The Decline and Fall of American Public Space as Shown in #BlackLivesMatter Tweets

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

From yesterday’s post on Hillary Clinton’s rollout speech, this:

I keep track of #BlackLivesMatter shootings on my Twitter feed, and most of them come with pictures of the scene. The pictures come from all across the country, as we might expect, and I have started looked at the backgrounds: Invariably, there are signs of a second- or third-world level of infrastructural decay and destruction: Cracked sidewalks, potholed roads, sagging powerlines, weed-choked lots, empty storefronts, dreary utilitarian architecture just as soul-sucking as anything the Soviets could have produced.

I thought I’d expand a bit on that by posting some of these #BlackLivesMatter pictures. (Twitter, alas, has a system of rolling archives, and so pictures of the Mike Brown shooting and its aftermath, have scrolled off the feed.) The public space of the pictures includes the shooting scenes, protests, protest support, and the built environment of cities in which the shootings the place. But to see how America treats its public space, you have to ignore what’s in the foreground, and look only at what’s in the background. Or not!

The tweets themselves are in no particular order. Not every image comes from a #BlackLivesMatter supporter  (although the tweets that do not can be very educational). Also, I considered annotating the pictures themselves with arrows and labels, but I thought it would be better not to interfere with the pictures, so I used captions instead. Finally, I embedded Twitter HTML code, rather than images of the tweets, first because you can click through to Twitter from the tweets, and second because the Google likes having text to search.

Ferguson, Missouri, United States

Clockwise (CW) from top left: I’m not a pavement artist, but the curved border looks pretty sloppy to me, especially at top right. And I assume the crews are going to fill in the dead bare earth in front with new sod. All in all: This is a memorial?

Ferguson, Missouri, United States

“Like a brick wall,” though the (windowless) brickwork is in good shape, as befits a City Hall. Note the surveillance cam at bottom right; recording devices are pervasive at #BlackLivesMatter: CCTV, along with FBI Stingray planes, and, of course, the protesters’ cellphones. 

Ferguson, Missouri, United States

Can’t we even construct a fence right?

Ferguson, Missouri, United States

The box store is Soviet-style architecture, or worse. 

Louisville, Kentucky, United States

Photo at left: Cracked pavement in front of the storefront where Deng Manyoun was shot. Top right: Police can’t be bothered to get the crime scene tape all the way into the trash can. Bottom right: Cracked pavement and sidewalk as construction of an impromptu memorial begins.

Louisville, Kentucky, United States

CW from top left: Unkempt verge, rough sidewalk, cracking foundation.

Baltimore, Maryland, United States

CW from top left: Boarded up building, streetlight out of vertical, sign out of vertical.

Baltimore, Maryland, United States

CW from top: Signage out of vertical, cracked pavement.

Oaxaca, Mexico

CW from top left: Militarized architecture, out-of-vertical signs and posts, cracked pavement, unweeded areas… The public space in Oaxaca seems strangely similar to what we’ve seen in the Homeland, doesn’t it?  And not to forget the police in Darth Vader uniforms (although not nearly as spiffy as ours).


My intent is not to denigrate the people who live in these cities; I think the #BlackLivesMatter protests are noble, and that all the people in those cities ought to have nice things. And all these cities show signs of civic health; the Ferguson Municipal Public Library (my italics), for example, “emerged as a heroic force” and won a national award.

Instead, I’m giving visual evidence of the slow, decades-long withdrawal of investment in American public space, whether physically, as in cracked pavements and sidewalks, unweeded verges, verticals that should be straight, or emotional, as in a memorial sloppily done, or crime scene tape sloppily thrown away. The one exception to disinvestment is militarization, in the form of surveillance, police in Darth Vader uniforms, and troops.

The Heartland, at least in this (highly tendentious) selection of images, takes on the appearance of a Second- or even Third World garrison state. In this post, I can only speculate on causes, but I’d bet the cause is mainly money: Lack of aid from the state, theft of billions in fees by the MERS system, Obama’s failure to bail out the states and localities in time of crisis, a death spiral of property tax receipts from the foreclosure crisis, corrupt public-private partnerships under the aegis of neoliberalism, and so on.

Readers, what do you think? Am I being too negative? Do you see similar backgrounds where you are? And if so, how do you account for them?

