There has been a disturbing lack of context in recent coverage of developments in Detroit. Discussion of the installation of the Emergency Manager and the consequent filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy too often has been limited to Detroit’s financial management. Comparatively little attention has been paid to the larger social and economic forces responsible for the city’s present crisis. This incomplete narrative leaves the mistaken impression that Detroiters—especially African American Detroiters—are responsible for the city’s financial collapse.
The present crisis is more deeply and firmly rooted than indicated by this coverage. The full story of Detroit’s crisis must include the conscious decision by leaders of business and industry beginning in the 1940s to abandon the city that had developed a sprawling and expensive infrastructure to serve their needs and priorities. The full story must include the decades-long, government-subsidized development of the suburbs at the direct expense of the city and its residents. The full story must include the long refusal of federal, state, and regional officials to acknowledge the structural inequalities perpetuated by policies rooted in indifference and even hostility to the city and its people.
Unless it is corrected, the incomplete narrative about Detroit will continue to lead to more policies and prescriptions that continue to burden Detroiters while failing to address the long-standing injustices affecting them. The situation requires a new narrative that acknowledges the roles of business and government in fostering and developing the inequalities in metropolitan regions, a narrative that confronts attitudes about race and class that feed simplistic myths about Detroit and urban America.
Such a narrative will apply the best scholarship to our cities and give credit rather than blame to Detroit and Detroiters for continuing to work to improve their city in the face of an almost insurmountable combination of forces and structures. It will lay a foundation for a comprehensive national urban policy and for regional solutions that stop fragmentation and sprawl and provide for just allocation of resources and services in cities and suburbs.
The Institute for Detroit Studies is committed to telling the full story. With this in mind, we recommend the following:
Joseph E. Stiglitz (New York Times, Aug 11, 2013): http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/the-wrong-lesson-from-detroits-bankruptcy/?hp
Thomas J. Sugrue (The New Yorker, July 22, 2013): http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2013/07/the-rise-and-fall-of-detroits-middle-class.html
Paul Krugman (New York Times, Jul 21, 2013): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/opinion/krugman-detroit-the-new-greece.html
David M.P. Freund (Marygrove College, Sep 26, 2011): http://vimeo.com/3285145
Marilyn Katz (In These Times, Aug 8, 2013): http://inthesetimes.com/article/15433/decades_of_discrimination_and_corporate_chaos/
Mary Williams Walsh (New York Times Jul 19, 2013): http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/07/19/detroit-gap-reveals-industry-dispute-on-pension-math/?_r=0
Steven Rattner (New York Times, Jul 19, 2013): http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/19/we-have-to-step-in-and-save-detroit/
Amy Kenyon (Detroit News, Aug 13, 2013): http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130813/OPINION01/308130003#ixzz2bqz9PCIA
“No Banker Left Behind,” Editorial (New York Times, Aug 13 2013): http://nyti.ms/19wwHfU
Stephan G. Richter (New York Times Aug 15, 2013): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/16/opinion/what-really-ails-detroit.html