The Detroit of Daniel Okrent’s childhood is gone. The “elm-lined streets” of the “City of Homeowners”—“the place that America once knew as the Arsenal of Democracy”—have become “the urban equivalent of a boxer's mouth, more gaps than teeth.” A devastating combination of racial tension and a lack of innovation in the auto industry has left the city reeling, with unemployment and the murder rate soaring. But it is also something of a blank canvas for a new American dream.
Okrent, writing in Time as part of the magazine’s yearlong residence in Motor City—the magazine actually bought a house—can and does detail the woes of half a century. But the promise is in the future. Where labor was once prohibitively expensive, workers are clamoring for any job. And now that the auto industry has taken its licks, the engineering departments are game for anything. “What's to stop us now from turning Detroit,” Okrent writes, “into the Arsenal of the Renewable Energy Future?”