Recommended Reading: The Detroit Bankruptcy

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The sun sets on Detroit, Thursday, July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

This roundup pulls together several thought-provoking articles and columns on Detroit’s bankruptcy and what it says about the past and future of America’s cities.

Greg Gardner of the Detroit Free-Press on popular (and mostly right-wing) misconceptions about his city’s decline:
“Greedy unions. Decades of neglect. Too much government. Not enough government services. Over-dependence on the auto industry. There’s probably someone who has blamed the bankruptcy on bad pizza,” Gardner writes. “Some of this volunteered wisdom is sprinkled with kernels of truth. A good bit of it is just plain wrong, or certainly strange and out of left field.” Two such myths are that “the domestic auto industry and Detroit are synonymous, and rich city pension benefits have pushed the Detroit budget into ruin.” Both are mostly false. Scott Martelle, author of Detroit: A Biography, does a similar debunking for The Washington Post.

David Zirin in The Nation on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s decision to build a new hockey stadium in the bankrupt city using public funds:
“Yes, the very week [Snyder] granted a state-appointed emergency manager’s request to declare the Motor City bankrupt, the Tea Party governor gave a big thumbs-up to a plan for a new $650 million Detroit Red Wings hockey arena. Almost half of that $650 million will be paid with public funds,” Zirin writes. “This is actually happening. City services are being cut to the bone. Fighting fires, emergency medical care and trash collection are now precarious operations. Retired municipal workers will have their $19,000 in annual pensions dramatically slashed. Even the artwork in the city art museum will be sold off piece by piece. […] How did Governor Snyder possibly summon the shamelessness to justify this?” Read more »

Daniel Gross in The Daily Beast on why other American cities won’t share Detroit’s fate:
After several apocalyptic opinion pieces (like this one, by Charlie LeDuff) argued that Detroit is the harbinger of every American city’s impending doom, Daniel Gross urged everyone to relax. “To be clear, like Detroit, the U.S. as a whole — and many of its companies, states, cities, and consumers — has a significant mismatch between its assets, cash flows, and liabilities. There are large pockets of pain and financial misery throughout the U.S. There will be more failures,” Gross writes. “But the difference between Detroit and the rest of the country could not be more stark. In recent years Detroit had lost the capacity to stay current on its debts, to fund its operations, and to grow. At the same time, the rest of the country is doing a much better job staying currents on its debt, funding its operations, and growing.” Read more »

Richard Florida in The Atlantic Cities blog on encouraging signs of life in Detroit:
Florida argues that the bankruptcy has little to do with the city’s future, which is already brightening. “Detroit’s problems surely run deep. But beneath its fiscal problems, and all the hemming and hawing about them, lie the seeds of rebirth for the city and the broader metro region. Since the economic crisis, and perhaps somewhat before it, the first signs of recovery and revitalization, modest as they may be, are finally starting to surface,” he writes. “Detroit’s downtown urban core is seeing more investment, economic activity and an influx of talent than it has in decades. This revitalization is concentrated and spotty and it is far from inclusive, but it is certainly something positive, generating jobs, revenue and much-needed hope and optimism that provide a foundation to build upon.” Read more »

Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine on Detroit as a synecdoche for the American century:
Chait grew up in the city’s suburbs and writes that, though the city isn’t a warning about America’s future, it is a valuable cautionary tale about America’s past: “Everything that happened in the United States in the middle of the 20th century happened in and around Detroit, but moreso. The enormous mobilization of industry during World War II (“Detroit is winning the war,” said Joseph Stalin in 1945); that industry’s creation of the world’s first mass-affluent working class, a place where families lacking high school diplomas routinely had nice things; and finally the collapse of that economic paradise and the racialization of American politics that split the New Deal coalition.” Read more »

Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press and Studio 360′s Kurt Anderson on whether the Detroit Institute of Arts should sell it’s collection:
The museum’s collection, which is owned by the city, is worth more than $2.5 billion — 15 percent of the city’s debt. Is it worth selling to help fix the city’s litany of problems? “The question, in a way, becomes a sort of existential dilemma about who should take precedence here as we try and figure out how to remake the city of Detroit, and what role should a cultural asset play in that reorganization?” Stryker tells Anderson. “How do you balance …an irreplaceable cultural legacy versus making sure the street lights come on and making sure there are enough cops on the street?” Selling even one painting, he says, would send the message to the museum’s backers that it couldn’t protect the art they fund, and could essentially kill the museum. “It would not surprise if we take the next step and the art goes from the sidelines to the table, and we fight about it in court to see what happens,” Stryker says. Listen»

New York Times Op-Ed columnist Frank Bruni on his years living in Detroit:
The city’s honesty and humbleness, Bruni writes in this “love song,” is it’s appeal. “Bereft of vanity, Detroit is bereft, too, of pose and pretense. The people there don’t tether their identities to the luster or mythology of their surroundings. Their self-image isn’t tied to their ZIP codes. […]If you inhabit the gilded precincts favored by those of us who fancy ourselves power brokers or opinion makers or players of one kind or another, it’s a remarkable thing — and a welcome one. Read more »

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