What Does Hong Kong Have To Do With Detroit?

Probably not much.  But our short visit there was an eye-opener on several fronts.  One of them is that for all of Detroit’s well cultivated sense of victimhood,   Hong Kong is a city that has faced even more adversity. Nevertheless, by conventional standards it is a booming metropolis—indeed quite possibility the greatest living shrine to consumerism to be found anywhere on the plant. 

What adversity?  As a colony,  Hong Kong has a long history of white supremacy and the discrimination that comes with it.  On top of that, during most of WWII Hong Kong was brutally occupied by the Japanese. The population of the city was reduced by more than half.  In 1967,  as in Detroit,  the city was consumed by civil unrest.  In Detroit the uprising lasted about a week.  In Hong Kong it lasted from April through October, over which time there were 51 fatalities.  In 1962 and again in 1971 Hong Kong was hit with typhoons strong enough to cause multiple deaths.  In other years typhoons and tropical storms caused major injuries and property damage and are a constant threat.

Modern Detroit has never been occupied by a foreign military force, has never had a typhoon and had two major civil disturbances in 1945 and 1967 neither of which lasted as long as Hong Kong’s. 

What’s the point? I’m not sure.  One might be that cities can overcome major hardships.  In Detroit however this not widely believed.  The preference seems to be for wallowing in the hardships themselves. 

Those who do believe that Detroit can “come back” divide into two camps. One advocates a radical reinvention of the city,  the other a more conventional “rebirth” devoid of major social,  political or economic change.  The energy of the first group is growing and inspiring.  The second group has had decades to do something but didn’t.  We are now in the grips of a debate over a state takeover via “emergency manager” or bankruptcy because Detroit’s finances are in complete collapse.  The city is projected to run out of cash in April or sooner.  FWIW,  I’ve though long and hard for years about whether Detroit is a harbinger or just a one-off bad luck story.  Again and again,  the evidence seems to lead back to harbinger. 

Related observations.  In my many travels to high functioning cities,  one thing is painfully obvious—there is a successful mass transit system.  The achievement of such a system requires a degree of civic consensus and engagement that primarily because of racism,  Detroit has never been able to achieve.  Mass transit is also a component of attracting immigrants which Detroit has now failed to do for decades.  Then again,  maybe it’s as simple as this: when capital deigns to shine its light on you,  things get brighter.  If it doesn’t,  it’s dark until people get it together to make their own history. 

All that said,  maybe I am just overthinking all this because,  unlike most of our travels,  we didn’t do well at finding really good food—of which Hong Kong has an abundance.  Hmmmm. 

AlterNet / By Frank Joyce

Posted at December 22, 2011, 7:15am

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