other manufacturers, on — and in the case of Detroit, ahead of — schedule.

For car-friendly Los Angeles, its most recent transit endeavour has seen far more efficient — and timely — results than Toronto’s streetcar overhaul.

In August 2012, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority chose Japanese firm Kinkisharyo International to produce its new fleet of light rail vehicles, in part due to the company’s reputation of delivering on time. Kinkisharyo had previously built 62 light rail cars for Seattle’s Central Link from 2006-2010.

The initial contract tasked Kinkisharyo with producing a base order of 78 light rail vehicles. Satisfied with the partnership, L.A.’s transportation authority later increased its order to 235 vehicles, at a cost of more than $900 million.

[. . .]

The news in Detroit is also positive. While the order is not to scale of either Toronto’s streetcars or L.A.’s light rail vehicles, the first of Detroit’s six streetcars rolled in last month, and the new QLINE streetcar system should be operational by spring.

It took about 14 months from the time M-1 Rail, the organization leading the development of the 3.3-mile-system, signed on with Brookville Equipment Corporation to the delivery of its first car.

“We have worked at a faster pace, I think, than a lot of entities,” said Dan Lijana, spokesperson for M-1 Rail. “We basically set a target to try to get all these cars here on a more advanced schedule and they worked with us every step of the way to make that happen.”
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Donald Trump's statements about globalization being the downfall of Detroit were criticized on my RSS feed. Wired's Issie Lapowsky took him on in her "Trump's Right: Detroit Is Hurting, But He's Wrong About Why".

As Trump sees it, Detroit’s main issue is trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was signed during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and which Trump says sent precious automotive industry jobs overseas. “Detroit is still waiting for Hillary Clinton’s apology,” Trump said Monday, before sneaking in a dig. “I expect Detroit will get that apology right around the same time Hillary Clinton turns over the 33,000 emails she deleted.”

But experts say blaming trade is at worst wrong, and at best a vast oversimplification of the case. Blame the unions. Blame Detroit’s dependence on a single industry. Heck, blame the robots. But, they say, don’t blame trade, or at least, do so at the risk of jeopardizing even more industries across the country.

[. . .]

The first and most glaring issue with Trump’s argument is his insistence that all of Detroit’s automotive jobs now exist somewhere overseas. Some do. But many don’t. In fact, many of them have just moved to southern states. And that’s not a new phenomenon, either.

Since the 1950s, American automakers have been relocating factories outside of Detroit to states like Kentucky and Mississippi where union presence isn’t as strong. Foreign car manufacturers have been going into those states, too. What that means is that while Detroit may be suffering from job loss, other cities like Jackson, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee are exploding with high-tech auto industry jobs.

[. . .]

Experts say you can also argue that Detroit’s leaders were delinquent in not diversifying the city’s economy sooner, and that the big three auto makers were remiss in not responding quickly enough to foreign competition. “Detroit as a city was killed in part by itself,” Macomber says, noting that Detroit invested too much time preserving a single industry and not enough creating new ones. “The big three declined because of productivity efficiencies coupled with complacency about poor quality and variety of product.”


BLoomberg View's Paula Dwyer wrote "Trump's Fairy Tale About the Fall of Detroit".

The city collapsed mostly because it overpromised what it could deliver to public employees and others, then borrowed too much to try to make good on those deals. All of that, plus a combination of a rapidly declining tax base -- the city has lost 1 million residents since the 1950s -- overreliance on a single industry, a failing education system and municipal corruption meant it couldn't pay off its debts.

Trump promised that Detroit would come roaring back under his plans to lower corporate income taxes. His revival plans also include cuts in regulation, especially environmental rules, and a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

So let's break it down, starting with Obama's role. Rather than blame, the president gets credit from most analysts for rescuing General Motors and Chrysler. True, it was painful and costly for investors and taxpayers. He forced the companies to restructure, via quickie bankruptcies, in exchange for federal money. The companies closed plants, laid off workers, cut ties with dealers and shed obligations for retiree health care, transferring the costs (and a big chunk of stock and cash) to a union-dominated trust fund. Stockholders were wiped out, and creditors were forced to take cents on the dollar.

Today, however, the companies are profitable and competitive, even if record-high sales are slowing down a bit and the industry is still over-reliant on SUVs. As my Bloomberg View colleague, Matt Winkler, has written, the Big Three -- GM, Chrysler and Ford -- are selling more cars and trucks and are more profitable now than in 1994, when their market shares were twice today's size.
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Kartikay Mehrotra's Bloomberg article notes a potential downside to Pokémon Go: the end of secluded neighbourhoods.

