The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Highland Park, Michigan
– A city gutted by fires and corporations

Apr 15, 2002

On Thursday, April 11, a fire started in Highland Park, Michigan. Three hours and three fire departments later, (Highland Park, then Hamtramck, then Detroit) seven houses on two separate blocks ended up in flames, with five families left homeless.

The newspaper articles which reported these fires focused on the 15 mph winds as the cause of the fire spreading. Wind is a problem – but so is lack of water. The firemen who arrived on the scene were unable to locate water in the hydrants nearest the burning homes, and ended up having to go block to block, running their hoses from some distance away, in order to find any water to put out the fires. Certainly that fact was a major contribution to six houses being gutted and a seventh being partly destroyed.

These fires are the product of a more basic problem: the long-standing practices of big corporations, namely, Ford Motor Company and Chrysler, that have gutted the entire city of Highland Park over the last years and left it without any possibility to pay for things like fire hydrant maintenance and enough fire equipment.

Historically, Highland Park was a city built up around the auto industry. It was originally the site of Henry Ford’s Model T plant, the first auto assembly plant. In later years, up until 1993, it was the site of Chrysler’s World Headquarters. Both companies used this tiny city, carved out of Detroit, as their fiefdoms.

Ford and Chrysler blocked the development of Highland Park and blocked what would have been logical: its incorporation into Detroit.

Then Ford left. Eventually, so did Chrysler – taking with them, the jobs and what tax money they did pay. In 1993, for example, when Chrysler left Highland Park, that took about 12 million dollars out of a budget that at the time totaled only 16 million dollars.

Admittedly, to a small city, their taxes counted for something. But they were, in fact, a pittance compared to the benefits these major corporations got from the city and its residents over the years.

Companies like Ford and Chrysler, which ravage a city and then leave it without support, should be made liable for city services and for jobs until the city recovers from what was done to it.