Sufficient affluence/sustainable economy (episode one)

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By John F. Sase, Ph.D.
Gerard J. Senick, general editor
Julie G. Sase, copy editor

William A. Gross, researcher

“We should understand well that all things are the work of the Great Spirit. We should know the Great Spirit is within all things: the trees, the grasses, the rivers, the mountains, and the four-legged and winged peoples, and, even more important, we should understand that the Great Spirit is also above all these things and peoples. When we do understand all this deeply in our hearts, then we will fear, and love, and know the Great Spirit, and then we will be and act and live as the Spirit intends.”

—Nicholas Black Elk (1863 – 1950), Native American Medicine Man,
Holy Man, and Heyoka (Sacred Empath)
of the Oglala Lakota

We are a nation of laws. We are states of laws. We are counties of laws. We are cities, towns, and townships of laws. As human beings, someday we will pass along, but our laws will continue to live onward if protected and nurtured.
When we contemplate the tasks of building or redeveloping a sustainable economy in our urban environment and beyond, we turn our thoughts to the talents, skills, and knowledge needed to accomplish the work from a human base and perspective. Our society needs more policymakers who have studied Law thoroughly in order to preserve the good laws that exist and to develop new ones to serve us more fully.

Within southeast Michigan, the woes of Detroit, Flint, and other cities and towns in our region became the target of a national media-fest and feeding frenzy. For decades, media outlets regularly have exploited the urban decay of the City of Detroit and its eventual bankruptcy-proceedings. Apart from a handful of articles from the rarified air of public broadcasting and leading magazines and newspapers that maintained a few shreds of integrity, media pundits repeatedly have focused on the same myopic concerns and razed neighborhoods. Much of what has appeared in national print and electronic media either has hit the wider public out of context or in a shallow manner that merely supports the agendas of the writers. However, very few of these stories and editorials have contributed anything of merit to the history of—and the understanding of—the City of Detroit and environs. Therefore, we will step back and take a high-altitude appraisal of the situation that hopefully will lead to the rebuilding a balanced and sustainable economy that supports sufficient affluence for all.

Many writers continue to rehash the same old tales that have been familiar to locals for decades. These stories have concentrated repeatedly on racial tension, white flight, auto-industry failures, greedy unions, and corrupt politicians. Meanwhile, others in the national media play “the blame game” by pointing at the usual suspects while providing gawking material for dwellers of other cities, towns, and countryside. Unfortunately, the events in the national media have proven to be symptomatic rather than the systemic root-causes. We must travel back centuries, even millenia, in order to understand the economic basis of the problems in Detroit through which we are working today. If we are to discover a solution and move forward into the future, we must understand HOW and WHY Detroit arrived at its recent state by looking at its history and pre-history from antiquity to the present.

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The Past Is Prologue

In order to lay foundations for forthcoming centuries, we need to start at a practical beginning in order to understand what may transpire. Let us begin the appraisal of our situation from the era following the great Ice Age, a time in which glaciers buried all of the Great Lakes biome (this climatically and geographically defined contiguous area of the earth) about 12,000 years ago. As the ice receded, the warming mega-cycle refilled five large lakes that had existed previously as inland salt-seas. These bodies of water developed into the lakes that now hold one-fifth of all fresh water on our planet. As a result, our abundant natural resource continues to increase in value for the growing global population that relies upon fixed sources of potable fresh water.

Following the glacial retreats, the land mass in Michigan rose again like a giant tortoise from the waters as the Ice Age ended. The channel that once flowed eastward from Lake Huron through the Georgian Bay to Lake Ontario ceased to exist. Over the past six millennia, the waters from Lakes Michigan, Superior, and Huron cut a path southward through a great flood-plain that transformed into our current Lake St. Clair (named after either Saint Clare of Assisi or Major General Arthur St. Clair II, 1st Governor of the Northwest Territory). Our present lake-levels of the Post-Glacial Age have left us with two peninsulas that provide three practical crossings into Southwestern Ontario, Canada. The northernmost crossing is located at the narrows of Sault St. Marie in the Upper Peninsula. Other crossings are at Port Huron, north of the marshlands adjoining the St. Mary’s River, and at Detroit, along the narrow strait from which the City takes its French name (De Troit, “of the strait”). As a result, the location gives this area of Michigan a valuable economic advantage as our greatest portion of trade with Canada crosses here between Southeast Michigan and Southwest Ontario.

