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Spectator letters: How Detroit can really be fixed

Plus: George Orwell’s self-mythologising; the moral universe; and a message to Taki from the young ladies of The Spectator

4 July 2015

9:00 AM

4 July 2015

9:00 AM

How to fix Detroit

Sir: When I last flew over my native Detroit five years ago, vast tracts of it still resembled Machu Picchu. From the ground, it was little better; in what had been a prosperous Italian-American neighbourhood when I lived there in 1964, there were only five houses left standing. Stephen Bayley (Arts, 27 June) marvels that ‘You could buy an entire house for $10,000’ — but in truth the taxes needed to support Detroit’s notoriously corrupt governments are so high that you can’t give them away unless they are in one of the few islands colonised by the middle classes. Indeed, the city filed for bankruptcy in 2013, with debts estimated at around $20 billion.

I have no problem with gentrification, and I’ve done a fair bit of it myself. However, Bayley is naive if he thinks that this will solve Detroit’s problems, or that Burnley and Bradford can be rescued by Audis, Ocado and fashionable architects. For a much better understanding of the systemic ills of urban governance, I recommend The Wealth of Cities by John Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee. Rather than using federal funds to finance prestige projects, he slashed public spending and eliminated oppressive regulation. At the same time, he reformed public services and introduced school choice. This has attracted an impressive array of new investment, and Milwaukee is now home to a disproportionate number of Fortune 500 companies and sunrise industries. By all accounts, it is also a very civilised place to live for all social classes.
Prof. Tom Burkard
Easton, Norfolk

Choose heroes carefully

Sir: The problem with hypocrisy, particularly when it is exhibited by a ‘hero’, is that it leaves one feeling cheated — (‘Champions of hypocrisy’, 27 June). It isn’t only sports people who are guilty. As a young man I read as much George Orwell as I could and found it hard to disagree with a word that he wrote. It only occurred to me later in life that his expressed wish to have no biography written might not be entirely due to modesty. He was undoubtedly a great thinker and an outstanding writer, but as D.J. Taylor’s biography illustrates, he was not averse to twisting the odd fact to bolster his myth. My advice to my children? If you are going to have heroes, be careful who you choose. You will probably turn out to be better people than they are.
Ron Ball
Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire

Girls will be girls

Sir: We know it is fashionable these days to suggest that men are women and women are men. But despite Taki’s concerns (High Life, 27 June), we can assure him that the young ladies of The Spectator are indeed ladies. Taki wonders why he has never seen us cry or fall in love; we can assure him that our tears do fall and our hearts do flutter — just not for him. (Yet.)
Some young ladies of The Spectator
London SW1

Dog or child?

Sir: Melissa Kite (Real life, 27 June) is spot on with her description of middle-class dog owners and their pooches. Monty the Jack Russell and I often come across coffee-sipping mums while walking through Hackney. When they tell ‘Oscar’ to ‘come back’ I wonder whether it’s their over-excitable labrador or scooter-riding child being called. Sadly, I never find out because both are so disobedient that most of the time they don’t even bother to turn around.
Laura Atkins
London E17

The moral universe

Sir: The natural explanation of why bits of our universe have evolved to be conscious, loving, moral, purposeful, creative and free (Letters, 27 June) is that societies with those characteristics have a better chance of survival than those that lack them. But, as the life of Genghis Khan reviewed in the same issue shows, they do so only when they are willing to defend themselves. An advanced society that allows itself to be invaded, by force or fraud, by an ignorant, cruel, corrupt, destructive and enslaved society will not remain advanced.
John Hart
Chelmsford, Essex

Seas of liberty

Sir: Steve Hilton’s argument about the virtues of the Glastonbury festival (Arts, 20 June), applies very clearly to sailing. As a yacht owner for 15 years, it’s noticeable how the lack of state regulation and meddling results in neighbourly behaviour, courtesy and self-policing, and makes for a pleasant antidote to the modern world.
Fred Vonck
London SW4

The wonder of Rieu

Sir: Melissa Kite has struck a welcome chord in her article on André Rieu (‘Oh André!’, 27 June), which will delight his many fans. Just as important is the fact that André Rieu has become a force for good internationally, in the same way as the evangelist Billy Graham some years ago. With television channels competing to show ever more horrifying horrors, Rieu’s programmes are a breath of fresh air.
Peter Spira
London W14

Final form

Sir: I completely relate to Mark Mason’s antipathy towards customer satisfaction surveys (‘Poor form’, 27 June). I had a similar ghastly experience last December when I was in a hospital in Calcutta. My grandfather had passed away, and I had to complete some formalities before the family could take the body away for cremation. I was surprised to find a customer satisfaction survey hidden among the documents. It seemed clear that it was intended to be filled by a patient leaving the hospital having been cured, but nobody had thought to remove it.
Tirthankar Dubey
London EC4

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