Addendum: McKinney

Here’s the exception that proves the rule: McKinney, a gated community, i.e., not really public space at all:

CCW from top left: Sidewalk verge is not ragged, sidewalk does not appear to be cracked, bikerack in good shape, tree mulched and staked, lawn cut. Attractive though this built environment may seem, if you ignore the foreground, an America with no public space is not America. Neal Stephenson wrote about such a libertarian [dys|u]topia in Snow Crash, with its branded Big Sort-style “burbclaves” (suburban enclaves): “The Mews at Windsor Heights,” “White Columns,” and so forth.

Addendum: Impromptu Memorials

I wish I knew of a full treatment of these memorials, the great sculptural theme of #BlackLivesMatter. they seem bathetic to me, that the best we can do to express how precious a life is should be stuffed bears and balloons; cutesy stuff. Although here I almost certainly betray elitist priors! Anyhow, let’s look on the bright side: Police violence is a pure play in teddy bears! So all things work together for good.

Ferguson (Mike Brown)

Louisville (Deng Manyoun)

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. abynormal

    Atlanta…we got major hwy constr. on 4 different Interstates. my family believes its the turn around in the economy, where Ga isn’t like other states! my sister and i covered some ground yesterday, using state/back roads and it was like navigating thru a war zone. one of the worst pothole roads passes in front of country club of the south, home of the celebs.
    ive warned those that will listen…the hwys are being widened for tolls. im the family doomer so no one pays me mind…until they need help.

    my death by a thousand cuts are the empty strip malls. our homeless are being chased out of woods all around the city…actually told to find another patch of woods down the road. i guess ‘they’ think if you don’t see the groups of homeless you’ll believe in the recovery. families are showing up in the parking lots of some strip malls, with children, asking for help. now the police move them along and i know the lot i live around…They are calling the police b/c They don’t want to see it.

    here’s a site showing American empty malls 2014

    this from 2002: Nationwide, fully half a billion square feet of retail space sits empty–the equivalent of about 4,000 shopping malls….The experience of Macon, Georgia is not typical, but instructive. This small city is home to three Wal-Mart carcasses, two of which exceed 100,000 square feet—more than double the size of a football field and triple the size of typical supermarket, and that’s not counting their vast parking lots. Like most of the 34 abandoned Wal-Mart stores in Georgia, the three Macon outlets were shuttered after the company built two larger “supercenters,” swallowing up still more undeveloped land.

    funnee, the roads around these abandonment’s are death to any size & make vehicle. imagine, by now the 10’s of thousands ghost shopping ctrs, catering to the Working Hungry Homeless…

    Sickness shows us what we are. Latin Proverb

      1. ambrit

        The police do that many places. I’ve seen it myself here in Hattiesburg. The famous case was in Miami where all the homeless people downtown were bussed to the Broward County line, to the North of Miami, and put off the bus, being told not to come back. All this was to make the town look good in the media run up to one of the Superbowls which was being played in Miami that year.
        On a related note, have you noticed how many motels and hotels have been put up over the last decade or so. Many of the older, less trendy motels are now “efficiency” apartments. In true rent extractionary style, the rents I hear about for them are extortionate. As a dollar per square foot metric, I’d not be the least bit surprised if these “efficiencies” are the highest charged units. The poor get it in the back yet again.

        1. Gio Bruno

          The LA Times has been running articles on the growing homeless population in the Southland (Metro LA). They have an interactive map that shows the location of cars and encampments that house homeless. The photo essay they did on the decline of San Bernadino (nearby) is simply gut-wrenching. (Especially after the US has wasted trillion$ in the Middle East.)

          When do we declare “war” on the homeless? They are not just going to “disappear”. Recovering from homelessness is a difficult endeavor. Many of these folks need both medical and shelter support; and the potential purveyors of that support don’t need military uniforms or weapons.

            1. Gio Bruno

              The LA Times periodically displays archived historical photos taken by Times photographers. Today’s homeless encampments appear very much like the historical photos of the “Grapes of Wrath” era.

  2. william d markle

    It is a bit surprising to find this surprising. Any of us growing up in a city in the US in the last fifty years is familiar with disinvestment in public facilities. If one cannot see this as a problem of regional tax and fiscal relations, then one cannot see the problem at all. I live in China now, and for all the problems of the Chinese economy, failure to invest in cities, the most productive part of the economy, is not one of them. Anyone remember, “private affluence, public squalor”?