In addition to our locational advantage, Detroit commands a political advantage. Upon the initial settlement of this region by French trappers, explorers, and habitants during the Seventeenth Century, all of Michigan had been considered the western part of New France, the colony that extended eastward beyond the City of Quebec. However, following the French and Indian War against the British, the region was transferred to the latter. Subsequently, the American Revolution led to the transfer of the territory to the newly independent United States. Detroit has remained along the U.S.-Canadian border for more than two centuries. Even though its location lies far inland, Detroit exists as an international port both economically and politically. This characteristic constitutes a major advantage for Southeastern Michigan concerning global trade, which occurs through the Canadian port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, as well as U.S. ports. Furthermore, The Great Lakes Waterway provides a European connection to our region through the older Erie Canal via the Hudson River past New York City and by way of the newer Welland Canal, which bypasses the Niagara escarpment to link the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence Seaway. Though some may remember the observation by Governor Sarah Palin about seeing Russia from her Alaskan backyard, many Detroiters honestly can say “I can see Canada from my house!”

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A City Plan Inherited from Ancient Times

Detroit is a radial monocentric city. This designation means that the urban structure sprawls outward along paths that extend from a central hub like wooden spokes on a wagon wheel. This outward expansion leads to an urban-transportation problem known to economists and others as “cross-haul.” The further outward from the city center that we travel, the greater the distance between the spokes. As we move away from the hub, the cost of building and maintaining public-transportation systems to handle the cross-haul becomes increasingly expensive. Also, the increasing distance between nodal points (intersection of pathways) of the population density on the spokes has a similar effect:  the cost of building and maintaining delivery systems for public utilities, such as water and sewerage, increases. We will address the issue of cross-haul in more detail in a later episode.

In refutation, let us note that mound-builders, referred to as the Hopewell Civilization, helped to develop this urban plan much earlier. The Hopewell culture, which flourished in Michigan and Ohio from approximately 500 BCE to 1400 CE, built more than one thousand mounds in the Midwest region. The first four pathways, known today as Gratiot, Woodward, Grand River, and Michigan Avenues, formed routes to additional settlements of mound-builders in Michigan.
Though the Hopewell Civilization may have developed these routes, more recent studies suggest that these multiple straight paths may reflect the axiom that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Importantly, the existence of these routes as well-beaten paths suggests that they may extend back to the Pre-Human Era.

The basis of this theory may rest in the concept of “ley-lines.” Many traditional cultures around the world consider ley-lines to be earth-energy lines that connect natural-energy vortex points. Mystics, engineers, and others who study subtle energy assert that more than 900 known pyramids and ancient temple sites aligned to one another and the sequence of at least five North Poles mark these vortex points around the planet. Also, many traditional peoples believe that animals and birds follow these energy lines in migration. As a result, some scholars, wizened persons, and “paranormals” postulate that ancient trails may have become “the old beaten paths” through the continual migration of herd animals and, later, the hunters who followed them. Though much of the scientific community hesitates to accept these beliefs and theories, we should not dismiss them. As the work of Nikola Tesla in Distance Molecular Energy and related topics of physics gains wider acceptance in the scientific community, we may want to reconsider some of these ideas in more detail.

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Mastodons, Mammoths, and Bison—
Oh, My!

Major surface roads provide a series of avenues that radiate outward from the hub at the Central Business District in downtown Detroit to unite the City of Detroit to its suburban ring and beyond. Erroneously, past authors have asserted the myth that the founders of Detroit modeled the broad paths (fanning east to west) of Gratiot, Woodward, Grand River, and Michigan Avenues after the radial/monocentric designs of Paris, France, and Washington, D.C. Before European settlers renamed our familiar roads, the trails had been cleared throughout past millennia by herds of large animals and the Indigenous People who hunted them.

Gratiot leads north by northeast to the narrows at Port Huron. Grand River Avenue led to two major settlements. The first one, just north of Lansing in Clinton County, thrived around the largest concentration of mounds in the State of Michigan. The second one in Grand Rapids surrounded another cluster of mounds that the current city has preserved through the present day. 

The well-traveled route along Michigan Avenue (the Chicago Road) leads directly through the recently discovered remains of an ancient civilization that flourished near Michigan City, Indiana. This earlier civilization thrived 12,000 years ago toward the end of the Ice Age, in which glaciers still covered most of Michigan. The remaining mastodon and mammoth populations died out during the following millennium (for more information, see the article by Catherine H. Yansa and Kristin M. Adams, “Mastodons and Mammoths in the Great Lakes Region, USA and Canada: New Insights into their Diets as They Neared Extinction,” Geography Compass (2012): 1–14, 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2012.00483.x). How did these animals become extinct? One obvious theory alludes to human participation in the event. Daniel Fisher, Ph.D., a paleontologist at the University of Michigan, uncovered a partial skeleton of a 12,000 year-old mammoth near Ann Arbor. Fisher stated that the site preserves “excellent evidence of human activity” along with the mammoth remains that appeared to have provided a feast for some early hunters. (Shaena Montanari, “Mammoth Discovered in Michigan Was Likely Butchered by Humans,” Forbes.com, 2015).

