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The fate of Detroit

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - On Wednesday, one week after it declared itself bankruptcy, the City of Detroit celebrated its 312th birthday.

Tonight, in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says Detroit's troubles, decades in the making, are only just beginning.

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I'd like to be a rah-rah guy for our state's largest city. But the truth is, no matter how I twist it and turn it and shape it...I Just can't.

The City of Detroit is the result of a train-wreck 50 years in the making. We all watched it happen, one slow-motion, hair-raising leg at a time.

How many times have you seen someone shake his head and say, helplessly, "well...that's Detroit."

And there are so many things to blame it on. Blame it on incompetent or corrupt leadership. Blame it on an auto industry that seemed unable to compete with the rest of the world. Blame it on unfunded pensions.

Blame it on NAFTA that did take hundreds of thousands of jobs south. Blame it on OSHA, which required companies to spend millions to make workplaces safer. Blame it on the cost of oil from the Persian Gulf. Blame it on white flight.

Blame it on loss of tax revenue.

Blame it on what or whomever you please.

The fact is, Detroit is a gigantic mess. It is a failed city.

In 1960 it was the fifth largest, and richest, per capita, city in the country with a population of nearly two million.

Now, with a population of just 700-thousand, 60 percent of its children live in poverty. Unemployment plods along at nearly 20 percent.

Some 30-thousand current and retired city workers are wondering if they'll have any of the pension they helped pay for.

A full third of Detroit's 140-square milesan area the size of Grand Rapidsis now vacant or desolate.

It's a city that finds it difficult to even maintain street lights.

In the city itself, there is anger and outrage at the predicament people are finding themselves in...as if they believed the city could go on borrowing and running up bills that it never intended to pay. That day is now over.

I thought the defiant column by Mitch Albom, the celebrated Free Press writer, was terrific.

"Yeah, we're broke," he wrote, "But we got up this morning and had breakfast. Yeah we're broke. But we'll carry on...We'll still be here. We're not going anywhere."

It's nice and its easy to be defiant. But its not going to pay any bills. Its not going to bring back people who've already left. It's not going to raise tax revenues. Its not going to make leaders anymore honest.

For the record...Stockton, California, declared bankruptcy 13 months ago. And its parks are reportedly populated with drug dealers, its courts with lawsuits, its business districts with boarded up windowswith little relief in sight.

Are there positive signs in Detroit? Yes.

The Tigers are in first place. Consumer Reports says the new Chevy Malibu is hands down the best car on the road in just about any price range. Private developers want to build a new soccer stadium downtown. The state has agreed to issue $450 million in bonds to help develop a new Red Wings hockey stadiumand $200 million more to help develop 45 blocks near downtown.

So yeah...some things have the patina of progress.

But bright spots aren't enough. Detroit is in for a long painful recovery. If, in fact, its up for it. There will be no bailouts.

We know that now.

So, in a very real way, Detroit is a new frontieran urban frontierwaiting for courageous and creative private investment to mold something new from the rubble.

We have our fingers crossed. In the meantime...Happy birthday.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

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