Detroit: A Tale of Two Cities


The Renaissance Center in background on left and blighted home in foreground right

Last night when I was going to Detroit for some music, I ran into a freeway maintenance shut down and a forced reroute off the free way and into an unfamiliar neighborhood. My car has 167,247 miles on it and I worry that it may break down. For the most part when I go anywhere, I am on main roads where I feel safer. The reroute took me through a reminder of how life looks to some Detroiters.


For others, life looks different.


City services are delivered unevenly and it has been that way for as long as I can remember. Right now, because the city was deemed by the state of Michigan to be financially unviable, Governor Rick Snyder appointed an Emergency Financial Manager(EFM) Kevin Orr. The EFM has been a practice in the state for several years and several cities have gone through the process. The EFM has complete control over city functions during his stay in the city.

In my opinion, one of the major problems is that the city council is elected at large. Most of them live in one area of Detroit. I’m sure you can guess which of the two neighborhoods depicted above is the primary neighborhood of the city council members. This issue will be somewhat resolved with the next election when for the first time in years, almost all of the council members will be elected from districts. The mayor, Dave Bing (former basketball star), has not been able to change the situation. According to some Detroit residents I know, he patronizes black owned business on an extremely infrequent basis.

They are beginning to cut some costs. The city council members and the mayor have had personal drivers paid for by the city. That no longer have that perk. The EFM does have it.

When the EFM has control, the city council and the mayor are not allowed to pass laws or perform any normal governmental tasks. Complete disenfranchisement. Today the second city council member quit. He will begin working for the EFM within the month.

There was not really much interest in the EFM amongst the people that live in the suburbs until Mr. Orr mentioned that all the art in the Detroit Institute of Arts was up for grabs. A Van Gogh, anyone? It did make people pay attention. The retires of the city may have their pensions cut significantly. Now, they are paying attention.

It is so true use that the city is in a financial mess. It has been going on for a long time. So long, there is enough blame to go around. It has been a case of ” kicking the can” down the road. I’m glad people are paying attention now. I hope people will learn from this and continue to pay attention even when there is not an obvious cri sis.