Solving Cities

Detroit lets the state step in

Posting in Cities

A new agreement for financial oversight was reluctantly passed this week. Some fear it's a white takeover of a city with 82% African-American residents, others say it's a "toothless tiger".

Detroit leaders, polemically divided in true Detroit fashion, approved a so-called consent agreement last Wednesday. Monica Davey of The New York Times asked, "Can a city that has fallen so far be saved?"

Davey writes:

A giant plot of land — 139 square miles — with only half the residents it once had, Detroit has watched in recent years as tax revenues have slipped too low to support its costs, its debts have swelled to a stunning $12 billion, and, this spring, its money nearly ran out.

Now, after months of wrangling over how and when and whether the State of Michigan should intervene to stem the hemorrhaging finances, officials here said that a historic deal, approved Wednesday, granting the state oversight powers puts Detroit on a path to recovery at last.

A nine-member financial advisory board will be appointed - reporting budget shortfalls and hiring a program management director as task master. The agreements will reopen union contract talks and allow deep cuts as well.

Another strategy is being laid on the table - one that has union leaders furious: privatizing some city services and consolidating departments.

Other US cities have opted for smaller government and a frozen tax base with mixed results. Sarah Koenig of This American Life recently reported from Trenton, New Jersey, where governor Chris Christie has made some of the most dramatic budget cuts in the country. A third of the police force was laid off. Unsurprisingly, crime skyrocketed.

In Detroit, residents are used to failing streetlights, irregular bus schedules and an oft allusive police force. For a city that was once fourth-largest in the nation, it now stands as a uniquely fitting symbol of America. It invokes hope and skepticism, celebrates rich local culture and exemplifies a long history of racism.

Young entrepreneurs and families are excited by the affordability of property - excited by a place that has yet to define itself again.

But the political gridlock also renders change something of a mirage for many. Detroit resident Neal Holmes, 40, considered the agreement: “If it can revitalize Detroit, then good; this can be such a beautiful city. But we’ll see. I’m thinking right now it could be a gift — or a curse.”

[via The New York Times; This American Life]

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Sonya James

Contributing Writer

Sonya James is a multimedia producer based in New York. With creativity and innovation in mind, she speaks to diverse voices on topics from racism in the art world to the patriotic nature of southern food. She holds a Masters Degree in Community Development. Disclosure