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Time to return to the business of rebuilding Detroit

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By Rip Rapson, president and CEO, The Kresge Foundation  

The whole world should be looking at Detroit and the state of Michigan right now, witnessing one of the great demonstrations in this new century of community resilience, pride and hope. U.S. Judge Steven Rhodes  accepted the stakeholder-approved plan of adjustment, resolving this unprecedented bankruptcy.

Rip Rapson

Rip Rapson

Twelve months ago, few would have imagined we would be here. But community resilience has served as ballast throughout: Although there was real struggle, division and pain, this unprecedented municipal bankruptcy has been resolved with equally unprecedented speed and cooperation. The pride is palpable: The resolution of this fiscal crisis is a testament to the power of creativity, collaboration and shared destiny – and everyone involved knows it. And hope has won the day: The bankruptcy’s conclusion marks a new start for this storied city.

Commendation is deserved all around.

First and foremost, we applaud the citizens of Detroit whose determination kept the city moving forward despite the greatest of odds, and who have patiently persisted throughout the city’s challenges. These are the people who choose to make their lives here – growing and maintaining businesses, providing services, starting careers, volunteering their time, raising families.

We must also cast in bright relief the sacrifices made by pensioners whose retirement funds were caught in the maelstrom of the crisis. They sacrificed individually for the benefit of the whole.

There will be well-deserved attention over the next days and weeks to all those who sought to balance interests and forge consensus in pursuit of a just and enduring plan of adjustment. That list is too long to be recounted, but must include: Judge Rhodes; U.S. Chief Judge Gerald Rosen and his mediation team; Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr; Michigan Governor Rick Snyder; the Michigan Legislature; the Detroit Institute of Arts; Mayor Mike Duggan, his administration and partners on the City Council.

As for those of us in the philanthropic community, we are honored to have contributed, along with the state of Michigan and the Detroit Institute of Arts, to an $816 million fund that has come to be called the Grand Bargain. The motive was threefold:

  • to help the city honor its commitments to its retirees,
  • preserve a beloved community cultural asset, the Detroit Institute of Arts,
  • and – above all else – ensure the bankruptcy’s timely and fair resolution so that we could move forward with the business of rebuilding a shared future.

Our foundation’s focus every day is to help build on this success, and support residents and city leaders in the rebuilding.

Kresge will continue to seek out, support and work with partners locally and from across the country – nonprofit, public, private and philanthropic. We want to help foster long-term economic opportunity that advances social equity, promotes cultural expression, and re-establishes our foundation’s hometown as the center of a vibrant region.

KARP6061The bankruptcy provides a fresh start, but we are by no means starting from scratch. For many years, Kresge has collaborated with trusted, hardworking partners to put into place the building blocks for a re-imagined and revitalized city. This work has been steady and relentless and long term. The milestones of progress are readily apparent:

  • Public infrastructure projects are bringing private investment to the city – downtown, along Woodward Avenue, in the neighborhoods.
  • Neighborhood organizations are accessing private funding to pursue their aspirations and meet the enduring challenges their communities face.
  • A high-functioning entrepreneurial ecology is promoting small business development.
  • A light rail line, under construction, is anchoring a regional transit system and spurring economic development across the city.
  • A strong platform for community decision-making is strengthening the city’s existing assets and transforming its liabilities, particularly abandoned and blighted properties.
  • Live-local, buy-local, hire-local programs at the major medical and educational institutions are driving community renewal.
  • An already distinctive arts and cultural ecosystem is demonstrating ever-increasing scope, vibrancy and influence.

These and many other positive characteristics form the basis for Detroit’s future. They emerge from all strands of our community – its residents and business leaders, its public officials and its philanthropists, its workers and its investors. Together, they continue to weave a fabric of accomplishment and possibility that will forever change this great city.

Today we stand alongside the city, the region and the state, admiring the resilience, pride and hope. The Kresge Foundation – its trustees and staff – believes the community has the grit and the courage, the imagination and the skill, to chart a robust, equitable future, one that will return Detroit to its rightful place among America’s great cities. The whole world should keep watching. Detroit is just getting started.

This blog was reprinted with permission from The Kresge Foundation. To stay connected to The Kresge Foundation please go to http://kresge.org/subscribe.

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