Wahby Park in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, used to be a quiet spot for a dozen or so residents to go for a stroll around sunset. Then came hundreds of smartphone-wielding, garden-stomping Pokemon players.

Now a couple in the lakeside neighborhood is suing Niantic Inc. and Nintendo Co. for allegedly turning the park into a nuisance and a safety threat.

“We don’t feel safe sitting on our porch,” Scott Dodich and Jayme Gotts-Dodich said in their lawsuit.

They said they have been threatened by Pokemon Go players who hide in the bushes at dusk and return to the chase after police close the park and leave. The couple are seeking monetary damages and a ban on Pokemon in the park, according to their complaint filed Wednesday in San Francisco federal court.

After the game was launched in early July, “plaintiffs’ once quiet street degenerated into a nightmare," according to the complaint. The couple alleges that visitors to the park fail to respect the rules of the private neighborhood, parking in front of driveways, trespassing on well-manicured gardens and peering into windows.
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Dave LeBlanc's special in The Globe and Mail looks at the state of urban agriculture in Detroit. Can it truly be a lasting phenomenon?

It’s a patch of land that contained 12 houses in its heyday.

Five years ago, it contained nothing.

Today, after four years of urban farming, the southwest corner of Custer and Brush Streets in Detroit’s North End neighbourhood has become a literal cornucopia. In the past two years, it’s pumped out 400,000 pounds of produce that has fed 2,000 households within two square miles. It has provided valuable volunteer experience for 8,000 local residents who have collectively put in 80,000 hours, which have been valued at $1.8-million (U.S.).

Tyson Gersh, 26, a University of Michigan student and co-founder of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) in 2011, estimates that about $2-million has also arrived in the form of new investment as abandoned houses are purchased nearby, which are then renovated and filled with tenants. And all of these new eyes, whether on the faces of volunteer farmers or new residents, create a safer place to live.

Yet, offers Mr. Gersh, “I believe that the current [city] administration sees urban agriculture as nothing more than a transitional land use; I don’t think they see it as having any long-term relevance to the city that we think they should have.”
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Jeff Green's Bloomberg BusinessWeek article looks at how immigration from the Middle East, particularly from Syria and Iraq, has played a major role in the revitalization of Michigan generally and Detroit in particular.

Renan Sadak, who has a degree in computer science from his native Iraq, could land only an $11-an-hour job managing a liquor store when he arrived in Detroit seven years ago as a refugee. “I got married, and I wanted to make more money,” Sadak says, but the city was in the throes of recession.

Last year the resurgent auto industry began to change the prospects for work. Sadak was hired in June to drive a truck shuttling auto parts for Midwest Freight Systems in Warren, Mich., at double his original pay at the liquor shop. “Now I’m making a decent wage,” he says. “I’m covering all the bills.”

At a time when Europe and many parts of the U.S. are divided about integrating refugees from the Middle East, Michigan is providing opportunities for immigrants from the war-torn region. The state and the city of Detroit have the U.S.’s highest concentration of residents with roots in that part of the world. The Detroit area’s Arabic community goes back a century.

As the auto industry recovers, companies in Michigan ranging from small operations such as Midwest Freight to bigger ones like Denso, a Japanese auto parts maker, are tapping immigrant workers to fill a labor shortage. Newcomers from the Arabic-speaking world are benefiting, as are refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma). “Three years ago, maybe 20 to 30 percent of the refugees could get work in the auto industry,” says Jasmine Ward, a manufacturing recruiter at Allegiance Staffing in Fraser, Mich. The automakers and their suppliers just weren’t hiring. Now, she says, “if they want to work, they can pretty much find a job. They work really hard, and that’s what companies are looking for.”

The auto industry is hiring long-established residents, too. African Americans last year made up about 15 percent of the U.S. auto workforce, from a low of 11 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Black unemployment in Michigan fell to 11.6 percent in 2015, down from 23.9 percent in 2010, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. White unemployment in 2015 was 4.5 percent, vs. 10.6 percent in 2010.

