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New Book: Driving Detroit, George Galster

By Kurt Metzger, Director

Looking back at my fifteen years working at Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies,  I remember my colleagues’ love for the city and their work with its residents. One person stands above all others: George Galster.  George came back to his roots in Detroit in 1996, locating his family in Palmer Woods and joining the faculty at WSU.  George showed himself to be not only a great thinker and researcher, but also a terrific presenter and heck of a good guy.  I had the opportunity to work with him on a couple of projects and to accompany him to Copenhagen for a conference.  In my role as D3 Director, I have had the opportunity to hire a number of urban planning students from WSU, each of whom speaks of George in reverent terms.

Today I have the distinct honor of introducing his just published book – Driving Detroit: The Quest for Respect in Motown.  Since I have placed my order but not yet received my book, I felt ill-equipped to review it.  Even had I read it, my analysis would pale in comparison to George’s writing.  Therefore I went straight to the author and asked him for a couple of paragraphs.  Here they are:

Driving Detroit paints in non-technical words a comprehensive portrait of Greater Detroit, a place of intense international interest.  Many books have portrayed its various surfaces.  None have asked, “Why Detroit?  What makes it tick?”  The character of this place emerges in Driving Detroit from multiple layers of principles gleaned from urban planning, economics, sociology, political science, geography, history, and psychology.  But it is also partly a self portrait, wherein Detroiters paint their own stories through songs, poems, and oral histories.  This mix of scholarly disciplines and media of communication make the book distinctively insightful and accessible.  Driving Detroit is unique because it paints a portrait that not only helps the reader see but, more importantly, understand why Detroit’s social, cultural, political, institutional, commercial, and built landscape is the way it is.  The book is aimed at graduate and undergraduate courses in urban studies, geography, and planning, but also should be of interest to the general public, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Driving Detroit’s organizing principle is that Greater Detroit can be understood as a dual dialectic, one between capital and labor, the other between blacks and whites, manifested on a featureless plain dominated by an oligopolistic industry producing a durable consumer good.  The book sets the context for these dialectics by describing the region’s geo-political environment and evolving economic and population patterns.  It then traces the historical struggles between employers and unions, blacks and whites.  It shows how the geography, local government structure, and sociological forces created a housing development system that has led to the abandonment of the city core.  Driving Detroit then draws upon psychological principles of human fulfillment to argue that the region’s automotive economic base and housing development system have frustrated the populations’ quest for “respect,” leading to the individual and collective adaptations that characterize the place.  Unfortunately, though understandable, these adaptations have proven collectively irrational, positioning the region in an uncompetitive, unsustainable position.

It won’t read like John Grisham or Danielle Steele, but the time for summer/beach reading is over, our children are headed back to school, and it wouldn’t hurt any of us to be challenged to think.   Let’s take advantage of being able to tap into George’s brain and see how we can work together to build a better Detroit for all.

Click here to order.