To Develop Your Town

Development is a general term, one that applies to many paths of change. This one term, however, is important to individuals as well as their towns. It's definition may be broadly applied, but the process which it underscores allows for a continuation of American ideals.

By Nathan A. from Royal Oak High School in Michigan

The city of Royal Oak is one city in which old American ideas of growth have taken root in its structure. Royal Oak’s history is one that accentuates the idea of development. Over the years, Royal Oak has grown in size, business, and its connection to the outside world. Early in Royal Oak’s history, it was a small village “with only a few hundred residents” in 1891, according to the city’s official government website: romi.gov. The village was home to mostly farmers, and relatively remote. It did, however, attract farmers according to that same website. The city grew to about 6,000 people by 1910, due to the booming auto industry. Far into the future, Don Calder - an older member of Royal Oak - reflected on his experience in Royal Oak: “In the 1970’s we thought about moving but were unsure where we should go. Things picked up a little and by the 1980’s Royal Oak started to become a Yuppie Ville of sorts. Housing was affordable, freeways made the locale ideal, schools were pretty good and we stayed.” Now, these two statements may seem disconnected, but they represent how Royal Oak has changed itself both in longer periods and in shorter periods of time. For example, overall, Royal Oak grew from a small-scale agricultural community, to an interconnected city that housed thousands of people. So much so, was this, that Don Calder attested that even in ten years things changed enough that he made the decision to stay there. A road system was constructed with freeways to keep itself attached. The city slowly planned out its image and form, molding itself into a small-town expression piece.

Essentially, Royal Oak developed a social, economic, and infrastructure network that morphed its image. No longer was it remote small and relatively unnoticed, now it was a growing center of attention. Average people can move in and make their homes there. However, not all development is necessarily the best. Don Calder even reflects on how the suburban development led to the draining of Royal Oak's rivers and farms, a long staple of the town. In recent times, the former owner of Andiamo has blamed the closure of parking behind the restaurant for its closure, according to the Detroit Free Press. A new parking structure was being constructed in that spot. ​Clearly, not every bit of development results in perfection. Others view this construction or even destruction as a betrayal to what made Royal Oak good, or what's in the here and now. The rivers that were drained could've been seen as a staple. Andiamo lost about 5,000 dollars a week after the loss of parking, and it almost seems like the city was sacrificing its current business for a future still uncertain. Except it's important to remember that no record is perfect. The goal of successfully developing Royal Oak and its image was preserved, as said by how Calder remained despite his previous unsureness ​about Royal Oak's status. Even here, development can "correct itself" in the way of what to do. ​Royal Oak began redeveloping fixing some of its neglected roads in 2017 and 2018, at least trying to improve its infrastructure. Royal Oak is at least experimenting, and like every experiment there is failure on the path to success. Even on an individual level, development can occur. Old resident John Guirey described how resident by the name of Mr. Papageorge opened the first Coney Island in Royal Oak, even selling it off after years of work. Royal Oak allowed opportunity for growth both on a community scale and a personal level. People can change their position for this or that and still be comfortable. This echoes the core values like the “American Dream.” Being able to grow and make yourself through your own ingenuity is part of that. Slowly but surely, Royal Oak focused itself on being connected and supporting a larger population. The addition of Woodward and then the highway system exemplify that willingness to connect outward. First attracting farmers, and then developing suburbs, Royal Oak concentrated itself. This contributes much to our traditional sense of what America is, in the way of eternal development. Self-reliance has a lengthy and idolized place in American ideals, and its presence is well-known in Royal Oak’s willingness to adapt. Other cities, like nearby Clawson, illustrate this concept. The town brought in houses from Sears catalogs in the 1900’s, built more commercial buildings in the 50’s, and continues to grow its downtown scene. A sewer system was even made by the village itself in the 20’s, all according to the town’s website. Although going through a population decline in the 70’s, Clawson also reflects a pattern of developing itself. Throughout our history, cities like Royal Oak and Clawson continue to add the idea of developing oneself to greater heights. Every decade seems to add something new that helps the community.

Development affects in more intricate ways than just a community. Within my own family, the Alton family, development occurred even in a time span of just a generation. Before the Great Depression, the Altons were located within Kentucky and Tennessee. They worked as farmers, and lived similarly to “paycheck-to-paycheck” according to my father, Darrel Alton. After the Depression hit, a chunk of family found refuge in the Metro Detroit area, searching for more urban work. My grandfather was the first in the family to earn a college degree, and worked for General Motors for decades. Now, the family primarily works career-based jobs, being able to save money and spend on more luxuries. While this isn’t the complete story, betterment of oneself is present here. My family changed its income in almost one or two generations for better living. Certainly, the case of the Altons certainly isn’t the same for everybody. Poverty is still an incredible burden and prevents much of the US to get a scrap from luxurious living, but it also isn’t impossible. There is still opportunity for growth in many places, of course not all places being equal. Hundreds of places lack access to the type of geography, resources, and material that places like Royal Oak has. It's important to remember, though, that Royal Oak was once a lesser-known farming community. It was once written off as swamp land. Remember that that all changed.

Like a phoenix, any community can be reborn. It is a goal reflected in our own history and in our communities. Although we are a long way away from accomplishing that goal of the “American Dream,” we are at least promoting that old idea of change for the better, and searching for better standings even when it seems like change is a total blunder. If Clawson and Royal Oak can change, then the transformation is in wait for others as well.

Royal Oak High School

AP Lang 2019

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