      1. Gio Bruno

        …and so whom is to blame for these building failures depicted? Policy makers for approving investment in the buildings? Structural engineers, who may have been incompetent? Construction firms who may have did not follow the details of the blueprints? Or is it just general societal “corruption” leading to generally poor outcome?

    1. jrs

      I expected worse. There is much much worse urban decay. I could drive around and photograph worse all day (and that’s not even getting into the ever increasing tent cities). That’s a dubious brag, but millions of urban residents know exactly what I mean. They see it daily even just commuting. Cracks in the pavement, some of this depends on weather, if the winters are harsh and the salt used to melt the snow, the pavement cracks in a few years. Somewhere dry and hot, it could take a decade to crack, but even then it won’t be fixed in the poor part of town, and the resulting potholes won’t be an aesthetic problem, they’ll make driving hard. Surveillance camera’s have been everywhere for maybe about 15 years or more, it probably predates W Bush. It was Orwellian before W made the whole society Orwellian.

      It’s not getting into a ton of other issues as well. The prevalence of litter everywhere, of barbed wire, the billboards, some would say the graffiti but that one’s controversial (I don’t find most graffiti aesthetic at all, but I do find it much less offensive than the billboards which are sometimes obscene as well, while I’ve not yet seen obscene graffiti). Some of the things people could just start doing themselves weeding or litter (well I have before, people will thank you, even though it’s a hopeless task given the size of the problem). They could tidy around the Mike Brown bird “memorial” but I don’t think anyone will because it’s not a memorial that represents those concerned about Mike Brown, but was merely imposed by the city.

  3. Larry

    One need not go far in any state to find systematic signs of decay. Boston, an elite playground more and more, has crumbling rounds and a public transit system wheezing from under investment. I was in Raynham to visit a corporate campus with 1000 workers. Route 44 in Raynham looks as bad or worse than many of these pictures. And that’s a state road, where presumably the resources for maintenance and upkeep wouldn’t fall solely on the town, which may or may not be struggling with budget issues. Potholes, crumbling sidewalks, sagging power lines. You name it. This post is germane because of course it raises the point that Americans have bought the line that we cannot afford to maintain our public spaces. We’ve reconfigured our economy to shovel as much of the gains to private hands as possible while kneecapping labor so thoroughly that it barely has a voice.

  4. ambrit

    That ‘abynormal’ describes Atlanta as one of the American Wasteland sites is depressing. Around here, southern Mississippi, Atlanta is touted as “the land of opportunity” still. To find out that the “Big City” is as bad as the local scene gives scant hope, and, more tellingly, little incentive. I know it’s counter intuitive, but depression feeds on itself, individually and publically. The end state of entropy is full rest. As ‘aby’ attests, things are now beginning to move backwards, visibly. The entire #blacklivesmatter phenomenon has highlighted the elites failure of imagination. Instead of fixing anything, they embark upon a course of repression. Such strategies have never ended well. The one troubling thing about this movement is the reliance on the “race card” aspect. Not to belittle the racial aspects of the social milieu, but the stark reality of “divide and conquer” evident in the very name associated with what is a public movement does not bode well for eventual success. Words have power. It is no accident that, in Genesis, the Deity has, as one of Adams first tasks, the naming of his environment. Upon reflection, the point should be clear; he who controls the naming controls the perception; he who controls the perception controls the action; he who controls the action controls the World. “In the beginning was the Word.” We can argue all we want about the proper translation of the Greek, pneuma. The King James translators, who were no slouches, knew what they were saying.

    1. abynormal

      no city/citizen will escape whats coming…:The 2015 Long-Term Budget Outlook 6/16/15

      So what can the government do to put the country on a sustainable path? Simple: enact austerity.

      To put the federal budget on a sustainable path for the long term, lawmakers would have to make major changes to tax policies, spending policies, or both – by reducing spending for large benefit programs below the projected amounts, letting revenues rise more than they would under current law, or adopting some combination of those approaches.

      And here are the troubling numbers in question, numbers which would put the Greek austerity to shame, because according to the CBO if the US wants to return back to its long-term debt/GDP average of 38% of GDP, it needs to boost revenues by 14% or slash spending by 13%. Alternatively, if it wants to keep debt/GDP at its current level of 74% of GDP, the US will need to boost revenues by 6% of cut spending by 5.5%.

