How Detroit went broke. It didn’t have to happen


The Detroit Free Press (a mainstream newspaper) has a sobering in depth look at why their beloved city is bankrupt. It’s the usual culprits. Politicians who spent recklessly, took on huge debt, gave themselves and public workers huge pensions, and hired more and more employees. Wall Street aided and abetted the problem, giving the junkie more money at onerous rates and terms. It became a death spiral. People left the city. Taxes rose for those who remained. No one thought about the future, only about what they could grab for themselves. Public pension funds became piggy banks to be looted and corruption became pervasive.

And none of this needed to happen.

When all the numbers are crunched, one fact is crystal clear: Yes, a disaster was looming for Detroit. But there were ample opportunities when decisive action by city leaders might have fended off bankruptcy.

State of Michigan takes over Detroit

Near downtown Detroit. Blocks that no longer have buildings
Near downtown Detroit. Blocks that no longer have buildings

To paraphrase the MC5, ‘The Motor City’s collapsing, people.’ Or, to put it another way, when the US economy catches a cold, Detroit gets pneumonia. Michigan will be appointing an emergency financial manager for Detroit, citing a financial emergency.

Let’s not forget, Detroit gave us the greatest soul music ever, amazing high energy rock and roll, and was the birthplace of techno. Respect.

If the city goes bankrupt, it would be the biggest municipal bankruptcy in US history. I don’t think this is a plot by evil Republicans to privatize Detroit because, sadly, given the current condition of that once thriving city, the road to recovery will be long and difficult.

A report commissioned by [Michigan Gov.] Snyder has described what it called “operational dysfunction” in the city government, crushing debt of $14 billion and a current fiscal year budget deficit of $100 million.

More to the point, is Detroit a bellwether and will other cities follow?

Detroit, An American Autopsy. Is America circling the drain?


Shloky thought America still had time to turn things around until he read Detroit, An American Autopsy by Charlie Leduff. Now he’s not sure.

What if the land of the free, of prosperity, of two cars and a picket fence succumbed to the corrupt, the incompetent, the immoral?

It presents the viewpoint that we’re not careening into failure. We’re already there. Ours is a state soon to be hollowed out by failed cities. America was murdered. What we live in is fundamentally different from what we had. We’re in the middle of launching what is new. Its time to approach it that way.

Cannonfire echoes the sentiment in a different way, focusing on the plethora of deranged conspiracy theories going around, which includes Newton Truthers and even, God help us, Aurora Truthers.

America is going insane

Folks, this shit has gotten out of hand. This country cannot survive if an increasing number of citizens go bonkers.

He cites a particularly nutty theory linking MK-Ultra to Martin Luther King as a commie plot to despoil our country. When cities like Detroit die (or are murdered), when we long longer have leaders but grasping greedy thugs and mediocrities running the country then the center may not hold.

Urban farming. Glasgow to Detroit

Glasgow2Detroit Trailer from Away Ye Grow on Vimeo.

Don MacKeen, an Amercian expat in Glasgow mailed me about his documentary Detroit to Glasgow, which is about urban farming and creating new futures in post-industrial cities.

Just came across your website tonight – your Saul Alinsky article – and thought you might be interested in a video I did with my wife and a friend. I’m from the states but live in Glasgow, Scotland and we’re all involved in community gardening, and we went to Detroit this summer to interview people in the urban farm movement there, as well as people doing likewise here.

Watch the movie Glasgow to Detroit at From the website. Emphasis added.

Glasgow, once the 2nd city of empire.

Detroit, formerly the Motor City.

Glasgow had at is peak over 1 million citizens and was one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Today the population hovers around 600,000.

Detroit was a city designed for 2 million residents. Now under 900,000 reside there. It suffers 70 fires a night and is littered with empty lots.

Glasgow was a city that made its living ship-building. Now that industry is gone.

Detroit manufactured America’s automobiles. And now that industry is gone.

Both cities had motorways rammed through them. Both have seen decay through planning and lack of planning. Both have high levels of deprivation.

But now the residents of Detroit have created an urban farming network that is creating an opportunity from decay. Is there a lesson in there for Glasgow and all those other cities that have seen a decline since the rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s?

Looking at Detroit, comparing and contrasting its experience with Glasgow, we will look at what has happened to a once prosperous city and see first hand how ordinary people have overcome official antagonism to their needs and created a vibrant system of farming. As the supermarkets deserted Detroit , the residents filled the gap. Does this point to a future that goes beyond corporate control?

Don explained more about the movie in a subsequent email.

My wife (Jackie McMcaster) and me came up with the idea to go to Detroit after seeing the Julien Temple documentary “Requiem For Detroit.” It made us think there were connections between Detroit and Glasgow – both post-industrial cities, both lost a lot of their population. like Detroit there are a lot of people involved in urban gardening, although it’s a newer thing here than there. we both feel that while Scotland (and the rest of the UKk) gets whatever the American system is dishing out, usually about 5 years later, wouldn’t it be great to import some of the stuff we want? like real community engagement, sustainable ways of living, etc.

I had just self-published a book called “Why You’re Being Robbed“, and it included a lot of interviews, so we thought that doing a series of interviews with people in Detroit and then comparing what they said to people in Glasgow would be interesting. so Jackie organised the trip, raised the money, and i got a little cash from the Peter Gibson Memorial Fund. we were travelling to the states anyways, as i was going to visit my folks who live in florida, so we made the detroit detour first, brought our two sons (aged 4 and 9) and our friend Bob Hamilton came as well. we stayed with a folk singer julie beutel who also drove us around. her boyfriend is the first detroit interview, Paul Weertz. over 5 days we visited a number of projects and really got more film than we could ever use – the original idea was a 20 minute film! we got to meet Grace Lee Boggs, an amazing person, who turned the interview around on us and really got us thinking about not just solving problems but laying the groundwork for meaningful change, something lasting.