Traditionally, archaeologists refer to this group of humans who settled in Michigan 12,000 years ago as “Paleo-Indians” (Ancient Indians). Evidence continues to accumulate that these early Michiganders may have hunted mammoths and mastodons, along with other big-game animals such as caribou.

In respect to our current economy, the well-trodden paths on which our predecessors travelled form the spokes of the monocentric-urban configuration along which most of the current towns, villages, and hamlets have arisen. These spokes now form the basis of modern Metropolitan Detroit. Continuing with the analogy of a wheel, we may suggest that, if portions of the spokes or the hub are left to rot, then the outlying rim containing many settlements will collapse eventually. In addition to such outlying cities as Royal Oak and Birmingham along Woodward Avenue, Mt. Clemens along Gratiot Avenue, and Dearborn along Michigan Avenue, approximately forty independent towns or villages existed until the first quarter of the Twentieth Century within the now-current borders of the City of Detroit.

Some of the places continuing to remain along Grand River Avenue include the following: Ravenswood and Sherwell, in the old retail area near Oakman Boulevard; the village of Greenfield, which became the major shopping district at Greenfield Road and Grand River; and the villages of Sand Hill and Redford, which survive as the retail district at and beyond Lahser Road. Along Gratiot Avenue, evidence exists of the former villages of Leesville (Butler), Trombley, and Maybury in the acreage that forms City Airport. Moving north of Trombley to the former village of Greiner, the avenue continues to exist as a commercial strip from the cemeteries near the airport to beyond East Seven Mile Road. Until the first decade of the twentieth century, these places existed as local trade hubs in largely rural areas. However, the rapid expansion of the City of Detroit changed all of these places as residential subdivisions filled most of the open space between the villages. This era of rapid and expansive growth enlarged the city eight-fold over a short period of time. It presents us with a deeper look into the beginnings of Detroit’s economic deterioration and bankruptcy. For such a large economy to remain sustainable requires sufficient affluence that must be maintained by a comparably high level of sustainable employment. As with an inflatable play castle, the structure stays up only as long as a sufficient volume of air continues to flow through it.

Another major economic asset that predates the expansion of the city remains in the form of more than seventy miles of railway rights-of-way established legislation and land-use laws. Plus, there are many more miles of rail in the form of sidings, spurs, and yards. However, only eleven miles of these rights-of-way remain within the bounds of East and West Grand Boulevards, the city limits of Detroit during the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century. These rights-of-way would provide not only a transportation nucleus for the region but would help to define the neighborhoods of the city. Residential as well as commercial areas developed within the urban web that the railway lines formed. However, this rail configuration only allows crossing at one-mile or half-mile intervals. The positive side of such limitation allowed individual urban pockets to develop their unique characteristics and cultures. The rails isolated the rapidly evolving neighborhoods from one another. This effect would compound itself in the latter half of the Twentieth Century following the construction of sub-surface expressways.

Takeaway

We hope that we have entertained our audience with an enjoyable and meaningful introduction to local history. In forthcoming episodes, we will explore the major events that formed the horns of the present dilemma in the City of Detroit and its surrounding suburban ring. We present this information to the Law community because the City of Detroit continues to need your help. You, our readership, are highly educated and socially engaged. Do you have a vested interest in the next phase of development? If so, then we look to you to be teachers, mentors, and problem-solvers in this endeavor of the commonwealth. By using your skills, you can impact the future of Detroit and help it to achieve its full potential, both now and in the future. Therefore, we hope that this series of articles will provide you with some of the tools to assist you in this endeavor of creating sufficient affluence through a sustainable economy.

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Dr. John F. Sase teaches Economics at Wayne State University and has practiced Forensic and Investigative Economics for twenty years. He earned a combined M.A. in Economics and an MBA at the University of Detroit, followed by a Ph.D. in Economics from Wayne State University. He is a graduate of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School (www.saseassociates.com).
Gerard J. Senick is a freelance writer, editor, and musician. He earned his degree in English at the University of Detroit and was a supervisory editor at Gale Research Company (now Cengage) for over twenty years. Currently, he edits books for publication (www.senick-editing.com).
Julie G. Sase is a copyeditor, parent coach, and empath. She earned her degree in English at Marygrove College and her graduate certificate in Parent Coaching from Seattle Pacific University. Ms. Sase coaches clients, writes articles, and edits copy (royaloakparentcoaching.com).