Last year, Michigan accepted 1,162 Iraqi refugees and 246 Syrians, according to U.S. Department of State data. That’s more than any other state except Texas and California, which each accepted about 200 more refugees than Michigan. They’ll integrate them into populations at least twice the size of Michigan’s. The state has drawn a total of 13,800 people from those two countries, mostly from Iraq, in the past five years.
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  • Anthropology notes the latest archeological findings suggesting that Easter Island was not destroyed by war.

  • Beyond the Beyond's Bruce Sterling notes that Wired will now no longer be allowing people with ad blockers to access the site.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes the likely existence of a substantial gas giant in the disk of TW Hydrae and describes a Neptune-type world found through microlensing.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper suggesting, on the basis of the geology of Mars, that the early atmosphere was dominated by carbon dioxide with little oxygen.

  • Joe. My. God. links to the audio track of the new Pet Shop Boys single, "The Pop Kids".

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes opposition to the TPP in Indonesia.

  • Language Log notes a poster from the Second World War era United States propagandizing against the use of German, Italian, and Japanese.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw contrasts Australia's response to the Syrian refugee crisis with Canada's.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes that Mexico's PEMEX may be in bad shape.

  • Spacing Toronto shares John Lorinc's skeptical essay about transit in Toronto. Grand schemes are great, but what about implementation?

  • Strange Maps maps Brexit, in various dimensions.

  • Torontoist suggests this city can learn from Detroit when it comes to repurposing vacant lots.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the growth of separate Muslim and Christian neighbourhoods in many cities.

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CityLab's Kriston Capps had an article about how artist Katie Craig is suing to protect her work, the 2009 The Illuminated Mural, from being destroyed by the renovation of the Detroit building it's painted on.

The "Illuminated mural" in Detroit

Katherine Craig, The Illuminated Mural, 2009. (BB and HH/Flickr)

For Katherine Craig, the mural is more than a marker of North End’s rising status. The so-called “bleeding rainbow” mural is a cornerstone of her career. And now, since the building’s owner aims to sell or redevelop the property, the artist is taking legal action to protect her work.

Craig filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit against Princeton Enterprises, the owner of the building at 2937 East Grand Boulevard. The federal suit seeks an injunction that would bar the developer from destroying or otherwise altering The Illuminated Mural—something that the developer intends to do in order to convert the building into lofts or apartments.

Converting the 9-story building into a condo tower would ruin The Illuminated Mural, a 100-by-125-foot painting that covers virtually an entire side of the building. The artist, who studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, received a Community + Public Arts: Detroit grant from the College for Creative Studies to execute the mural. (Her piece is in fact the banner for the program’s homepage.) Craig poured and splattered more than 100 gallons of paint on the Albert Kahn–designed building to create her work.

Seeing how often The Illuminated Mural winds up mentioned in the same breath as Detroit works by Charles McGee or Shepard Fairey, it stands to reason that she’d want to ensure its future. “Craig’s mural challenged the limits of experimental and traditional approaches to street art,” write Julie Pincus and Nichole Christian in Canvas Detroit.

The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) protects artworks of “recognized stature”— including murals—from destruction, whether “intentional or grossly negligent.” If the federal court grants an injunction in Craig’s case, it would prohibit the building’s owner from knocking down the building or punching holes through the mural for windows. The injunction would further require Princeton Enterprises to notify potential buyers upfront about the mural’s protected status.


This is definitely an interesting legal approach. I just wonder whether or not this overlooks the extent to which this work, and perhaps the others like it, might represent only a stage in the neighbourhood's transformation. When there are vacant buildings, there is space for public art; when the buildings are full, some of this may well be displaced by a neighbourhood with new life. Undeniable beauty like this might be only a stopgap, might even need to be transitory.
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The Globe and Mail's Peter Cheney describes the collapse of Detroit as the symbolic heart of the global automotive industry, or even the North American one.

[D]oes Detroit still matter?

There was a time when no one could imagine that this question would ever be asked. In the 1960s, Detroit bestrode the car world like a colossus. This was the town that invented mass production, then fine-tuned the marketing systems that endlessly stoked the fires of consumer demand – Detroit turned the car into a status symbol, up-sold buyers with ever-expanding option lists and instituted the annual model change.

Today, Detroit is producing the best cars it has ever made. And yet, the city is a fallen empire and the gravitational centre of the auto industry it spawned has moved elsewhere. Gone are the days of Henry Ford’s famous, vertically integrated River Rouge complex, where ships and trains unloaded millions of tons of steel ore and timber at one end, and finished cars rolled out the other. Today’s manufacturing is defined by a decentralized supply system in which components flow in from around the world for final assembly in plants dominated by robots.

