The first thing you folks note about the story of Benton Harbor, Michigan, is that the state has picked a very black town for its first action under the new and so-called financial martial law. Benton Harbor checks in at 92.4 percent African-American, with per capita income of $8,965 -- the state's lowest. But Benton Harbor doesn't stand alone. It's one half of the local "Twin Cities," the other being St. Joseph, across the St. Joseph River. That town is almost the mirror opposite, with a population that's 90.3 percent white and a per capita income of $24,949.
The second thing you noticed about Benton Harbor is that it's home to Whirlpool. Among the heirs to that fortune are Republican Congressman Fred Upton, whose grandfather was a company founder. This year marks Whirlpool's 100th anniversary, and St. Joseph is preparing to celebrate Upton Week in June.
Benton Harbor is maybe not so excited about the Whirlpool anniversary. That's because Whirlpool is a major partner in a luxury golf and residential project that spans both St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. Harbor Shores, as it's called, engulfed Benton Harbor's park on Lake Michigan, its residents' primary access to the waterfront. The Harbor Shores development started under Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, whose office told protesters this was a local matter (pdf). Legal action over the development continues today.
Above, a video protesting Harbor Shores, from 2007. Below, a video promoting it, posted just last month. Note the disclaimer at about 00:10: "Images are not from Harbor Shores subdivisions."
And after the jump -- your letters about Benton Harbor. It's clearly a tough place to be, with real problems and a real need for help. The question is what kind.
I grew up in that area and have family that still live there. Benton Harbor has its share of problems and nobody has been able to fix them. Very poor neighborhoods that are destroyed, high unemployment, few businesses are there. Whirlpool Corporation has its world headquarters in Benton Harbor, yet, few residents from BH work there. It has had a very high crime rate including murders. This is not surprising under marshall law of Michigan.
@Jack in GR:
I grew up in St. Joe, on the other side of the river. Benton Harbor's business district was essentially a teardown when I was a kid in the late '70's. Pscholka's line about the new law giving them the ability to help before it's too late is laughable in the case of BH. BH was sunk 30 years ago! The people in the city have been given no support. They have no reason whatsoever to trust the establishment or to get involved in something that's been a festering s-hole their entire lives!
@Tracey Rodell writes:
I grew up in Benton Harbor while visiting my Dad on weekends and summers. I watched it change from a city in bad shape to a modern day ghost town and slowly to a place you didn't even want to drive through without the doors locked and the windows rolled up.