Detroit: Lessons for Victoria from a post-industrial city?

Published: Monday 7th December 2015

Victorian Parliamentary Library Fellow, Dr Tom Barnes from from ACU's Institute for Religion, Politics and Society will address Victorian MPs on Detroit's response to economic shocks and what lessons Victoria can learn from the Motor City's recent experience.

Victoria’s manufacturing sector has been in decline for several years. A range of workplace closures – not least the announcement by Australia’s last remaining carmakers that local motor vehicle manufacturing would be wound-down by 2016-17 – have had a significant impact on communities.

Job losses threaten to undermine households and community cohesion. How affected cities and regions respond to these challenges is extremely important, including the collaborative efforts of government, business and community organisations.

In this context, there are many lessons from post-industrial cities and regions globally. Detroit is perhaps the global exemplar of industrial decline. After decades of depopulation and deindustrialisation, the ‘Motor City’ was severely undermined by America’s recession in 2008-09 and the bankruptcy of its city government in 2013. Importantly, Detroiters are implementing a range of innovative measures in response to these challenges.

In September and October, a wide range of stakeholders in Detroit were interviewed about their role in the city’s recovery, including policymakers, manufacturers, local entrepreneurs and start-up businesses, job placement and training service providers, philanthropists, community activists and faith-based organisations. Dr Barnes' research documents local measures to assist the unemployed as well as measures to attract new investment and jobs.

This seminar will launch a new research report by Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Religion, Politics, and Society on Detroit’s response to industrial decline. It asks: does the Detroit experience provide Victoria with lessons in avoiding this ‘worst-case scenario’ of manufacturing decline?

About Dr Tom Barnes

Tom is an economic sociologist, with a background in political economy and development studies. He is working in the Institute’s Cities and Successful Societies research stream, which looks at the role of civil society, government and business in the rejuvenation of urban regions undergoing industrial decline.

He completed his PhD in political economy at the University of Sydney in 2011, where he lectured until joining the Institute in 2014. He is an expert on urban development, industry and labour markets in India, and has a strong interest in the study of Asian labour movements, particularly Indonesia and China. His book,Informal Labour in Urban India: Three Cities, Three Journeys was published by Routledge in 2014.

He has also published inThe Journal of Development Studies and Economic and Labour Relations Review. He is co-convenor of the Sociology of Economic Life group for The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) and a fellow with the Victorian Parliamentary Library. He blogs frequently and is currently writing a book on the development of the Indian automotive industry.