Saturday, June 7, 2014

Detroit's Tragedy and How to Fix It

The key things about Detroit's bankruptcy are that it didn't happen overnight - and it didn't have to happen at all.

 Detroit's long, sad slide started in 1950, when the Motor City's population peaked at nearly 2 million people. Now it's around 700,000. The hollowing out of the city was on gut-wrenching display in two recent exhibits at the National Building Museum, featuring photographs by Camilo Jose Vergara and Andrew Moore.

 In fat times and lean, the city's pols and power-brokers chose to focus their energy, and the residents' tax dollars on gigantic, big-ticket development scams while ignoring the basics that let cities thrive -- or at least survive. Detroit's leaders poured money into a never-ending assembly line of sad-sack projects such as the Renaissance Center, the Fox Theater, Comerica Park, Poletown, the People Mover, and Ford Field. But unlike Pompei and other cities crushed by Nature's wrath or God's wrath, Detroit's destruction is completely man-made and thus can be reversed.

 The city that midwifed the Model T and the Cadillac, Bob Seger and Eminem, Ted Nugent and the Insane Clown Posse, still has tremendous assets in terms of infrastructure, location, and people. Like Buffalo, Cleveland, St. Louis, and other dead cities scattered across the map of the industrial Midwest like so many cigarette burns, Detroit can stage its own comeback by reducing crime and picking up garbage; by freeing kids, parents, and property values from an abysmal school system; and getting the government out of everything that isn't essential. In other words, Detroit's leaders only need to do what they should have been doing for the past 50 years. And the city's dwindling supply of residents needs to keep them honest this time. Because Detroit is finally out of next times.

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