It is impossible to overstate the milestone Detroit met last week. Michigan’s largest city, crippled by massive debt, was the biggest city to seek Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. Detroit won federal court approval Friday to emerge from bankruptcy and to embark on the road to recovery.
There should be no confusion about this. Detroit is a city that has been in decline for at least half a century. It has been plagued by a profound loss of residents. Once a city of more than a million people, today, its residents number a little less than 700,000.
Declining municipal services, inadequate housing and suitable jobs point to another challenge: the city’s footprint is too large for its reduced population. Its infrastructure was expanded to served twice the number of people who reside there today.
Of the many strategies city leaders must devise to restore Detroit’s health, one of them must be figuring out how to reduce its size.
If the challenges are daunting, so be it. The Motor City already met a basic one. State and municipal officials managed to assemble an unprecedented plan to raise the Detroit out of bankruptcy.
Called “The Grand Bargain,” it brought a remarkable group of partners together from the public and private sectors to rescue the ailing city. The tremendous contributions from private sources, aid from state government and the reluctant agreement of the city’s leading debt holders to sacrifice were impossible to imagine, but they happened just the same.
The Grand Bargain also ensured the impact on city pensioners — whose sacrifice was painful — was less severe than it could have been.
Gov. Rick Snyder has endured much criticism for putting Detroit and other financially ailing Michigan cities under emergency manager control. But the state’s intervention was the first essential step in forcing the city to truly face its fiscal crisis and to ultimately put it on a feasible financial footing.
Snyder, a Republican governor, arguably did more for Detroit, a Democratic stronghold, than any elected official in at least the past 50 years.
The Motor City still has far to travel if it is to become vibrant again. But it has taken a vital step — for itself and Michigan.
TIMES HERALD (PORT HURON)