I was surprised and saddened by the news that Detroit filed for bankruptcy last week, making it the largest American city to take this step. I was aware that the city has been in decline for many years, but I didn’t realize how bad things had gotten. According to one article I read, Detroit is some $20 billion in debt, 80,000 buildings in the city are either abandoned or seriously blighted, 40 percent of the city’s streetlights are broken, the police force has been cut by 40 percent over the past 10 years, and the average response time for police calls is 58 minutes (the national average is 11 minutes).
I wish I knew what to do to fix the situation. Unfortunately, many years of poor political leadership, the loss of basic city services with a resulting loss of population, and the collapse of the tax base — combined with years of borrowing to cover budget deficits — led to this situation, and it won’t be solved overnight. Some of the best ideas I have heard floated as partial solutions include turning Detroit into a tax-free zone to encourage businesses to locate there, moving federal agencies to the city, and selling off some of Detroit’s most valuable assets.
As many of you know, I lived in the Detroit area when I was a young man, and I witnessed the city in its heyday. It was a sight to behold, and something I’ll never forget. Unfortunately, that just makes it harder for me now to see Detroit in such a sorry state of decline.