      1. EricT

        So, the answer to crumbling infrastructure is austerity??? Do you even read this website? Reducing the budget to enable tax cuts for the wealthiest have given us the crumbling infrastructure problems cited in the article. More austerity will lead to further eroding of our country. SMH!

        1. ambrit

          “aby’ is known for her very subtle wit. I think you misread as true conviction. (She’s quoting an official publication. I think she’s pointing out what the “official” plan is, and it isn’t good for most of us.)

          1. abynormal

            cleaning screen off…subtle wit bahahahaaaaaa

            “In a French accent developed through a lifetime of using English I said, ‘Hello sir, I would like to row the English Channel in a bath please.’
            What actually arrived in the ear of the French Navy man was, ‘Hello sire, I would like to fight a condom across a bath if you please.”
            Tim FitzHigham,

      2. ambrit

        A good concomitant question is, what degree of Federal, State, and Local revenue sharing is needed to pull us out of the abyss? Are roads a local problem, or State? Since most road projects I’ve seen have large infusions of State and Federal funds, the makeup of the Federal revenue stream is important. The Right has been successful so far in shifting the tax burden onto the shoulders of the working classes. How to reverse that movement? Lefty Propaganda. I’ve learnt, even in the reactionary Deep South, to be loud and proud about my Leftist views. Counter intuitively, there are a lot of social reform types in the Fundamentalist camp, and quite a few Long Haired Country Hippie Boys around. Fertile ground.

        1. abynormal

          me too Lambert…i revert to quotes calm my unadulterated hatred

          [Sustainability]… Ending is better than mending. Huxley

        2. Steve

          Google Strong Towns Ferguson. They maintain that a big problem is the postwar, suburban style development pattern in which places like Ferguson are in the declining phase. This pattern is mandated by federal, state and local land-use and transportation policies. One of which is that despite the collapse of our infrastructure, most federal and state transportation money goes to build new roads for new Walmarts and such. An endemic corruption problem.

  5. Zane Zodrow

    I am currently downtown in a city that regularly makes the top 5 in the ‘best places to live’ lists. I could take photos of examples of all things noted here within 3 blocks of where I am. One finds what one is looking for.

    1. ambrit

      “Best place to live” for what socio economic status level?
      I prefer, the manner in which a society treats its least powerful members is the true measure of that societies ‘worth.’ Anything else is “The Law of the Jungle.” Humans are thinking animals, yes, but they aspire to be more than beasts.

      1. Zane Zodrow

        Just saying it makes the lists, not that I endorse the criteria. A street or sidewalk can be in poor shape when it is nearly due for replacement anywhere that has harsh winters. Shoddy workmanship / maintenance can be found anywhere, as well. What do I think of our city? It is above average, like the folks in Lake Wobegon. :)

        1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          They should force lawmakers who voted YES for the $411 million dollars for *one copy* of a fighter jet that doesn’t work to go visit Tokyo or Singapore or Paris or Berlin or Beijing or Stockholm someday. And weep.
          The idea that we should be spending trillions to build bridges and roads and hospitals and a billion-dollar embassy in Afghanistan instead of taking care of our own is revolting.
          Yet ask Hilary or Jeb or any of the other corporo-fascists (except Bernie) whether they would change a single solitary thing about these priorities and you know the answer you’ll get.
          Wal-Mart with $72 billion in offshore tax havens…oh wouldn’t want to touch that. $2 billion no-bid contract for an “electro-magnetic rail gun” for the Navy…wouldn’t want to touch that.
          As Travis Bickle said “someday a REAL rain is gonna come…”. Just sayin’

    2. Inverness

      That isn’t cause for celebration. It is a sign of the deterioration of public space. However New York City is obviously telling. Compare the Upper West Side to the furthest reaches on the L or that old G train in Brooklyn (beyond Williamsburg) Wow.

    3. John Yard

      Very tendentious. The failing of internet blogging, is a tendency for self-validating material. NC is usually better than this.

  6. Vatch

    Voting is crucial. It’s not a panacea, but failing to vote is far worse than voting. Let’s look at the distressingly low voter turnout rates for a couple of the cities featured in this article.

    Baltimore: 35.6% in 2014

    Ferguson: 30% in 2015, which, amazingly, is considered a big improvement over their previous turnouts.

    When people don’t vote, it’s easier for the officials in the government to do whatever they want to do, which rarely benefits the general population.

    1. hunkerdown

      If people aren’t participating, that’s the system’s defect and the system’s problem. If people aren’t voting, it’s because they know that electoral politics has NO bearing whatsoever on the structure of society.

