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Friday, July 19, 2013

Detroit - American Dream Implodes: A City in Need of Repairs

Although Detroit isn't the only US city to file for bankruptcy, this particular fiscal decline is an insult to the American dream. 

Detroit has everything any municipal planner could dream of to create a viable city.  Attributes of a successful city are all there. Detroit enjoys a desirable location on the Great Lakes, a world class airport, a history that precedes the American Revolution, international access to Canada, ethnic diversity, culture, museums, sports teams and a good highway system.  Moreover, the city represents the American dream to tens of thousands of immigrants as well as ambitious moguls who found economic success in the city's proud automobile industries.  Gov. George Romney lived there, his son Mitt and his wife Anne were born there.  

Detroit's bankruptcy seems like a mistake, a bad dream or even a spin off of Orwellian fiction.  Unfortunately, it's true.  Nevertheless, many people saw the decline coming decades ago, but did little, if anything, of substance, to prevent it.  Although Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder made news for appointing an un-elected city administrator to fix things, this grandstanding didn't offer any viable lifeline.  Rather, Gov. Snyder's action was a snub over elected officials who, likely, had more vested interest in pulling Detroit out of it's dire fate.  In my opinion, Governor Snyder must be held accountable for his failed administrative appointment.

Now, many thousands of people will feel the depressed impact of a once great city that can't pay its bills.

Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in federal court Thursday, laying the groundwork for a historic effort to bail out a city that is sinking under billions of dollars in debt and decades of mismanagement, population flight and loss of tax revenue.

The bankruptcy filing makes Detroit the largest city in U.S. history to do so.

The filing begins a 30- to 90-day period that will determine whether the city is eligible for Chapter 9 protection and define how many claimants might compete for the limited settlement resources that Detroit has to offer. The bankruptcy petition would seek protection from creditors and unions who are renegotiating $18.5 billion in debt and other liabilities.

Of course, Detroit isn't the only city in decline.  Let's compare Detroit to Baltimore, Maryland.  

Indeed, Baltimore might even be a sister or brother city to Detroit. Maybe Governor Synder should have called on Maryland's Governor O'Malley before hiring an administrator. 

Although Baltimore certainly experiences enormous challenges, similar to those of Detroit,  a sense of cautious optimism exists among Baltimoreans.  I've sincerely never heard anyone express optimism for Detroit during the decades following the city's 1960s devastating racial riots.  Yet, Baltimore has never lost its optimism while it endured similar carnage.

Let's pray the decline of Detroit isn't symptomatic of a deeper crack in the American dream.  Nevertheless, it's doubtful the American tax payer has any capacity to bail Detroit out, especially when Gov. Snyder should have used more common sense than administrative grandstanding, to save the city from this avoidable economic fate.  

Obviously, there's no magic wand that will cure Detroit's fiscal ills but maybe Governor Snyder can give Governor O'Malley a call. They should have lunch in Baltimore's Inner Harbor and take in a Baltimore Ravens football game.  They may be political opposites (Snyder is Republican while O'Malley is Democrat) but they both crave success and Snyder obviously needs a good mentor.

Detroit needs to reclaim it's roots in creating the American Dream and rebuild the optimism that made it successful, in the first place. This doesn't necessarily cost a lot of money. But, it does take commitment, optimism and the empowerment of people who understand how to build communities.  

Perhaps, Detroit needs an American Dream project, reflective of the the hard work and social mobility enjoyed by all those who built the millions of cars and trucks our economy thrives on today. 

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