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June 17, 1978 - Image 8

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1978-06-17

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Page 8-Saturday, June 17, 1978-The Michigan Daily
By R. J. Smith
STEADILY for the past few decades, thousands have de-
parted Detroit, looking for that chimerical "something
better". Almost followng some unwritten but well-memor-
ized scheme, they make their grand exit: they achieve
some high point of success, usually built upon the
automobile industry, and leave the cramped, uncomfor-
table confines of urban life in the Motor City for a place
where they could be with people like them, people who'd
worked hard. They go to the suburbs.
They have earned this life, and they felt it was time to
take what they'd earned. They had spent their long hours
and done their kowtowing, and long ago they decided that
when they could, they would leave.
So they flow into the suburbs, like so many corpuscles
from the heart, and plan not only to have things easier for
themselves, but to give their sons and daughters a little bet-
ter opportunity than they were given - because no matter
how many fight and make it, they all remember those that
fought and didn't. They head to satellite communities that
mere decades ago had been farms or even bare fields. They
go to Taylor and Southfield, Farmington Hills and Livonia.
And they set out for Birmingham.
CHARTERED as a city in the 1930's, Birmingham has
only needed to put up a mild struggle to maintain its
desirable image of the prototypical suburban small town.
The streets are scrupulously clean and the lawns seem
manicured by one thoughtful master gardener, and it
seems that all that is obscene and scurrilous has heeded a
tasteful request to kindly step outside the city boundaries.'
Although some of the automobile people still trickle into
town, fewer and fewer of the residents rely on that source of
Nowthe bankers, lawyers, and store owners fill up Bir-
mingham, children of the dues-payers. They have not
relaxed, for all their "success"; they work hard to main-
tain a beautiful city. And they do struggle - fighting to
keep Birmingham as a sort of symbol of success, composed
of people who didn't take handouts (or didn't get them) -
and didn't need them. It may be had work, but it pays off.
A WALK in the downtown streets expresses the proud
fruits of their labors. On almost every corner ripple bright
C1e )
American flags, and the shops lining the streets are exotic
and expensive, attractive, and stocked with so much more
than just the bare necessities of life.
Those that stroll the store-rimmed streets are likewise
splendidly attractive: there are surprisingly few who are
obese, and countless many sport wonderful suntans in the
cloudy month of June. Struggling to curb a less-than-
apocalyptic crime rate, the unwritten law is surprisingly
effective: everyone is off the streets by six-thirty.
Birmingham's politics have undergone a sort of apparent
transition. When it was possible to maintain a kind of fuzzy
social liberalism, Birmingham was at the fore. They passed

Daily Photo by


an open-housing ordinance (banning discrimination in the
sale of houses) in 1968, before the federal government made
their own laws. The unspoken message, of course, was that
any minority who could afford to live here was the sort that
would be inoffensive to the community. But there was
always a streak of hard-line conservatism underneath,
waiting to surface. And surface it did. The busing issue of
the early seventies proved this. The town burghers favored
equality - sort of - but when Judge Stephen Roth of the
U.S. District Court wanted to include all Detroit's suburbs
insa regional hosing plan, Birmingham hollered.
WHAT Birmingham wants from government is simple -
a well-honed, austere, accountable noiseless machine to
perform the will of the people. To an unsurprising but great
degree, then, the city commission is responsive to its con-
BUT THE gears of the machine have jammed. In April
of this year three incumbent city commissioners were
voted off the city commission, and in May three more - in-
cluding the mayor - were removed from office in a
massive recall campaign. All lost their seats as a result of
their favorable stance towards the construction of a low-
income senior citizen's home, and the building or
renovation of 50 scattered Birmingham homes for low-
income families.
The six who lost their seats - leaving only one city com-
missioner still seated from pre-recall days - had worked
with a nrivate develnner and state and federal funding


with* v

agencies to plan the housing.
The April voting day when three commissioners1
joh was also the day the citizens of Birmingham
proposals to build lower-income projects with fed
ds. In a campaign marked by undercurrents of r
one of the new city commissioners, taking an ant:
stance, termed it "biologically wrong" to have th
and economic mix" that would result from the con
of lower-income houses - and the proposals w
whelmingly defeated.
AS THE stature of suburbs grew both in total po
and general prestige, they began to sprawl in n
same way that Detroit had billowed past all its se
set boundaries. But the rich mix of peoples and ent
that is Birmingham was forced in upon itself, fo
wards constantly against the boundaries of other
and a fond wish was kindled to remain something
something special. There is pride in the process of
selection that weeds out so many when they spec
Birmingham as a home, and there is angry dis
"those damned social architects" who would ch

to by

Mayor Robert Kelley stands in front of the mural that says it all.

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