Detroit’s filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy on Thursday, July 18th seemed to shock national and international media, even though this next-step for Detroit has been described as “inevitable” for over a decade. In the days since the big news, it has been interesting to examine how national media outlets are covering Detroit.
Journalists left and right are jumping on this opportunity to perform their own “autopsy” on Detroit: what went wrong? A lot of the coverage you’ve been reading focuses on two major theories: the fact that Detroit relied too heavily on an American auto industry that was not sustainable, and the popular idea that Detroit’s long-corrupt leadership led the City to a breaking point. In the reading I’ve done on the subject in the past few days, the idea that Detroit is a unique case prevails.
As we explored in our inaugural #thegrid Twitter chat in June, the problems with inequality so amplified in Detroit are also plaguing cities across the nation. Sam Butler on Next City explores the history of safety net programs and other “big government” ideas for which Detroit has become notorious. Butler frames his article as an eulogy for the dream of social justice, but fails to mention the social justice work being done at the grassroots level in Detroit and misses an opportunity to point out that the inequality seen in other cities is the same path Detroit took to its so-called death.
As for the future of Detroit, I disagree with the notion that bankruptcy means the death of Detroit (sorry, Michael Moore). I see a lot of promising social justice work being done in the City, and side more with Richard Florida’s view of bankruptcy as a pivot point for Detroit. When following Detroit’s story in the following weeks it is important, especially as urban planners, to recognize the characters not as corrupt politicians or philanthropic auto executives, but as real citizens struggling with inequality in the American city.
What do you see in the future for the American Municipality?
Credits: Detroit skyline image by author. Other data and images linked to source.