Back many, many, many, many years ago, when there were two newspapers in Detroit in two separate buildings, there was a place in between there that reporters and editors would gather and drink and eat bad food. The owner was an old man named Leo and he would work the day shift. The establishment, the Anchor Bar, was the only business in an old, gutted out hotel.
But this isn’t the story of the Anchor Bar. It is what Leo always said to anyone who would listen. “Detroit will become America’s first ‘Third-world city’.
Thursday, it officially became one. Oh, it was well on it’s way when the old man predicted it, but on July 18, 2013, it became official.
Detroit is now bankrupt. The largest in the history of this country. It took 60 years, according to the Governor. I seem to think it goes back a bit further than that, but if that’s what the Nerd says, then we’ll stick with that number.
Back in 1952, Detroit was a vibrant place, the fourth largest city in America. Bigger than Los Angeles, Houston, and Dallas at the time. In the 1950 census, Detroit had 1.8 million people. Today, it has 717,000. That’s a 60% drop. It once boasted a 90% home ownership rate, today, it’s less then 20.
During World War II, it was called “The Arsenal of Democracy.” Of course, then along came Barry Gordy and “Hitsville USA” and Detroit and its’ moniker would be forever known as “Motown.” But Gordy up and left in 1972 for LA and the house on West Grand Boulevard, where Smokey, Diana, Martha and Marvin recorded and “The Sound of Young America,” became the Motown Museum.
A third world city. A city decimated by racism, corruption, crime and perception. The lower east side was once described to me as “looking like Vienna after the War.” Well, that can be applied to the whole city in 2013. Whole neighborhoods, gone. Crime always in the news. Police powerless to be effective. A third of the city is vacant. The way we are perceived hasn’t changed since the 1967 riots.
Who’s to blame? All of us. Those of us who live here. And used to live here, too. Mayors from Cavanaugh to Young to Kilpatrick. Governors from Swanson to Romney to Blanchard to Engler to Granholm to Snyder. City Council members, too many to list, who made a joke out of the system. Businesses who left, people who stayed and didn’t stand up and scream loud enough.
A sad day. Inevitable, some are saying. Unavoidable, say others. I disagree. Bankruptcy is always a “last resort,” but here, it seemed to be what Snyder and his lawn ornament Kevyn Orr, have wanted from day one. You don’t appoint a bankruptcy attorney as an Emergency Manager without the ultimate goal of declaring bankruptcy.
Which is exactly what Snyder intended all along. But a judge has stated the filing is unconstitutional under Michigan’s Constitution. Which of course, the State’s AG is fighting…http://www.freep.com/article/20130719/NEWS06/307190075/Judge-says-Detroit-bankruptcy-filing-unconstitutional-must-withdrawn.
Whether or not the filing is upheld or withdrawn is beside the point. Detroit is in need of some serious help and bankruptcy may not be the best path forward. The ferret from Kentucky, Rand Paul, has said no to any Federal bailout of Detroit – “Over my dead body.” Trust me, if it was Louisville, he’d be singing a completely different tune.
This is where, once again, race comes into play. As late as 1960, the city was 87% white. It is now 82% black. Even though the Metro area population is ranked 13th in the country, Detroit proper is 18th. Dallas and Houston and several other cities have gone past Detroit in population. Houston is now number 4, a spot Detroit held from 1940-80.
People have offered to help. $200 million to turn the city’s school district around. Rejected. Urban farming. Not so fast. Purchase Belle Isle? No way (that, i agreed with). But now, Orr is looking at selling off parts of the Detroit Institute of Arts collection and some of the Detroit Public Library’s more famous holdings. The State has said no, those things are held in a public trust, but now that the Rubicon has been crossed, anything’s possible.
Consider this, this is a city that holds the somewhat dubious distinction of bidding on the Olympics seven times and not getting them. 1944, 52, 56, 60, 64, 68 and 72. Lost to Tokyo and Mexico City by one vote. Many contend that had Detroit won the 1968 bid, the riots wouldn’t have happened. They may be right. But even then, in 1962, the IOC was a corrupt organization and Detroit’s slide had already begun.
We have been fooling ourselves all these years, thinking that a “comeback” was right around the corner. It never happened. For a million and one reasons. But mostly because of closed minds and poisoned hearts. I remember a woman telling me her daughter had got accepted at Wayne State on a full academic ride, but she wasn’t going to let her go to school there. Because she was fearful her daughter might get raped or killed. I just shook my head.
Leo died about 10 years ago. The Anchor Bar moved a block or so from where it used to be on Lafayette Avenue. The News and Free Press entered into a Joint Operating Agreement in 1989 and now share the same building. The Free Press building is now vacant. The Fort Shelby was spared the wrecking ball and is now a upscale hotel across from WDIV. Cobo Arena, where the Pistons played (and Seger rocked) back when Mayor Bing was Dave Bing, got demolished last year. Detroit has never come back because the people want to hold on to what it was and wallow in what it is.
“America’s Third-World City.”