      Ferguson did vote. You’re choosing not only not to hear it and not to count it, but to cast aspersions on it. I’m hardly going to blame them for not hupping to when whitey needs reassurance.

      1. Vatch

        No, most of the eligible voters of Ferguson did not vote. If the people don’t like the way that the police are behaving, they need a mayor and city council members who will do something about it. 30% turnout doesn’t cut it. I’m not casting aspersions; I’m simply pointing out the reality of the situation. The mayor and the city council can fix the problems with the police. This isn’t about reassuring “whitey”. This is about standing up for people’s rights.

        Ditto for Baltimore.

    2. Gio Bruno

      LA County (pop. 10 million ) recently held local elections. The LA Times said the voter turnout was ~10% (no kidding).

  7. RUKidding

    Thanks for the insightful photo essay. It is telling. However, like others who’ve commented here, the crumbling and failing infrastructure is not limited to “only” the poorer sections of towns and cities across the country. It is probably a bit worse in the poorer areas – unless such an area becomes deemed worthy of gentrification (and then the poor folks get kicked out) – but not by much.

    I live in both Northern and Southern CA, and I could take similar photos in both Sacramento and San Diego. Sacramento, being mostly a working class town, has much more crumbling and failing infrastructure plus continues to have – for over 10 years I’ve lived here – a ton of empty commercial RE all over town, including in the wealthier areas.

    San Diego has now joined its sister counties of Orange and LA to become very desirable as a rich person’s playground. Like: whoopee. So we get insane, horrible traffic 24/7/365, and then the super wealthy who live there, of course, don’t want to pay any taxes. They’ve mostly all retreated to the very expensive, very wealthy areas, where they either pay personally for “their” infrastructure or they live in heavily guarded, gated communities, where they are willing to pay sky-high HOAs for their posh neighborhood. But heaven forfend that they have to pay one thin dime in taxes that might fix public roads and highways, or fund the fire dept or the libraries or public schools. After all, the dreaded poor people *might* get to benefit from their “largess.” CLEARLY, we can’t have that!

    And so it goes….

  8. Sarah from TX

    Infrastructure decay is everywhere. Hence this dripping-with-sarcasm Facebook page here in my hometown of Dallas:
    Motto: Keep Dallas Crappy!
    To my knowledge none of these pictures were taken in “bad” or “dangerous” areas of town either; the city just seems to have little interest in fixing any of it, at least outside of the uber-wealthy neighborhoods.

  9. so

    This article is a tour de force. The crapification of america and everything in it.
    I feel like a space alien. How could I be born on this planet. I don’t understand how fear could
    so overtake a species. An economic system based on fear instead of love.
    This is what It produces.
    I guess I’ll have to wait for you. I have infinity to wait!

  10. Hierophant

    I live in a pretty affluent neighborhood in Seattle, and one that is heavily visited by tourists. The roads out here are falling apart, large cracks in the pavement, potholes, debris, etc. We had some utility work done recently and the patch they put back on the road is embarrassing. Almost all private utility work results in the road being left considerably worse off than before. Seattle is home to several billionaires, many millionaires, and has been relatively untouched by the recession/depression. But the infrastructure looks like a crumbling third world city. It is weird to walk next to the newest high rise condo on a broken sidewalk alongside a crumbling road. These aren’t just things effecting the poor or the inner cities.

  11. Linda Filkins

    “Darth Vader uniforms indeed”…When did American troops and police all start wearing Balaklava’s to cover their faces ? When did the police and military personnel of the erstwhile “democratic” USA get turned into the “Immortals” of the Persian Emperor of 1500 B.C.?

  12. Jerry Denim

    Great post, but sad and utterly depressing.