And when those new assembly plants are built, it’s not in Detroit – it’s in Mexico, China or right-to-work states in the Southern United States. Even more damaging to Detroit than the shift in physical operations is the relocation of the auto industry’s intellectual axis. When the next great shifts in automotive transportation are discussed, the conversation no longer centres on Detroit – instead, the cutting-edge is in Silicon Valley, Calif., where Google and Apple are focusing on a world where cars drive themselves and sales are no longer driven by social status and consumer aspiration.

For decades, Detroit shrugged off small, non-traditional competitors as irrelevant, and assumed its own massive scale and deep well of manufacturing and engineering talent would keep it on top of the automotive hill.

But now it finds itself in a world where technological disruption and social shift have altered the rules. The Big Three are regarded as legacy firms. When the talk turns to automotive cool and industrial innovation, the company on everyone’s lips is Tesla Motors, an upstart California firm that has played David to Detroit’s Goliath, designing and building the world’s finest electric car while its chief executive simultaneously crafts cutting-edge space ships.
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The Toronto Star carries a Canadian Press article suggesting that the weakening dollar means a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor will cost substantially more than initially estimated.

The federal Liberal government will need to find $3.5 billion more to pay for a new bridge at the bustling border crossing between Canada and the United States.

Documents show Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been warned that the cost of building the new Windsor-Detroit bridge has likely gone up by at least $2 billion, thanks to the declining value of the Canadian dollar.

Government officials told Trudeau the project would also need an extra $1.5 billion in a contingency fund to bear the shock of any interest-rate increases should the loonie decline further against its American counterpart.

The government’s long-term fiscal framework has the price of the bridge, to be named after hockey legend Gordie Howe, pegged at $4.8 billion.

The details are laid out in a secret briefing note to Trudeau obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
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Louis Aguilar and Christine MacDonald of The Detroit News report on a new trend in Detroit. I am uncomfortable with the idea of a specifically white population being a sign of revival.

Detroit’s white population rose by nearly 8,000 residents last year, the first significant increase since 1950, according to a Detroit News analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

The data, made public Wednesday, mark the first time census numbers have validated the perception that whites are returning to a city that is overwhelmingly black and one where the overall population continues to shrink.

Many local leaders contend halting Detroit’s population loss is crucial, and the new census data shows that policies to lure people back to the city may be helping stem the city’s decline.

“It verifies the energy you see in so many parts of Detroit and it’s great to hear,” said Kevin Boyle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian who studies the intersection of class, race, and politics in 20th-century America. The Northwestern University professor grew up on Detroit’s east side.

“The last thing I want to do is dampen the good news, but the problem is Detroit is still the poorest city in the U.S. The city hasn’t turned the corner until that changes,” Boyle said.
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Al Jazeera America's Steve Friess reports on conflict between Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims in the Detroit area on the location of a mosque in a Christian neighbourhood, a conflict rooted in past conflicts.

The nation’s largest concentration of Iraqi Christians, many driven from their homeland by persecution at the hands of Muslim groups, is mounting an intensive campaign to block a proposed mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan — sometimes by deploying public anti-Islam invective unusual in its bluntness even in this post-9/11 era.

The 20,500-square-foot mosque, to be built on four acres by the American Islamic Community Center (AICC), is to stand 60 feet tall along a major thoroughfare in a middle-class neighborhood if the Sterling Heights Planning Commission approves the plan at its meeting this Thursday. Opponents have dubbed it a “mega-mosque,” while Muslim leaders say it is of average size for houses of worship, including some nearby churches.

American leaders of the Chaldeans, an ancient Christian sect also known historically as ethnic Assyrians and originating from Iraq, have insisted in recent days that their opposition is based on concerns about traffic and property values, not religious enmity.

Yet a parade of speakers at a four-hour Sterling Heights City Council meeting on Aug. 13 offered vicious accusations that the group behind the mosque planned to use it to plot terrorist attacks and store weaponry, and attacked women who wear headscarves as scary to children. More of that sort of ire is being spewed on popular Chaldean group pages on Facebook and in signage and comments to local reporters at recent street-side protests near the proposed mosque site.

