My City Was Gone

reinventing detroitAfter several years of struggling and trying to rebuild itself after the collapse of the automobile industry, the city of Detroit has filed bankruptcy.  It becomes the largest city in America to do so and sadly, now it will serve a model for many cities that are also perched on the edge of the cliff of financial ruin.

There are many who believe the downfall of America’s auto industry is to blame here, but it’s not.  There have been decades of mismanagement by political leaders.  Kwame Kilpatrick’s mayoral regime weaved a cloaked web of corruption, fraud, racketeering, and extortion.  This jailbird, once seen as a formidable player in America’s black political landscape, is now doing jail time.  He took the people’s trust and faith and knitted an orange prison jumpsuit with it.

Kilpatrick isn’t the only culprit in Detroit’s ultimate downfall.  Years of borrowing beyond its means to fund basic municipal necessities have finally caught up.  The pension funds of city workers have been mismanaged to the point of crime, and those who remain as residents have had their futures stripped of any promise.  Neighborhoods go without street lighting, trash removal, and basic municipal services.  They have been for years.  Police and firefighters simply haven’t had adequate resources to be able to respond to emergencies in a timely manner.

Detroit, once the third largest city in america, has watched their population drop from 1.8 million in its heyday to fewer than 700,000 now.  The unemployment rate is 18.6 percent.  I could sense this coming many years ago when automakers began building plants in Mexico because they could hire cheaper labor.  My wife and I left the Detroit area in 2000, just ahead of the beginning of the end.  We didn’t leave because of an expected decline, we left only because we wanted to try living in the Northeast.

But even after all this time since we’ve left, we still consider Detroit, its suburbs, and its people, our home and family roots.  So I think it’s safe to say that I’m a little heartbroken at the moment, for my favorite city and my favorite friends.  My memories of such a great place.

There have been a few heroes in Detroit’s attempt to reclaim itself.  There are groups and individuals who have advocated for the city and have done all they can to try to bring businesses and people back.  It just wasn’t enough.  I don’t think many people fully understood how deeply in debt the city has been.  And for all who hoped and toiled for Detroit’s glory to return, an even greater sadness.

A simple sign of Detroit’s struggles is evident at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.  An old American landmark once stood there, designated as a State of Michigan Historical Site in 1975 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 .  A place steeped in tradition and glory, finally taken down by the wrecking ball in 2009.  You’d think there would be something on the property that pays homage to such a site, right?

Here’s the spot:

the corner of michigan and trumbullTiger Stadium, one of America’s greatest ballparks, once stood in this now vacant field.  There is no plaque, no sign, nothing that says millions of people used to sit in this spot and enjoy America’s great game.  The city hasn’t even been able to mow over the weeds that now fill this space.

This important space.

Detroit has always been a blue-collar city.  People broke their backs for this place, and they carved out a sprawling suburbia that reached out into a 40 mile radius around the city.  Detroit was never known as a glitzy mecca.  The high-end franchises and shops didn’t come here.  They went to Chicago or St. Louis.  Detroit was a working city.  It’s downtown consisted of businesses, not fluff.  No ultra-malls, no Hard Rock Cafe, no Planet Hollywood.  Detroit was a city that rolled up its sleeves and worked hard so families could grow, put down roots, and be good, decent people like Midwesterners are.  Jobs were plenty, opportunities were everywhere.  A thriving metropolis.

And now the streets are dark.

My memories of my time in Detroit are many.  My pride in the city is well documented.  My hope for its recovery has never waned and it still hasn’t even after this punishing blow.  Detroit will stand on its own feet again.  It will rise and again be an influential force in the American scheme of things.  It might be a different Detroit next time, with a different purpose, but it will stand strong again someday, backed by people who know the value of an honest, hard day’s work.

detroit michiganThere is simply too much at stake for this country to lose such a great city.  A great city is made up of great people, and great people will NOT tolerate the demise of Detroit.

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