Spontaneous Order Experiments Take Hold in Detroit

The citizens fight crime on their own while the city tackles unauthorized bus benches


But who will pave the roooooads?!
Credit: DouG!! / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

As Detroit's call-it-anything-but-bankruptcy budget crisis drags on and the city government is unable to provide the most basic of services, residents have discovered an alternative to lawless anarchy: cooperative anarchy! A number of experiments in spontaneous order are popping up in Motor City, and both the rich and the not-so-rich are pitching in. The Associated Press reports:

"When the system fails us, you have to become the system," said Mitch Logan, a 48-year-old film producer who is part of a self-dubbed "Mower Gang" that mows neighborhood parks after they've finished their own yards.

In addition to the landscaping, a church group is boarding up vacant houses in the Brightmoor neighborhood, one of the city's most distressed, to keep criminals out. And several neighborhoods are now hiring security to patrol their streets, supplementing an undermanned police department.

On the wealthier side, the philanthropic Krege Foundation coordinated with automakers and local businesses to purchase 23 new ambulances and 100 new police cars. Okay, perhaps providing equipment to the municipal government doesn't fall under cooperative anarchy. But at the rate the city's going, they'll probably all be driven by volunteers any day now.

Of course, this is all a drop in the bucket for the city's problems, but even that much self-management and tiny amount of voluntaryism has Katherine McFate of the Center for Effective Government (read their anti-austerity argument here) worried:

"The idea that we are now outfitting first responders through charitable contributions should be very concerning," she said. "There are certain functions that you want government to perform that should not be at the whim of individuals or charities."

Well, let's see what functions the government of Detroit is engaging in that is so much better than the "whims" of individuals and charities, shall we? It seems Detroit is protecting the citizenry from the scourge of unapproved, community-created bus-stop benches. Thank heavens! Via the Detroit Free Press:

Armed with a sander and reclaimed wood from demolished homes, [Charles] Molnar recruited several students from the Detroit Enterprise Academy to help him create a bench than can seat a half-dozen riders, equipped with a bookshelf to hold reading material to help pass the time for riders as they wait.

Several nails and wooden boards later, the first bench was placed at a Detroit bus stop Thursday afternoon.

But it might not be there for long.

Detroit Department of Transportation officials are saying the bench was not approved. If it is affixed to a bus stop, the bench will have to be removed.

"That's ridiculous," said Molnar, 22, who recently finished his junior year at Wayne State University, where he is an urban studies student. "Now there's not going to be a bench there. Let them take that away from the community. A community that built that bench. A community that put their blood, sweat and tears in it. That's all they wanted, a bench at the bus stop."

Benches are the government's job, Charles! We can't just have people going around building them willy-nilly!