    I spent about 10 years as a regional airline pilot flying fifty seat jets all over the US Canada and Mexico. I would overnight in large Metro-areas but mostly I would do long, tedious, boring overnights the in medium to smallish size towns everywhere from Saskatoon to Tuxtla and everything in-between east/west coasts. I learned that outside of US towns on the Mexican border, nightmare fracking towns in the Bakken, and the desirable coastal retirement towns and Metro-areas (NYC, Boston, Charleston SC, San-Fran, LA, Seattle, Monterey CA, etc.) the entire US is in shambles. The saddest most depressing towns to me are the formerly great manufacturing cities of the rust belt with grand public buildings and spaces that are now abandoned and in disrepair, that is if they haven’t already been torn down. Detroit and other Great Lake cities like Akron, Cleveland, and Buffalo spring to mind. They are ghost towns. Less dramatic examples of US deindustrialization can be observed coast to coast but I believe deindustrialization is the root cause of the current US malaise. It seems a bit too self-evident to state, but what the vibrant areas of the country with growing populations and prosperous local businesses have that the rest of the country doesn’t have is jobs. It really is that simple. Yes, everything else you outlined in your post is absolutely a factor, but financialization of the economy simply follows deindustrialization because once the opportunity to reap returns on capital from genuine productive uses such as making real things and selling them disappear, bankers will turn to speculative uses of capital to reap returns. No jobs, no factories equals no tax base and that leads to the various funding crises, which leads to privatized, for-profit schools, prisons, police forces etc. Of course this is a bit overly simplistic but basically this is the short answer of what ails America. I blame NAFTA, the WTO, most favored nation trade status for China, etc. etc. We’ve exported our prosperity and are now suffering the consequences.

  13. Detroit Dan

    Downtown Detroit (where I’ve worked for 36 years) is booming, with huge investments in public spaces. It’s wonderful, but a bit jarring considering what I know to be the general case as described in this post. On the other hand, some of the neighborhoods in Detroit look like scenes from hell.

    1. Jerry Denim

      I know the situation on the ground frequently differs from the media meme du jour but I believe 36 years in Detroit may have skewed your perspective a bit. If you’ve been riding Detroit down for 36 years even a tiny bit of deceleration probably feels like you’re going up, but that doesn’t make it so. I walked around downtown Detroit, ate at a cafe and had a few beers with the after work crowd less than a year ago and I did notice signs of life and a little bit of construction, but it was far from what I would call “booming”. It still looked pretty bad to me, but my point is it’s all relative. Stats don’t agree with you with either though…

      Concerning Oaxaca we are in total agreement. I know Mexico has some very serious problems with corruption and narco-state issues, but as a whole the trajectory of the country seems to be upward relative to its northern neighbor. Everytime I visit Mexico I notice nicer infrastructure, more expensive cars and less ‘giant-hole-in-the-sidewalk’ type of death traps that would excite a US accident injury attorney.

      1. Detroit Dan

        I kid you not about Detroit. As I said, I’m a bit shocked. It’s booming in part because it fell so far that it got really cheap and has consequently attracted a lot of young entrepreneurial types The larger city is a different story (as shown by the article you referenced).

      2. Detroit Dan

        I just ran across a quote from British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who was in Detroit to celebrate a new Virgin Atlantic flight between London and Detroit.

        Branson said it’s the right time to offer service to the area, saying Detroit “is beginning to boom again.”

        Also, Branson is scheduled to headline a panel of business leaders at the Ain’t too Proud to Pitch event Friday at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit for entrepreneurs who will pitch him ideas.

  14. Detroit Dan

    I was in Oaxaca recently, and it has some of the most beautiful and vibrant public spaces I’ve ever seen.

    1. sleepy

      Yes, I was going to say the same thing about many places in Mexico. There is far more public life, and more public street life lived in public places than in the US, and most plazas–the center of that life–are well maintained with flowers, plants, public gazebos, and fountains that work. This seems to be true whether the town is 20,000 or 200,000.

      1. Detroit Dan

        There was an SEIU protest near where I ate lunch (outside) today in downtown Detroit.

        In the beautiful and vibrant Oaxacan capital, there are protesting teachers who have been camped there for years. They have covered the central monuments with protest signs.

  15. sleepy

    I live in Mason City IA, a town of about 28,000 and shrinking.

    Roads are maintained ok as are parks and general public amenities. But what I really noticed this past year were the number of private houses that seem in need of major repair–garages tilting sideways, fences leaning this way and that, weatherboards rotting off, sagging porches, junk in the yards, and so on.

    During early spring when everything is still grey, brown, and white, yet getting muddy, large parts of town resembled what I imagined parts of rural Rumania or rural Russia would be like in March.

    My wife has mentioned that the old Norman Rockwell Iowa daily looks more like the poorer parts of Appalachia.

  16. RUKidding

    Thanks for the photo-essay post. It’s very informative, even if depressing.

