News Column

Detroit Officials Hope Bankruptcy Will Turn it Around

July 21, 2013

Daniel Schnettler, dpa

Detroit, Michigan (dpa) - Detroit's collapse into bankruptcy has loomed long on the horizon, with empty streets, ruined buildings, filthy uncollected garbage. It can take up to an hour for police to respond to an emergency call.

"You really want to go to that neighbourhood?" asks the taxi driver, with disbelief that a visitor would want to venture into a dangerous area of ill repute.

"Don't just go alone in the streets by yourself," he warns.

Detroit has one of the highest crime rates in the country. There were 386 murders and 4,843 robberies reported last year, compared to 419 murders in New York City - which has 12 times the population.

The original home of "Big Three" US automakers General Motors, Ford and Chrysler has suffered for decades from population flight, dwindling tax revenue and mismanagement by successive city administrations.

Once the country's fourth-largest city with a population of 2 million, Motor City has fallen to 18th place with about 700,000 inhabitants.

On Friday, city officials said their request for bankruptcy court protection would ultimately help bring stability.

"None of us ever wanted to get to this point," state Governor Rick Snyder told a press conference, saying Detroit residents deserved an end to the long decline of their city and its finances.

The biggest symbol of decline is the abandoned train station, which has been rusting for decades. Photographers like the location because of its morbid charm, even if Detroit residents dislike the images. They call it "ruin porn" - a fetish of decline and decay.

Despite all its problems, there has been some light coming through the tunnel. The streets have begun filling with more people. In previously abandoned offices of the inner city, new firms have moved in, attracted by the low rents. Artists have also been drawn to the city. The cost of living is cheap, and there's plenty of room.

Despite the collapsing economy, the city is still a metropolis with famous museums, national athletic events and an international airport that is a hub for flights across the northern tier of the country.

Three years ago, the mortgage company Quicken Loans moved its headquarters to Detroit, installing 1,700 employees in the former home of the software firm Compuware. A year later, the company moved another 2,000 employees into the erstwhile Chase Bank building. Dan Gilbert, who founded the firm, has gradually been buying up entire sections of downtown Detroit in order to breathe new life with restaurants and stores.

At the same time, the automobile giants have survived the crisis of 2009, as GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy and Ford got through on its own without government help. Auto sales are climbing. Could the industry recovery foreshadow the city's own resuscitation?

"GM is proud to call Detroit its home," the nation's top car producer has declared. The company is convinced that if it can revive, so can the city around it.

That Detroit is not as dead as many want to say was seen in the opening of the first upscale Whole Foods supermarket in 2012. The chain offers a large variety of fresh food at premium prices - and is usually found in affluent neighbourhoods around the country. The opening ceremony drew senior politicians to celebrate.

But it will likely take considerable more time until Whole Foods opens in the neighbourhood that worried the taxi driver.

Money for schools, police, fire and rescue, garbage removal and street lamps is lacking. But bankruptcy could be the turning point in the history of the city.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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