Robert H. Young's letter about the American urban condition and Detroit's in particular ("Divided We Fall," Letters to the Editor, April 13) hit the proverbial nerve. I recently entertained friends from Oxford at a tony Chinese restaurant near Grand Rapids. On the door was a bumper sticker with the usual "In God We Trust, United We Stand." I said to the Oxonians, "Oh, yeah? What do we stand for?"
The highly segregated condition Young describes in Milwaukee, and has long fascinated urban geographers with regard to Detroit, is one of those "only in America" phenomena. Medieval times may also have generated a similar population distribution based on class, but I doubt it. Americans' distrust, even fear and loathing, of one another is neatly captured:
1) The transportation authority in Atlanta (MARTA) had to seek condemnation power from the legislature in the 1990s because suburban and exurban jurisdictions were using zoning to block new transit stations.
2) A late friend from Mount Clemens, college-educated, artistically sensitive, beloved by his family, once casually referred to East Detroit as the "first line of defense." And no, not in jest. "Only in . . .." —G.M. Ross, Lowell
Closing the book?
I watched with interest as city of Troy battled their city's budget crisis. Closing the library was on the table and their residents packed the City Council meeting to get it off the table. I watched how they were willing to give up some creature comforts (city services) in order to keep their library open. They clearly valued access to reading opportunities for their children and residents.
It was announced that 18 of the 23 Detroit library branches may be closed. If there's one thing that should be considered untouchable in Detroit's budget juggling, it should be access to libraries. It's ironic that this announcement was made on the anniversary of the Civil War. A war fought around the idea of freedom. How soon we forget that the key to freedom was access to knowledge. An elaborate and cruel system was put in place to deny black people access to reading, to knowledge, to freedom. After the Civil War the one thing black parents wanted was for their children to be educated, to be able to read. And still there were cruel systems to block this. After Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, blacks finally had access to the same educational opportunities that everyone else had.
The neighborhood libraries offer opportunities to read, to gain knowledge and ... freedom: freedom of the mind to explore the wonderful minds of both ancients and contemporaries. And to think that we will close the libraries and cut off this access to reading because the money is needed elsewhere? Our ancestors are turning over in their graves. We should be ashamed of ourselves. There is no city service that is more important than providing opportunities for our children to read — none. To even think of closing libraries shows how out of touch we are with history and our own childhood relationships with reading. How unfair! We had books and libraries, and because of money woes, we decide it best to deprive our kids of the experience of losing themselves in the back corner of a library with their noses between the pages of a newly discovered book? If we close these libraries, we deserve the community we get because of it. Where are the reading advocates? Those 5,000-plus volunteers who signed up to read to Detroit public school kids? Surely, they understand the importance of reading and how the lack of libraries would affect their efforts. Why isn't the Detroit City Council, like Troy, packed with citizens to lobby for saving the libraries? Troy and Detroit, two different cities addressing the same issue. One city clearly values reading and the growth and development of its city's youth. The other city clearly places little value on reading and the growth and development of its city's youth. Does anyone feel the shame? —Ivory D. Williams, Detroit
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