Broken Down in Motown

Once upon a time there was a growing metropolis known as Detroit, Michigan. Home to the Big Three automakers (GM, Ford, Chrysler), the bustling city thrived on its assembly lines.

Fast-forward to the present day and Detroit has filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. With a debt totaling over eighteen billion dollars, it is the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history.

Detroit used to be a city well known for building fine automobiles and providing a boisterous nightlife for its youth, but it is now a city marred  by a wide variety of issues: political corruption, abandoned physical structures, extremely high crime rates, racial segregation and worst of all, a huge division between the urban and suburban living environments.

Bankruptcy may not be the primary solution to repairing the city, but unfortunately it is the only acceptable measure. In addition, it is an issue that has been building up over the last thirty years.

Michigan State Governor Rick Snyder said that this problem “has been six decades in the making.” As bold a statement as that is, it is unfortunately very true when you look back at Detroit’s history.

Back in the early 1940s during World War II, the city created several defense industries that promised thousands of jobs and higher wages. This attracted both White and Black people from the South to move north for a chance at being hired.

However, the integration of both these races was the first step that led to its dismantlement. The lack of sufficient housing and bigotry, as bad as it was in the South, led to severe tensions between both races.

This soon culminated in the infamous Detroit Race Riot of 1943, which lasted for three days and ended with 34 people dead, 25 of which were African American. Of those 25, 17 were killed by the police officers caught in the midst of the chaos.

The aftermath of the riot implies one of the first big reasons behind Detroit’s bankruptcy: the unfair treatment of the Black population. Before and after the riots, African Americans in the city were subjected to job and housing discrimination, police brutality and the usual animosity from the white population.

Seventy years later into the present day, some of those issues have been mended; however, Detroit has retained its racially segregated nature. Most of its white population inhabits the suburbs north of the city, while the majority of its Black population lies in the city limits that are in far less appealing condition.

Consequently, this racial segregation can mostly be blamed on the city’s government. Due to ignorance and lack of proper care, many parts of the city have decayed into thousands of abandoned buildings, homes and vacant lots.

Several notable government officials are responsible for why this evolved over time, most prominent of which are former mayors Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick.

Coleman Young served five terms as the city’s mayor, but he was far more focused on retribution against the Black populous rather than focusing on the city’s more important issues. Kilpatrick on the other hand served two terms, but both tenures were plagued by a near constant amount of scandals and controversies.

Today, Kilpatrick is in prison for a number of convictions, which include obstruction of justice, assault on a police officer, racketeering and extortion.

However, a few mayors are not the only ones at fault or explain why Detroit’s government is the most at fault for its bankruptcy filing. Years of borrowing money to aid the city have destroyed its tax base, which also contributes to the city’s sixteen percent unemployment rate. This also greatly affects the city’s employee unions and public pensions, both of which are going to take huge financial hits in the rebuilding of the city.

The reasons I have stated are, sadly, just a few of the many that have lent a hand in Detroit’s bankruptcy. Even worse, Detroit isn’t the only Rust Belt city that’s experiencing these difficulties. Philadelphia, Baltimore and even New York City are going through similar problems. Especially since all of these cities have lost over half of their manufacturing jobs within the past six decades, it could foretell their downfall. If you want to learn more about this growing problem, watch the HBO series “The Wire,” which is a profoundly realistic and “journalistic” account of how the American city we once knew is meeting its eventual end.

Overall it is saddening to witness the rise and fall that the city of Detroit has taken over the past sixty years. Despairingly, it’s only going to get worse in order for it to improve its overall image again.

However, as much as people didn’t want Detroit to come to this decision, bankruptcy unfortunately is its only possible solution to mend a metropolis that used to be on top of the Midwestern Rust Belt.

 

Tyler Christian is a third-year film and media studies major. He can be reached at tmchrist@uci.edu.