“This mosque is going to bring people like this. I do not want to be near people like this,” one resident, Saad Antoun, said at the City Council meeting as he held up a photo of women in burkas. “This is not humanity. … It is not right to live with people like this. This is not acceptable at all because these people are scaring the public. And they don’t care. … Can we prohibit this kind of public thing? We see them at the mall every day. We see them at shopping. Can we prohibit this? Can we make law against this? It’s scary and disgusting.”
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At Scottish site CommonSpace, Paul Sweeney writes about the surprising abundance of derelict land in the Scottish city of Glasgow, consequence of--most notably--poor post-war urban planning.

Glasgow is now only one of two cities in the western world – the other being Detroit – to have the ignominious title of being a former 'million city', which means a city that once achieved a population of over one million but has since declined below that threshold again.

The large-scale depopulation of the city over the last half century means that over 60 per cent of Glasgow’s population now lives within 500 metres of derelict land, and over 92 per cent live within 1,000 metres of a derelict land, with most of these sites situated within the city’s most deprived communities.

For example, 10 per cent of North East Glasgow consists of derelict land, relative to a mere 0.5 per cent in the adjacent suburban area of East Dunbartonshire.

This situation persists because the comprehensive manner in which the city was damaged in the decades after the Second World War has not been matched by anywhere near the scale of resources and intervention required to repair the huge damage wrought upon its urban fabric by that pernicious process.

Many districts of Glasgow have now become little more than areas of managed decline. In these areas the built fabric is so poor that in assessing priorities for urban planning, particularly in the context of limited resources, many planners simply consider it more appropriate to invest in areas already showing potential to be successful – such as in the Gorbals, in contrast to areas that are not deemed to hold that potential, such as Springburn, where the population is forecast to continue declining despite a city-wide increase.
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An interesting discussion on Facebook was started when someone shared a New York Times op-ed, "Let Syrians Settle Detroit" by David D. Laitin and Marc Jahrmay. The idea is provocative, but--I think--sound.

Detroit, a once great city, has become an urban vacuum. Its population has fallen to around 700,000 from nearly 1.9 million in 1950. The city is estimated to have more than 70,000 abandoned buildings and 90,000 vacant lots. Meanwhile, desperate Syrians, victims of an unfathomable civil war, are fleeing to neighboring countries, with some 1.8 million in Turkey and 600,000 in Jordan.

[. . .]

Syrian refugees would be an ideal community to realize this goal [of repopulation], as Arab-Americans are already a vibrant and successful presence in the Detroit metropolitan area. A 2003 survey by the University of Michigan of 1,016 members of this community (58 percent of whom were Christian, and 42 percent Muslim) found that 19 percent were entrepreneurs and that the median household income was $50,000 to $75,000 per year.

What confidence can we have that traumatized war refugees can be transformed into budding American entrepreneurs? We cannot know for sure. But recent evidence of recaptured children from the clutches of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and victims of violent crime across five continents reveals that they become more active citizens than similar compatriots who have not suffered from these traumatic events. In the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, Syrians, despite psychological scars and limited resources, have set up 3,500 shops, stores and other businesses.

Refugees resettled from a single war zone have helped revitalize several American communities, notably Hmong in previously neglected neighborhoods in Minneapolis, Bosnians in Utica, N.Y., and Somalis in Lewiston, Me.

Resettling Syrians in Detroit would require commitment and cooperation across different branches and levels of our government, but it is eminently feasible. President Obama and Congress would have to agree to lift this year’s refugee ceiling by 50,000. The State Department, which handles overseas processing of refugees, would need to open offices at the camps in Jordan and Turkey, determine eligibility and administer a lottery for resettlement. Homeland Security, which controls the borders, would have to carry out accelerated security checks, as has been done in the past for Vietnamese and for Iranian religious minorities. Health and Human Services would need an expansion in the $1.5 billion it budgets for refugee resettlement.


Someone in the comments linked to a Detroit Free Press article noting that rents are starting to rise substantially in that city.

Rental rates in downtown Detroit-area buildings have risen so high, some young professionals who breathed new life into the city core just a few years ago are now being priced out of the market and forced to move — a type of middle-class gentrification that has some developers eager to build new residential projects.

Development experts say demand far exceeds existing rental units in choice areas, such as Midtown, Corktown and the Detroit riverfront, where influxes of mostly young, well-paid professionals drove rental rates to new heights in new, existing and soon-to-open apartment buildings.

In many cases, landlords are asking $200 to $400 more a month for apartment leases than they were just a year or two ago because of the high demand and almost nonexistent new supply.

