Anarchy in Detroit

Lawnmowers, private police, and an autonomous island in the Motor City


Tom Nardone is the founder and president of the thriving e-commerce site, PriveCo, which specializes in products that customers don't want their friends and neighbors to know they're buying—vibrators, enema bags, hair loss treatments, etc. Three years ago, Nardone started applying his entrepreneurial expertise to a different problem: the dreadfully maintained parks in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Weeds and trash have transformed Detroit's playground jungle gyms into actual jungles.

Nardone knew it was no use approaching the city's hapless Department of Recreation, so he brought his ride-on lawnmower down to a public park and got to work. Then he invited some friends to join him. "When the first person showed up, I was like, 'OK, I guess someone's as crazy as I am.'" So the Mower Gang was formed, a group of volunteers sporting skull-and-crossbones insignia. They gather every week at a different stretch of neglected parkland to drink beer and mow.

Detroit's future, to put it mildly, looks bleak. About one-third of its 138 square miles are deserted, it has no tax base, and its schools are horrendous. Last year, one in every 1,800 residents was murdered. In July, the city filed for bankruptcy, and politicians, unions, and investors are currently slugging it out in court, grasping for whatever little cash remains in the Motor City's coffers. But the Mower Gang is just one example of how individuals all over the city are taking it upon themselves to make life better.

Another example is the Detroit Threat Management Center (TMC), a private security firm that provides a range of affordable public safety services, including car-to-front door escorts, security details, and neighborhood patrols. "I attribute the bankruptcy and all the economic issues to a lack of safety," says TMC president Dale Brown. "If you don't feel safe, why would you invest here?"

A handful of squatters' villages and experiments in alternative living are blossoming among the ruins. Fireweed Universe City is a block of funky-colored houses started by a community of anarcho-communists. Another group, Free Detroit, is planning to buy up blocks of city land to be occupied by libertarian enclaves where anything goes, as long as it doesn't violate the group's nonaggression principle.

If these ventures sound idealistic, outrageous, and awesome, they pale in comparison to the scale and ambition of a project conceived by real estate developer Rod Lockwood. He has outlined plans to buy Belle Isle, a 982-acre public island park in the Detroit River, and transform it into an independent commonwealth with its own laws, regulations, and taxes (or lack thereof). Investors would buy the island from the city for $1 billion and then sell lifetime citizenship for $300,000. The extra $1 billion would help the city pay off its debts, and the lax regulations and low taxes would act as a magnet for investment, says Lockwood.

"We would expect a quarter of a trillion dollars in capital would be brought onto the island," says Lockwood. "Detroit would have its own Singapore in its backyard."

Will any of these small-scale, bottom-up initiatives provide the magic spark that reignites the Motor City? Probably not. But acting together, committed individuals are the only ones with the power to lead Detroit in a long, slow climb back from the brink.

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    1. Wasn’t there also a ReasonTV post about these same people?

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  1. Privatised security firms? That’s just crazy talk. This “Detroit Threat Management Center” will turn into a mob-like organization that uses extortion and murder to consolidate its power, if it isn’t already. We need the government to regulate entities like this.

    Remember, if we didn’t have a government, we’d have anarchy!

    1. Also, this “Detroit Threat Management Center” can’t possibly be as good as a real police force. If they were, then Detroit would obviously not be having this problem.

      1. I’m sure the Det blue boys would love to know where these target ranges are.

  2. How long before Belle Isle becomes a success while Detroit squanders the proceeds from the sale of the island and then some pol starts squawking about how Belle Isle residents need to do their fair share?

    1. And thats the rub. I wouldn’t trust the politicians who ran Detroit into the ground to keep their grubby hands off any (potential) tax revenues.

      1. Hell, I wouldn’t trust the politicians who ran Detroit into the ground to hit the ground if I pushed them off a roof. Ostentatious incompetence.

    2. There as a massive outcry when the Belle Isle idea was floated (just as a trial balloon)

      The city leased it to the state to clean up and run as a state park. That had a lot of bitching, too.

      1. Christiana, MI??

    3. Yeah, that’s why it’s always a bad idea to get in bed with the mob

  3. I saw this post on City-Data forums about a article of the Detroit News about downtown Detroit….

    I wonder with the recent election of Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, the 1st hispanic elected at the Detroit city council, if we might see the beginning of a similar pattern who happened to Compton, California?

  4. The private police group reminds me of Robocop. Reality following the movies…

  5. Ham radio operators typically have problems with restrictions on antennas and towers written into HOAs and Covenant agreements. Sounds to me like Detroit might be a haven for hams, who like to put up big towers and antenna systems as part of their hobby.

