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Despair Rock City - How Did We Get Here With Detroit?


I still can't believe that the city of Detroit has filed for bankruptcy. Seriously, try to wrap your mind around that for a few seconds. Bankruptcy! An entire city! The filing actually is the largest municipal bankruptcy case in United States history. 

I'm not familiar with the city of Detroit. I've never been there. Never held it as a city of high interest to visit. And quite frankly, have never sought intrigue about it until recently. However, after doing research, it is quite amazing to see a market, once the fifth largest city in the U.S., rapidly decaying before our eyes. For the record, the city now stands as the 18th largest market, and is expected to continue to fall. 

I still find it amazing. After all, this is Detroit, right?. This is one of the cities that simply rolls of your tongue as you name the nation's notable cities. A city that has much history dating back to the French-Indian war. A city with sports teams of tradition. A city of industrial advancements. The Motor City. A city significant for its efforts in both assisting both World Wars. And of course, a city know for it's contributions to music through Motown.




From all of the reports, articles, and statistics I've read, the population of Detroit has dropped from 1.8 million at it's peak in the 1950's, to a little over 700,000 during the last 2010 census. 

Obviously there have been much opinion on what has caused the sudden decay of a city. 

The automobile industry is often looked at as a big catalyst to Detroit's urban decline. With the recent financial troubles our automobile industry found itself in during the years of 2008-2012 (some still think it exists), it is easy to make the connection. So many jobs were lost, especially for a city that relied heavily on factories, plants, and other industrialized efforts surrounding it. 

Of course there is the issue of "white flight" and "middle class" flight, causing the city to decline into financial woes. Those of who had the opportunity, fled. Leaving those in poverty behind. 




There is also the race issue. Because, you know, race is always an issue in our society. With Detroit being 85% black, there are some who attribute the decline of Detroit to the stereotypical beliefs that this issue caused many of the other compounding factors. 

Of course, Detroit is hardly an image of safety. Voted as America's most dangerous city for the past seven years, it's also hard to argue and easy to believe that the idea of crime goes hand in hand with poverty, which is a deadly combination for any area. 

Then there is politics. Detroit, was riddled with corruption in it's government, and as they say, "leadership reflects attitude". 

With everyone having one of the many opinions just stated for the cause of Detroit's fall, here are some solid facts about Detroit's situation:

  • Some parts of Detroit are so sparsely populated now, the city is having a difficulty providing municipal and other governmental services to those areas. There are schools of as little as 10 kids. 10 kids!
  • Detroit is currently attempting to encourag families to move to well-populated areas in order to help revitalize and encourage the growth of the city. 
  • Over 305,000 people, almost half of the city's population, were unable to pay their 2011 and 2012 taxes. 
  • There are over 20,000 stray dogs in the city of Detroit
  • There are over 70,000 abandoned (including large governmental locations, factories, plants, office buildings, and schools), 35,000 empty houses, and 90,000 vacant lots. 
  • 40% of the city's street lights do not work. 
  • The average price of a home in Detroit in 2012 was $7,500. In 2013, 47 houses were sold for $500 or less, with several others listed for sale for $1. (Yes, one stinking dollar!)
  • In 2012 More than half of property owners did not pay property taxes resulting in a $131 million loss for the city (12% of the city's budget). 
  • Detroit ranked last among the nation's 71 cities for average amount of citizens living below poverty level. 
  • The Unemployment rate for Detroit is over 16%, with the median household income continually falling among those who are employed. At one time, the unemployment rate of Detroit was nearly 50%. 
  • Detroit has a current debt of over $18.5 Billion. 


Here are some photos of an abandoned Detroit courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle.

This seems like the perfect storm, of anything terribly possible that can happen to a city, pretty much happening.  

The more I learn about Detroit, the more I am amazed how I missed this situation occurring. How we all missed this. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this - an entire city simply collapsed and is as barren as the scene in some movie with the plot of the world ending. 



Almost every article talks about Detroit being filled with abandoned houses, in some areas, abandoned communities. It has become so apparent, the city has garnered the name, "Zombieland". Again, I have such a tough time grasping imagining this. 

And I'm sure everyone has an opinion on what could have been done financially and politically to help save Detroit from the position it is now in. Whether we should have let the city go through a managed bankruptcy like Mitt Romney declared in a 2008 New York Times article in 2008, or bail it out and try to save the sinking ship, which is what happened, both are moot points. 

And I'm not so sure I buy into any particular theory for the cause of Detroit's failure. In some odd way, I feel as if something of this magnitude took a collective effort on everyone. Just as much as corporate america blames the issue on race and other economic "unforeseen or indefensible" issues, a point can be countered that corporate America failed the auto industry with it's greed. 

And as much as minorities want to blame the government for being abandoned, those in Detroit have to look within their communities and wonder what did they do to help revitalize the area when they had the chance? Or worse, what did they do to contribute to the current state. 

It sounds like a cop out, but the more I read and look into the situation of Detroit, the more I become intrigued by the situation and the harder it is for me to come up with a hard opinion on it all. The more I read and the more I learn, unfortunately, the less I know  and the less I understand about how we got to a place where one of our biggest cities is now a barren, abandoned, haven for despair and hopelessness. 

Where do we go from here? 

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