The phenomenon cannot be captured by the traditional definition of “gentrification,” when low-income households are displaced by the yuppie class. Rather, renters already in the middle class and enjoying professional careers now are being displaced by those even farther up the income scale who can afford the higher rents.

“Our office routinely turns down probably two people a day, letting them know we just can’t help them find something to rent,” said Ryan Cooley, owner of O’Connor Real Estate and Development in Corktown. “There’s just a lot of 20-year-olds wanting to live in the city.”
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Al Jazeera America's Peter Moskowitz notes a new wave of foreclosures on residential real estate set to sweep through Detroit.

I wonder about the good sense of this plan. How can the city be revived if still more of its long-time residents are displaced?

Tens of thousands of Detroit homeowners are facing possible foreclosure in the next year as the county cracks down on back taxes owed, which activists say are often extremely inflated because the county assesses property taxes on the basis of their value before the city fell into financial crisis.

When Wayne County officials opened the Cobo Center convention hall in early February to property owners hoping to work out payment plans to save their homes from tax foreclosure, more than 6,000 people streamed through the doors.

There was Krystal Malone, who finished up coursework to become a teacher just as the recession hit and is now underemployed as a substitute teacher and $9,000 behind on her taxes, even though her house is worth only about $10,000. There was Gabriel McNeil, who bought his house for $1,500 in 2013 without realizing it had nearly 10 times that owed in back taxes and is now trying to work out a plan with the city to pay that off. There was Brenda Johnson, whose aunt recently died, leaving her a house full of furniture and several thousand in taxes owed to the county.

“I just don’t want to get padlocks on my door and I can’t get my personal property out,” Johnson said. “I’m just trying to buy some time.”

Even though Cobo’s largest room was packed every day it was open to people people waiting to meet with county officials, the residents there represented only a fraction of the tens of thousands of occupied properties facing foreclosure by the county this year.
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Spacing Toronto recently reposted Sean Marshall's account fo a visit to four American cities where streetcars are being brought back.

I recently went on a short vacation, driving down Highway 401 and Interstate 75 from Toronto to Florida’s Gulf Coast. From there, I went on to Miami and Miami Beach, before flying back north; first to New York, then back home to Toronto.

On the drive down, I took the opportunity to visit some of the cities along the way. Once I crossed the border and entered Detroit, my route followed Interstate 75 all the way. The great highway, 2,875 kilometres (1,786 miles) long, goes from the Canadian border at Sault Ste. Marie south to Naples, Florida, and via Alligator Alley to just north of Florida on the Atlantic Coast.

Interstate 75 passes through Detroit, Cincinnati, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Tampa; all were stops along the way. Four of those cities — Detroit, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Tampa, all are either building, or have completed, new streetcar lines. Tampa’s TECO Line is a vintage heritage streetcar (like those in New Orleans and Memphis), the other three are modern streetcar lines that are, or will be, similar to those in Portland and Seattle — short urban circulator routes. Nearly all streetcar routes built in the last decade have followed Portland’s model of a modern circulatory streetcar; older systems, such as Tampa’s (or those in Memphis and newer lines in New Orleans) are heritage-type streetcars, using vintage or replica equipment on lines that are part of the regular transit system, but geared more to tourists and occasional riders.

Unlike light rail, (think Calgary’s C-Train, or Los Angeles’ Gold, Blue, Green, or Expo Lines), the new streetcar systems being built in the United States have short stop spacing, usually run in mixed traffic (or in separate lanes on city streets), and are often built to promote urban development, tourism and/or local transit ridership. The systems planned or being built here in Ontario, such as Ottawa’s Confederation Line, or Kitchener-Waterloo’s ION line, should be considered as light rail (though ION will be partially running in city streets in Uptown Waterloo and Downtown Kitchener).


Details of each route, and photos, are at the site.
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I found via somewhere this Daily Detroit article talking about the city of Detroit's terrible issues with mass communications. Suggesting that this is a contributing factor to the city's issues does not at all strike me as wrong.

An interesting statistic popped up in a conversation earlier this week. More than 100,000 Detroit households, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey for 2013, have no access to Internet. No hard line, no cell with data or mobile hotspot for 39.9% of the more than 255,000 active households in the city.

The numbers get worse. When you throw out those with a cellphone with mobile data, and count only hard lines (which have higher speeds, more reliability, and most times no real data caps) the number jumps to more than half – 56.9% in Detroit without access.