    I wonder how long it would be before someone complained about the antenna “eyesore” and passed a law against it?

    1. The metal of an antenna tower will get stolen and sold for scrap.

  6. a 982-acre public island park in the Detroit River

    Well, the progressives, who are the only smart people (everyone who is not a progressive is a knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, illiterate, racist barbarian. This has been proven by research done at elite liberal universities, the science is settled.), have already predicted the outcome of this ‘libertopia’. There will be no roads or bridges, everyone will be high on drugs, women and minorities will be put in chains and forced into slavery, children will be made to work 20 hour days, 7 days a week in monocle factories and the opium fields, and there will be a rapid descent into total anarchy.

    So why are they even trying this? If they do even try it, the only obvious answer is man the dronez and stop this madness before it’s too late to save Detroit. Only government, BIG government can save Detroit and the human race. The problem was that the government there was so small it went down a bathtub drain.

  7. Maybe this is the beginning of what happens to the USA. Entire areas of the country go into complete economic collapse, driven by leftist stupidity and a new nation arises from the ashes.

    We can only hope so. The trouble will come when these areas start experimenting in free markets and become increasingly prosperous. There will be a massive hissy fit of jealousy from the left, and they will demand that the federal government intervene militarily. And of course, the citizens of these mini nations will be heavily armed.

    1. Some dingbat at my work was watching MSNBC, and I passed through in time to hear Ed Grumpus and Melissa Stupid-Hyphenation blame Detroit’s fall on “years of right-wing policy.” It was so obviously and blatantly retarded I can only hope they meant “right wing” from their vantages on Stalin’s balcony.

      Detroit has been a shameless whore for the twin dongs of the DNC and big labor for over a half-century. Right-wing policy? Where? I guess you could call overarching statism a modern right-wing policy, but Detroit didn’t need any mainstream Republican assistance for that.

  8. Stupid libertarians, government needs to regulate the island, or else they may build to many buildings and too many people will be on island that it might too over

    1. That it might tip over*

    2. “Stupid libertarians”

      Maybe stupid, maybe ignorant. The idea of turning the island into a ‘Singapore’ is crazy enough. That self-described libertarians are cheering it along shows how little they know of that island paradise.

      1. I know that the state over there will beat the shit out of you pretty much when it feels like doing so.

    3. Like Singapore, we don’t want the island to tip over. Only government can properly manage the natural world.

  9. … children will be made to work 20 hour days, 7 days a week in monocle factories…

    L O L

  10. Detroit is what “Lord of the Flies” predicted, but played out by adults who are maroons instead of marooned kids.

  11. Also, pretty much mandatory ….

  12. I have a 30ish neighbor who has a graphics design and printing shop in our town [about 40 miles from downtown Detroit] who is attempting to buy a classic fire station in Midtown [university area] to convert to another shop with 4 apartments on the second floor. He thinks he can buy it for much less than $10 per s.f.

    He would then have the only print shop in the business/cultural/university district and is already talking with potential clients. There are opportunities, but also substantial risks. The city needs to return to its 1915 or 1916 boundaries and the state should then incorporate 3 or 4 new towns from the areas spun off.


  13. Detroit should cease to exist as a legal entity. When a private company goes bankrupt, it’s usually bought by another corporation or private business, assuming it has any valuable assets. That’s what should happen to Detroit, assuming anyone wants to buy its assets and assuming it has any.

    Otherwise, let the city reorganize, as illustrated by this article, as a collection of smaller cities and towns from scratch. The only thing Detroit has to offer is debt-laden infrastructure and under-funded pensions.

    1. Detroit’s government would first like to try the “give us a lot of money” approach. They swear to do better this time! The first thing they will do with the fresh revenue is to ensure that all businesses have doors that are 34.967 inches wide. This will help keep children safe and protect the environment by using less materiel.

      Enforcement of the ordinance will require 100 new salaried ($98k/year plus bennies) code enforcement officers. Jobs created! The measure will be funded by a combination of federal money, gas and cigarette tax increases, bus fare increases, property tax increases, and state money. Businesses who fail to comply will be fined $1000 per day, starting tomorrow.

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  15. He has outlined plans to buy Belle Isle, a 982-acre public island park in the Detroit River, and transform it into an independent commonwealth with its own laws, regulations, and taxes (or lack thereof)

    Why just the island. convert all of Detroit into the Hong Cong of America. Free it up from regulation and taxes and you will see it grow, surpassing other cities within a decade

  16. Privatize everything.

  17. agents announced that a police dog had alerted to potential

  18. approaching the city’s hapless Department of Recreation, so

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