As you have probably heard by now, Detroit has declared bankruptcy, thus becoming the first major US city to do so. This is sad and unfortunate, and absolutely no surprise whatsoever.
The pundits on the right are quick to blame the unions, talking about how the greedy little workers forced the defenseless multinational, multi-billion dollar car makers of Detroit to spend money on them, rather than on more money for the CEO and the like. I suppose they could have a point. It is true that GM, for example, has a huge pension and health care bill, which, as I’ve said before, is a good reason to go with single-payer health care. Other reasons can be cited, like the massive amount of white flight, and the overall decline of many parts of the Rust Belt.
Ultimately the why of Detroit’s decline doesn’t really matter all that much at the moment. What matters is that the city is out of money, and the federal government doesn’t look likely to bail them out any time soon. It is therefore time to look at ways to fix the financial situation. I have three suggestions.
1. Diversify the hell out of the economy
Other major cities of the area, like St. Louis, Cincinnati, Chicago and Kansas City, have also experienced tough economic times. They got through them by diversifying. Kansas City still has stockyards, I am sure, but they also have a lot more going for them. Now Detroit has made some basic efforts at diversifying, but it clearly isn’t enough. I’m not sure exactly what they can diversify into at this point, but they do have a port, and they could, perhaps, look at expanding their educational system. Imagine Detroit as a magnet for educational excellence. It isn’t impossible, and it would take time and money, but it might be worth looking into.
2. Tear down all the abandoned structures and do something with the land
This has already been done to an extent, but it needs to be done more. Detroit has thousands of abandoned buildings, and those are ripe with criminal activity, as well as lowering the property values of occupied buildings nearby. Knock ’em all down. Yes, this will take money, but it is worth doing, and the process of demolition will create jobs, and the value of the recycled building materials will help, at least slightly, to defray the costs. Once that’s done, something needs to be done with the land.
So I’m thinking perhaps a revival of the homesteading concept. The city seizes the land and then offers it in lots to individuals only (not corporations). The individual would be expected to build and maintain a small house, and do something to improve the land and the neighborhood. If they do this within, say, ten years, the land is theirs to keep. It is a variation of what we did with settling the west, and I think it’s a good idea.
The real problem here is that Detroit has less than half the population it used to, and all the land it used to. It’s just too big, physically, for the amount of people remaining and the tax base. Downsize the city by unincorporating some of the less savory, more abandoned parts of it. Those that can be saved by my homesteading idea should be. The rest of the areas can be…I don’t know. Parceled off to other cities or something. Or they can just be unincorporated communities. Now this idea isn’t totally original to me, and you can read more about it here, but I think it remains one of the best ideas.
Really what Detroit needs to do is all three of these things and then some. The city is a horrible mess, but it doesn’t need to be. Hopefully with time, effort and money, it can get back to where it was.