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The Detroit bankruptcy: It’s our turn to help


The last month has been interesting in a number of ways.  It started with much of America holding its collective breath as high wire daredevil Nik Wallenda tightrope-walked his way, partially blindfolded and with no safety net, up a 19-degree incline between the Marina City Tower and the Leo Burnett Building high above the Chicago River.  Just Nik precipitously sliding along his penny-wide tightrope way up there in the sky.

Nik_Wallenda_Niagara_Falls_2012Meanwhile underneath that wire the earth continued to revolve and life as we’ve come to know it went on.  The Israelis and Palestinians, the Sunnis and Shiites, ISIS and the rest of the world continued to fire their missiles and shout their threats over borders that serve as their own tightropes for the people on both sides.  And desperate, frightened and illegal wannabe U.S. citizens swam rivers, crawled under or climbed over fences or jammed themselves into unnatural positions under blankets or in shipping containers to seek a better life for themselves in a country whose language they do not speak and many of whose natural citizens do not want them here.  Now President Obama says he’ll take matters into his own hands despite the fact that Congress and the American people seem to be opposed to him doing so.  A tightrope for the immigrants wherever they end up and one for the President whatever he decides to do.

While all this was happening there was a mid-term election, a really important one, in which an embarrassingly low number of voters participated, including here in Michigan where our choices had never been clearer and where every vote mattered.  Governor Snyder?  Governor Schauer?  Hardly a toss-up in terms of beliefs and plans to manage the state.  Both are good men but with very different agendas and priorities.  Voters had to decide what was most important to them creating a kind of tightrope for Michigan’s future, at least until all the votes were counted.

And then we come home to Detroit, as I inevitably do in these columns, where Judge Steven Rhodes was on the hook to issue his critical, long awaited and closely watched decision on the city’s bankruptcy on Friday, November 7, just 16 months after the case, the largest bankruptcy ever for an American city, was filed.

Talk about a tightrope.  Getting to this point in the city’s internationally infamous bankruptcy was a sliver of a tightrope for everyone involved and the idea of being able to continue the “kumbaya” kind of existence the city enjoyed during the bankruptcy process where’s it was “all for one and one for all” for the first time in decades, is hardly guaranteed for the future.  But it had better be.  This is no time to stop what’s been working so well.  Emerging from bankruptcy has created a whole new tightrope to the future, and hopefully the city’s leaders won’t fall off.  Detroit won’t get a second chance to walk this one.

Above almost anything else, I believe it’s absolutely essential for the city to maintain the same level of cooperation in the post-bankruptcy period that we saw during the past 16 months when the Governor, the Mayor, the City Council, the Emergency Manager, the judges and city officials have all been bending over backwards, maybe holding their noses at times, to cooperate for the good of the residents, institutions and businesses in the city.  We cannot go back to the arguing and haranguing of the past.  Everyone in any way involved needs to continue the unprecedented cooperation that’s enabled Detroit to get to this formerly unimaginable position, i.e., the realistic hope for a significantly better future.

detroit_institute_of_artsSeven billion dollars worth of debt has been removed from the city’s ledgers and $1.4 billion has been  earmarked to be spent on sorely needed basic city services over the next ten years.  There’s a blossoming downtown and Midtown area rebuilding at a breakneck pace along with a Plan of Adjustment that has been deemed realistic and able to accomplish what’s been promised.  There’s a Grand Bargain that saved the DIA and its invaluable collection.  And there’s an Oversight Committee that will be watching hawk-like over every  planned dollar of spending to ensure that it’s being spent wisely and only on the most critical needs.

The new enthusiasm for Detroit’s future, which seems to be contagious, will be an asset in the city’s recovery to be sure but the sheer hard work of fixing the schools, solving the crime, filling the potholes,  reclaiming or scraping the abandoned buildings, answering the emergency calls, and ending, or at least easing, the poverty has barely begun.  Once again the FBI Has named Detroit America’s Most Dangerous big city.

Still, Detroit is undeniably on the right track.  The remaining challenges will take all of us, every warm body and soul in the metro area, to accept a piece of the responsibility to help bring Detroit all the way back.  The Administration can’t do it on its own.  Donate to a local charity.  Support a cause.  Shop in a Detroit store.  Eat in a Detroit restaurant.  Attend a cultural, sports or entertainment event in the city, and then stay awhile to look around at the changes.  Visit a local church.  Say a prayer.  Walk the riverfront.  Ride the Dequindre Cut.  Experience Eastern Market.  Spread the word that no city has ever tried harder than Detroit is trying to rebirth itself.

Become an active part of the effort in whatever way is comfortable for you.

Whether Detroit is your hometown or the place you live at the moment, or if it’s just the center of the metropolitan area you live in, actively participate and give the city a chance.  We’ll all be better off with a better Detroit.  The bankruptcy and the incredible team of people who managed it and worked through it have done more than their share to make it possible for Detroit to move forward.  Now it’s our turn as citizens to jump on the bandwagon to help complete the job.  I think we all need to answer the call.

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