Detroit's Tragedy and How to Fix It


However it plays out in the courts, 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.

Produced by Jim Epstein. Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie. Additional camera by Meredith Bragg.

About 2 minutes.

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Related videos:

"Boondoggle in the Motor City: Detroit's Train to Nowhere" (October 13, 2010)

"Bailing Out The Big Three: Why GM, Chrysler, and Ford Shouldn't Get Taxpayer Money" (Feb. 17, 2009)

"Reason Saves Cleveland with Drew Carey: Full Series and Episode Guide" (March 14, 2010)

Related articles:

"Why Bankruptcy Won't Mean a Fresh Start for Detroit" (July 19, 2013)

"Detroit: City of Unintended Consequences!" (January 2013)

"Ideas for Fixing Cleveland (and Other Once-Great American Cities)" (June 2010)

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  1. I wonder if Weird Al Yankovic might do a parody of Gordon Lightfoot song "Black day in July" retitled "Bankrupt in July" or David Bowie "Panic in Detroit" retitled "Bankrupt in Detroit"? 😉

    Perhaps it might be politically incorrect to mention, but maybe Detroit have to do like Compton, CA faced from what I read on that article of the Daily Beast from 2009

  2. No, Detroit cannot be fixed or salvaged. Detroit got the way it is by Leftist Democrat policies, and the Democrats will never change these policies. Caving to public employee unions, suppressing and burdening private companies, and catering to unions is what got Detroit where it is. This is classic Democrat governance, and it never changes. Since Detroit voters have a dogged and uniform determination to keep voting Democrat, it logically follows that Detroit will continue its descent into further chaos, and never recover. Detroit will never recover. Never.

  3. You blame the Democrats for the car companies firing all the auto workers which led to poverty, crime, low property values and no tax revenue? And now you want the city government without funds to pick up the garbage, educate better and clean up the city? What planet are you coming from? Without jobs the city will decay. This is not a political issue as much as you need to crucify the Democrats. It's an economic issue that can never be solved except with mass migration to other parts of the U.S.

    1. Detroit started its slow decline after the 1967 riots, long before outsourcing and long before that satan ronald reagan became president.

      The 67 riots scared away all the business and subsequent mismanagement by coleman young drove it into bankruptcy, the outsourcing argument is bullshit because A) it is completely anachronistic and B) pittsburgh had the exact same problem when it lost its steel industry though instead of voting for Coleman "I blame everything on whitey" Young, they actually got their shit together and turned it into one of the top 10 cities to live in in the US

      1. I confirm, I saw a post on City-Data forums about an article of the Washington Post on the subject

  4. Why in the world would anybody want to move to a city that obviously keeps electing bad politicians? If I'm going to move somewhere, it's going to be to a city and region that shares my values.

  5. I was just thinking of that Vice episode on HBO where they went to China and all the "ghost cities." Literally billions that the Chinese junta thugs spent on cities for hundreds of thousands in the middle of nowhere; but unlike there we don't, yet, have a Federal dictatorship that virtually enslaves 1.4B people to keep working that off year after year while they pocket the profits.

    And really a great example of the poor and middle-income suffering during prosperity because of government that's more relevant to the USA is Brasil. There was an article in the New Yorker about how most people endure public healthcare, police and fire "protection," and public transportation that is really, really, really bad and corrupt while the rich can insulate themselves from the government slime.

  6. what no robocop comment yet!!!! I'm disappointed!!!! And I like !!!!!!!!

  7. Nuke it from orbit.

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