Magazine article Reason

Anarchy in Detroit: Lawnmowers, Private Police, and an Autonomous Island in the Motor City

Magazine article Reason

Anarchy in Detroit: Lawnmowers, Private Police, and an Autonomous Island in the Motor City

Article excerpt

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. …

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