Getting Detroit Wrong … Again

January 10, 2014
Typical view of Manhattan's undeveloped properties, an eyesore that cries out for radical solutions.

Typical view of Manhattan’s undeveloped properties, an eyesore that cries out for radical solutions.

It seems everybody knows how to fix Detroit. That’s because everybody knows the facts about Detroit.

Except when they don’t.

Take this little piece of batshittery by right-wing windbag P.J. O’Rourke. It’s called “How to Save Detroit,” and it appeared in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. O’Rourke’s piece contains a statistic that you hear over and over again in the mainstream media: “Detroit has approximately 40 square miles of vacant land.”

It’s the kind of stunning figure that staggers the imagination. What a great way to end an article, to show the American people that Detroit is just so destroyed that radical action is required. It stops people cold: That there’s enough vacant lots in the city to collectively house Tempe, Ariz. Wow. It’s amazing. It’s incredible. In fact, the only problem with that statistic is one thing — it’s not true.

As the good people at Data Driven Detroit have shown, the 40-square-mile figure is extremely misleading. This tally of “vacant” land includes the land area of Belle Isle Park, Palmer Park, Rouge Park, Howell Park, all other public parks, all city cemeteries, and even the surface area of all the streets! By this measure, you could argue that something radical must be done with Manhattan, which has several square miles of vacant land (in the form of streets, expressways and Central Park, of course).

But, of course, no responsible editor would let anybody make the ridiculous claim that Broadway and 42nd or Sheep’s Meadow are vacant, moldering lots of debris crying out for development. So why does the Wall Street Journal allow O’Rourke to make this statement about Detroit?

It’s because they don’t know any better.

And yet, with a straight face, some would argue these are the people we should turn to for answers on how to save our city?

  • vince carducci

    PJ O’Rourke is a dick.

  • Penny Bowler

    Maybe DeBlasio and Duggan should meet up with President Obama to try to even out the income
    inequalities in NYC and Detroit?

  • slovakD

    Manhattan did not lose more than half of it’s population over the past sixty years. As a lifetime Detroit resident and former DPS teacher, I’ve witnessed the transformation of many acres of our city from densely populated residential, business, and major neighborhood retail areas with stores, restaurants, movie theatres, etc.. into nothingness, empty fields, faded oblivion. And the vacant land acreage will increase if and when the over-abundance of abandoned, dangerous, open-to-tresspass properties on both residential and main streets are demolished. Hopefully some of these properties can be saved.

  • EveryWishEveryStar

    Thank you!! And to top it off, New York also got a government bailout, paid for with taxes, by the people, when they were going bankrupt.

  • shmay

    Gee, I guess you told THEM! So, what is it? 30? 20? Isn’t even 20 square miles of vacant land significant? Is that the best you have against Mr. O’Rourke?

  • Randy Burbach

    Remember, WSJ has about as much journalistic integrity as that other Murdoch rag, the NY Post

  • Rebecca May Womack

    and lets not forget how freggen much it cost to live in New have to take out a small loan just to rent a shitty apt in a shitty part of town when that same amount (no loan needed)could get you a 3 bedroom flat Plus have enough left over for your electric, gas, food and other bills on the outskirts of Detroit or even one of our suburbs!….why doesn’t Mr. Jackass come to Detroit and compare notes and get his shit straight? …

  • Allan Perry

    While his ham handed attempt at facts is wrong, Detroit does have an alarming amount of land that was once developed and is now either vacant or occupied by a condemned structure. Even if the overall number is wrong, a quick drive down Michigan Ave will prove his point.

  • ChazNYC

    What assistance did NYC get? We give far more to the national economy in tax revenue than we receive. The 99% in NYC are suffering along with or brothers in Detroit!

  • frank

    He’s right — 40 square miles is inaccurate. Detroit has more like 32 square miles of vacant land.

  • spider

    Free press article confirmed 40 sq. Miles! Having a biz in Detroit and also being a resident id say it’s more like 70 or half the city that should be considered uninhabitable!

  • Aiede

    Certainly, getting the details of “how much vacant land does Detroit have?” wrong is a venial rather than a mortal sin. The overarching “Wow, Detroit has a lot of vacant land” concept is still true, which anybody who lives here experiences every day. The Belle Isle thing is batshittery, but the general concept of just maybe making the city more attractive rather than less attractive to residents and businesses through tax policy bears discussion.