Don’t Dismiss the Early Signs of a Turnaround in Detroit

City Lab talks about the signs of a turnaround in Detroit.

Don't Dismiss the Early Signs of a Turnaround in Detroit

Michigan State political scientist Laura Reese and Wayne State urban affairs expert Gary Sands have written an essay “Detroit’s recovery: The glass is half-full at best,” for Conversation, which was reprinted at CityLab as “Is Detroit Really Making a Comeback?” The article is based on a longer academic treatment of this subject by Reese, Sanders and co-authors, entitled “It’s safe to come, we’ve got lattes,” in the journal Cities.  (This is one of those rare cases where the mass media version of an article is more measured and less snarky than the title of the companion academic piece, but I digress.)

Reese and Sands set about the apparently obligatory task of offering a contrarian view to stories in the popular press suggesting that Detroit has somehow turned the corner on its economic troubles and is starting to come back. We, too, are wary of glib claims that everything is fine in Detroit. It isn’t. The city still bears the deep scars of decades of industrial decline coupled with dramatic failure of urban governance. The nascent rebound is evident only in a few places.

There’s a kind of straw man argument here. Is Detroit “back?” As best I can tell, no one’s making that argument. The likelihood that the city will restore the industrial heyday of the U.S. auto industry, replete with a profitable oligopoly and powerful unions that negotiate high wages for modestly skilled work, just isn’t in the cards. As Ed Glaeser has pointed out, it’s rare that cities reinvent their economies. But when they do—as in the cases of Boston and New York—it’s because they’ve managed to do an extraordinary job of educating their local populations, and that base of talent has served as the critical resource for generating new economic activity. Detroit is still far from that point.

And there’s no one who should think a renaissance will happen quickly, if it happens at all. History is littered with examples of once flourishing cities that failed for centuries to find a second act: Athens was long deserted, Venice had its empire and economy collapse, Bruges had its harbor silt-up. In each case, these cities’ early economies lived hard, died young and left a beautiful (architectural) corpse. It’s really only been in the 20th century that each of these cities revived to any degree after their historical decline.

The Seed Vault

Follow world-renowned scientist Cary Fowler into the heart of the arctic, where the Svalbard Global Seed Vault lies nestled in the frozen Norwegian landscape. Among the most important buildings in the world, the Seed Vault holds the key to human survival: more than 880,000 seed samples, the largest collection in the world. These seeds are critical because, unless safeguarded, agriculture biodiversity is at risk of decline in the face of changing environmental and population pressures.

Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber

This is the company that some on Saskatoon City Council is so excited to attract to Saskatoon.

As most of you know, I left Uber in December and joined Stripe in January. I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the past couple of months about why I left and what my time at Uber was like. It’s a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go. 

I joined Uber as a site reliability engineer (SRE) back in November 2015, and it was a great time to join as an engineer. They were still wrangling microservices out of their monolithic API, and things were just chaotic enough that there was exciting reliability work to be done. The SRE team was still pretty new when I joined, and I had the rare opportunity to choose whichever team was working on something that I wanted to be part of. 

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on – unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

It gets worse from here.

Why drink alone when you can drink with your pet?

Cat wines are the latest manifestation of a growing trend of pet owners treating them like people.

Over the past 15 years, “the pet market has been transformed by humanization of pets,” said David Sprinkle, the research director at marketresearch.com….“The term ‘pet parent’ has increasingly replaced ‘pet owner,’”

Mr. Sprinkle said. Cat products and supplies make up 30 percent of the $40 billion United States pet market, excluding services, he said.  This has to be a sign of a decline of western civilization.

New delinquent U.S. car loans at 8-year peak: NY Fed survey

Bloomberg reports

More Americans fell behind on their car loan payments in the fourth quarter, bringing auto delinquencies to their highest since the height of the financial crisis, Federal Reserve Bank of New York data released on Thursday showed.

Car loans delinquent by 30 days or more grew to $23.27 billion, the most since $23.46 billion in the third quarter of 2008. They were up from $22.98 billion in the prior quarter.

Seriously delinquent auto loans whose payments were 90 days or more past due jumped to $8.24 billion in the fourth quarter, the highest since the third quarter of 2016, according to the survey.

This make no sense to me as both the U.S. economy and unemployment is doing better and interest rates at still at historically low levels.  Any ideas why?

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