A third troubling statistic is that more than 70% of Detroit schoolchildren don’t have Internet access. So those tens of thousands of netbooks Detroit students got awhile back? Most times, there was nothing at home for them to hook up to. Especially when it comes to netbooks, without the Internet the machine is basically a doorstop.

These data points weren’t passed around in the local press much, but these are numbers that need to be paid attention to. No matter how he tries, even the mighty Dan Gilbert and his dream of turning Woodward into “Webward” will stop at Grand Boulevard next to the last stop of the M1 Rail unless there’s wide effort put into this nuts-and-bolts problem.

No one person or organization can do this alone, and admittedly, this problem is harder to solve than hiring a few extra waitstaff at a hip bar. Both Google and Facebook are active in getting Internet to the corners of the world. How about bringing that outreach to Detroit?
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  • Al Jazeera captures the mood of Tunisia on the eve of elections, looks at the sufferings of ISIS' sex slaves, reports on Kenya's harsh response to American criticism of anti-terrorism legislation, and notes that Florida surpasses New York as the United States' third most populous state.

  • Bloomberg reports on the absence of well-heeled Russian customers visiting Dubai, North Korea having been found guilty of the kidnapping of a Korean-American pastor, describes a European Union response on Ukraine's financial needs, examines the entanglement of BP with Russia's sanctions-hit oil and gas industry, outlines Chinese interest in helping Russia for a price, describes geopolitical rivalries of companies bidding for a South African nuclear program, notes Lithuanian interest in the Euro as a way to protect that Baltic state from Russia, shares listings of wonderful Detroit homes on sale at low prices, suggests the low price of oil means economic retrenchment in the Gulf states, and describes how a globalized Filipino village came to specialize in child porn.

  • Bloomberg View suggests Russia's economic future is parlous despite the recent stabilization of the ruble, criticizes Russian military aircraft confrontations with civilian aircraft, suggests Russia wants a deal, argues the collapse of Vermont's single-payer healthcare program shows the path-dependency of America's medical industry, argues Japan should surpass China as a lender to the US, and describes North Korea's high price for its apparent Sony hack.

  • The Inter Press Service notes a high dropout rate from school for Afghan refugees, suggests political turmoil in Spain might lead to a moral regeneration, describes the negative impact of falling oil prices on fragile African economies, comments on Pakistan's renewed use of the death penalty, and argues Cuban-American detente will help stabilize the Americas.

  • MacLean's wonders why the National Archives are being made inaccessible to visitors, describes the toxic CBC environment that enabled Jian Ghomeshi, and visits Yazidis returning to liberated territories to find mass graves of their people.

  • Open Democracy looks at Russian support of Central Asian governments which kidnap their dissidents on Russian territory, examines official misogyny in Chechnya, looks at constitutional turmoil in the United Kingdom, and studies the nature of Russian support for European far-right groups.

  • Universe Today describes how a newly-discovered dwarf galaxy satellite of the Milky Way can help explain the universe, looks at evidence for a subsurface reservoir of water on Mars, and examines the idea of airship-borne exploration of Venus.

  • Wired thinks the withdrawal of Google News from Spain will do nothing to change the underlying dynamics of the mass media industry, and examines the fascinating dynamics of volcanism in history on Mars.

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Bloomberg's Chris Christoff notes the recent experience of Detroit's main public art museum in the context of its bankruptcy. The collection has survived, barely.

Detroit’s world-class art collection became a fulcrum for the city’s bankruptcy settlement, with such cherished works as Vincent Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait” leveraging an $816 million deal to fund city pensions.

Now, the Detroit Institute of Arts must raise as much as $350 million to fulfill its end of the bargain and sustain it after a local arts tax expires in 2022. That’s a tall order for donors who’ve already dug deep for the museum. The effort may be aided thanks to the 129-year-old museum’s brush with liquidation.

“When I first came here, I had to tell people what a great collection this was, how valuable it was,” said Graham Beal, DIA director since 1999. “I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Detroit’s record bankruptcy began in July 2013 as the city piled up deficits and $18 billion of debt, and it made the cultural centerpiece a damsel in distress, her cry heard by art-lovers worldwide. The museum’s rescue by private foundations, the state of Michigan and a relentless federal judge who hatched the plan to save it may become municipal-finance legend.

“You want to say Detroit was the only place that liquidated its art?” said Mariam Noland, president of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, one of the donors to the bankruptcy agreement. “That would never have gone away.”

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