Getting Detroit Wrong ... Again

Jan 10, 2014 at 2:42 pm

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?