    While probably in better shape than other places, a lot of coastal California – you know, where rich people live (and mostly that’s true) – and close-to-coastal CA have a lot of areas that look just like those photos from Ferguson, Baltimore, St. Louis, etc.

    The degradation of the commons, especially our highways & roads, is, uh, common, and we see it also in the degradation of local and state parks and camp grounds all around us. Even in wealthy areas, like burgeoning San Diego, there are lots of places with decades long empty real estate and strip malls, plus crummy roads in need of repair and schools without libraries and so on.

    Sacramento is more or less a working class town, so the degraded roads and crummy, underfunded public schools are more prevalent and pronounced, plus more parks and camp grounds in shambles.

    Suggesting raising taxes on the mega-rich comes with the usual shrieks and admonishment of a mass exodus of the mega-wealthy from this state. AS IF. Yes, a few notables may have moved away, like pro golfer Phil Manboobs Michelson, but who cares. Go away. Who needs you?

    CA is now proposing to “fix” (not a good term) the Prop 13 ballot measure which has been a principle cause in the severe decline of our public education system here – once one of the best in the world, now one of the worst. The “fix” – and I’m going to say this very poorly – is about getting corporations and businesses to pay more of their FAIR share in RE taxes. Of course, there is already great weeping and wailing and rending of tunics over this, plus the usual threats to leave CA.

    Well businesses leave here all the time and then others come along. It’s all such a shell game, isn’t it? But citizens here seem to engage in denial about the shambles that our state is in, other than to toy around with useless ideas like breaking up CA into 6 states or other equally dumb stuff.

    As long as citizens can be manipulated into believing that all taxes – esp for the super wealthy and the corporations – are bad, evil, sinful and worse, then the rot will continue, whilst the mega-wealthy decamp to their heavily guarded, gated communities or private islands.

    1. Jerry Denim

      I spent twelve years living in Manhattan and I now reside in LA. Everytime I meet someone who lives in a super cheap red-state, dirt-hole city they invariably tell me how they hate where I live because it is so expensive and then try to sell me on the merits of where they live soley on cost of living. My retort is “Why not Iraq? Why not Haiti? They’re even cheaper?” I don’t care to live my entire life inside the confines of a air-conditioned box in a gated compound so I am willing to pay more to get more. Nice parks, bike paths, beaches, schools, etc.

      As far as Federal taxes, you are definitely right. The rich are bluffing, the US is a tax haven already. Regarding Austin Texas, they may not be kidding, the States are currently engaged in a game of corporate tax give-aways and arbitrage to woo business and it appears to be working. I’m not saying the right response isn’t to let them go, but the threat isn’t total fiction on the state level. California can’t raise taxes forever without experiencing some negative consequences. Something should be done to prevent welfare states in the south and southwest that are net beneficiaries of federal taxation from undercutting their more prosperous neighbors with higher local tax rates. Its not fair and its yet another race to the bottom situation here in the US.

      1. Jim in SC

        It is amazing how many people think that states in the South and Southwest are net beneficiaries of federal taxation. Remove the federal interstate highway system and the military bases and they are not. The federal highway system can be considered both a collection of farm to market roads and a way to guarantee we can move troops quickly from place to place. The military bases are in the South and West because they have wide open spaces and smaller populations. Not to mention that people from the South and Mountain west are twice as likely to volunteer for the military as people from the NorthEast, North Central, and West Coast.

        If the North were so prosperous, it wouldn’t be losing population at such an astonishing rate.

        1. sleepy

          The military bases are in the South and West because they have wide open spaces and smaller populations.

          Many of those southern military bases were established in the post-Civil War period for what I thought were obvious reasons at the time

          Western bases? I’m guessing pacification of the native populations?

  17. Anarcissie

    I think it’s possible that although the rich have a lot of money, at least theoretically, the kind of money they have may not be convertible into value — labor and goods produced by labor. The fiscal policies of the last few decades have been to depress interest rates and to otherwise print money or generate credit, but only for rich people, which in turn goes into inflating rich people’s stuff like the stock market, big real estate, and collectibles. You can have a painting supposedly worth $40 million but it will probably prove impossible to translate more than a very few of them into 400,000 hours of low-wage labor which its monetary value says it is worth. If the money of the rich is as fictitious as I think it is, then any sudden movement of the money, via spending or taxation, into the realm of the working class and the poor, should have very interesting results far beyond tilted signs and cracked sidewalks. That is, we — including our rich folks — may already be broke.

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