Detroit has struggled for more than half of a century to revitalize itself. Precipitous population drops, abandoned homes, rampant crime and the auto industry’s previous struggles has put the city in financial turmoil. In March 2013, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, a University alum, to help Detroit put the city on a stronger financial footing. A few months later, in June 2013, the city filed for bankruptcy. Over the past year, concerns over the possibility of the city’s multimillion-dollar art collection being sold and the loss of pensions for retirees came to the forefront of national discussion. In order to protect pensions and the city’s art collections, state and non-state actors collaborated on a plan to get Detroit out of bankruptcy. This plan is a great start for Detroit’s renewal, but city officials and state legislators cannot allow apathy to set in as a continued push is needed to rebuild the once great city.
Nov. 7, Judge Steven Rhodes approved Detroit’s exit plan, allowing the city to end its historic bankruptcy. The plan — dubbed the “Grand Bargain” — was crafted by numerous community members from local foundations, the state government, city pensioners, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Water and Sewage Department. The deal reduces Detroit’s debt by $7 billion, keeps the DIA’s art collection intact, cuts 12,000 non-public safety retirees’ pensions by 4.5 percent and pledges $1.7 billion for the demolition of blighted buildings. Thanks to the collaborative effort of various organizations, the city and state government and Orr, residents now have a feasible plan for Detroit’s future.
This exit plan includes a number of key points that will greatly benefit the city. The long-maligned streetlight system, that at one point had 40 percent of its lights broken, will undergo a $185-million overhaul, replacing the antiquated system with 65,000 LED streetlights. The city was provided with 100 new Detroit Police Department squad cars and 23 new ambulances, which will aid in further decreasing average EMS response times. These response averages have already decreased from 58 minutes to 18 minutes for police and to 12 minutes for ambulances. With an increased operating budget, the DPD has focused on hiring non-uniformed administrative staff in order to move uniformed officers off of desk-duty and back onto the streets. The plan envisions spending about $400 million on blight removal. The Duggan administration is also aiming to demolish about 800 houses per month. With all the whirlwind of the bankruptcy, the major success of the process was the protection of the DIA. The museum was transferred into a charitable fund during bankruptcy and, in the exit plan, was granted autonomy from city ownership, protecting the collection from any further attempts at sale or liquidation. The exit plan gives the city new hope: with city services improving, emergency services average response times declining and the treasured DIA saved, Detroit is moving down the path of recovery.
While these steps are commendable, further steps are needed to ensure Detroit’s continued economic revitalization. The Financial Review Commission needs to do a more thorough job going forward so the that the city makes stable, sound, long-term investments and tax collection is efficient and effective. According to a Detroit News analysis, taxes were completely collected on just 53 percent of non-exempt Detroit properties. Even fewer saw timely payment. If the city is going to maintain and improve its infrastructure, an effective strategy of collecting taxes and a system to work with residents having difficulty with payment will be needed. Further, the city has a responsibility to ensure that economic improvements spread outward and aren’t to comparatively wealthier areas. This might create a dichotomous and tense social situation, and could negatively affect long-term stability, a requisite for sustainable economic growth. Moreover, pushes for voter education and registration and increasing voter turnout might also promote civic engagement and governmental stability. Finally, as the population of the city is substantially lower than it was at its peak, Detroit should recognize that reversing the mass exodus from the city is a key component to its growth.
With the approval of its bankruptcy plan, Detroit has been granted a rare second chance and a pointed direction for growth. However thankful the city may be, this is not the time to relax. While Detroit’s exit plan does address a number of crucial problems, there are still numerous obstacles to overcome. The previous failures that led to this point cannot be repeated, and all those involved must be fully dedicated to Detroit’s rebirth.