Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Town Monday, Detroit:: 8 Mile Road

If that road sign has any meaning to you, it's probably from the Eminem movie of several years ago or the rap song from a bit earlier. Or maybe it's because the strip has a notoriety from race riots of the sixties or from the years when Coleman Young was mayor of Detroit. But if it's 8 Mile Road in Detroit, you're not picturing bucolic vistas. And you'll find none.

The significance of 8 Mile Road in Detroit is that it's the dividing line between Detroit and its northern suburbs and although its clear demarcation of white and black has been blurred in recent years (some people claiming 10 Mile or even 12 Mile is the new divide) for years it was a daily reminder of how limited the lives of African-American Detroiters were.

Longtime mayor Coleman Young alluded to 8 Mile Road-- as a signifier during his administration in the seventies and eighties, seeing it as a signpost of all that was wrong with the white suburbs and their attitude toward Detroit.
There was truth in his assessment, but his inability to work the suburban governments contributed to the problem, worsened it, in fact. The two mayors since Young, (Archer and Kilpatrick) have been more amenable to overtures from the suburbs. And of course many of those suburbs are no longer as segregated. The exurbs have significant African-American populations now.

Ten years ago or even twenty, the difference between the south side of 8 Mile and the north was jolting. Although the housing stock doesn't differ much, and, in fact, some very nice houses in Detroit lie just off 8 Mile and some rather poor housing in the suburbs lies on the other side, the businesses tell it all.

The Detroit side has check-cashing and liquor stores, strip clubs, places to buy pagers and cellphones, pawn shops and hookers. A few businesses predating Detroit's decline, struggle to hold on.

Until recently the north side had typical suburban businesses. That's beginning to change as the dividing line moves north. The dramatic difference from one side of the highway to the other has blurred.

If pressed to find something positive to say about the stretch, it does have a sort of urban aesthetic -faded signs, symbols of Detroit (wheels, tires, music), motels from an earlier era because none of these things have been replaced.

8 Mile Road has always angered Detroit politicians and residents, symbolizing years of real estate practices, suburban edicts, failed busing attempts and declining schools and city services that kept them hemmed in. And it angers the older, white suburbanites who remember a childhood when Detroit was still a vibrant city. You only have to drive a few miles along it to know why that's all changed. Until we take poverty and its impact seriously, 8 Mile Road will continue to be an eyesore and continue to dominate this area as a constant reminder.

Check out Clair Dickson's blog today for 8 Mile Road in her neck of the woods, a very different vista.

And as always, look to Travis Erwin for the usual rundown.



debra said...

Your post and Clair's are interesting--different views of the same place. Has the economy changed 8 Mile Road?
I always learn something from you, Patti.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It's always been bad over the 38 years I've lived here. Some part of Detroit have improved. 8 Mile is not one of them.

Barrie said...

Very interesting. Off to read Clair's post now.

Travis Erwin said...

Great insight into the road and political culture of Detroit.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Very interesting post, Patti, and you're so right that until we take poverty seriously in this country, things are not going to get any better. Can't wait to read Clair's post, too.


Reb said...

That is quite the contrast between your & Clair's ends of the road. Very interesting post.

Terrie Farley Moran said...


You and Clair did a heck of a job on these posts re: 8 Mile Road.

May I ask. 8 mile, 9 mile 10 mile? Miles from where?


Clair D. said...

Hey, neat post Patti. ;-) We should team up more often, this was fun.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The name comes from the Mile Road System, a method used to delineate east/west roads through the Detroit area. Mile roads begin at the intersection of Woodward and Michigan Avenues in downtown Detroit; therefore 8 Mile Road is approximately 8 miles north of that point. 8 Mile Road ends at Marshall road in Green Oak township.
It was fun Clair, think of another topic.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Thanks, Patti. I get it.


Anonymous said...

The prinicpal problem with Detroit is that we have more unwed teenage girls having babies than any other city. Kids having kids. And there appears to be a cultural acceptance of this, even pride. In my opinion, until this basic problem is resolved, there is little hope for Detroit.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Maybe VP nominee Palin can speak to this-with her helpful thoughts on sex education.