Brandon Minster, Staff Writer

About once a week, I have a serious discussion with myself that starts with, what do I want to be when I grow up? And usually near the top of my list is auctioneer.

The career combines the best of all other jobs. Fast, unintelligible talking, “do I hear five, five, five, do I hear wharlgurlgarble hamanahamana”, but at a much higher wage than working a fast food restaurant.

Describing people’s shameful character traits, “sold to the obese, balding woman in the back row,” but with more regular gigs than an insult comic.
Forcing people to buy things they do not want: “I’m sorry, sir, but I did see a slight motion of your head, and now you own a Rembrandt,” but without the criminal record that accompanies a career in racketeering. Auctioneering has it all. It is the wave of the future.

The future is already here in Detroit, Mich., a city poised to become the first in America, since the days of railroad speculation, to be sold completely on the auction block.

In 2007, Wayne County, Mich., officials offered 2,000 seized properties at their auction. This year they offered 9,000 properties.

More than four-fifths of the properties received no bids at all, even though the minimum bid was only $500. If they had sold for the minimum, they would have cost $3.6 million.

That much money can also buy a closet in financier Martin Zweig’s $70 million New York condo, or at least half a closet, on a time-share.

At this rate, selling the estimated 40 square miles of vacant land in Detroit is going to take a while. And once the vacant land is finally sold, they can start in on the estimated 78,000 residencies that are unoccupied. The city seems to be pacing itself because there is a rumor going around that the last guy in the city gets all the copper wiring that has been left behind.

I blame the Will Smith movie I Am Legend. It made living in a vacant city appear chic again. Prior to Smith, Americans had been conditioned through decades of Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel music to believe vacant cities were unexciting and sad.

One must go back to the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last” in 1959 to see the last glowing portrayal of an empty urban landscape.
Now things are different. The City of Detroit is emptying faster than a junior high dance floor when the slow songs start. What remains is called an urban prairie, empty grasslands overlaid with a gridded street system. I searched Google maps for the intersection of Butternut Street and 17th Street in Detroit and it vividly showed the results, confirming the urban prairie.

One man who cannot get enough urban prairie is Alan Weisman, author of “The World Without Us.” Weisman ends his 2007 book by recommending the, “intelligent solution . . . [that] would henceforth limit every human female on Earth capable of bearing children to one.”

He assures us this would be “fairly applied,” but does not bother to clarify if this policy would be enforced through mandatory abortions or mandatory sterilizations. There is no need to get into specifics and the harsh buzz that comes from enlightenment.

The buzz, however, is all over Detroit. From enlightened auto manufacturers who failed to produce cars that would sell, to enlightened unions who failed to leave enough blood in the host industry to keep it alive, to enlightened national politicians who thought a good fuel economy standard would be a great one if it were only doubled, to enlightened local politicians who race bait at city council meetings, the place is lousy with enlightenment. You can hardly throw a brick without hitting the next American Buddha.

All this enlightenment might be intimidating to some and that might be why Wayne County cannot give away Detroit.

No one wants to move into Utopia only to find out he has to worry about whether the neighbors think he is smart enough to be there.

Better to wait for all the enlightened thinkers to leave town before coming in with the buzz-killing reality that a single condo in New York is probably worth more than the entire city of Detroit.