When King Saul died and an Amalekite expected David to relish the demise of his foe, the future king lamented: “How the mighty have fallen.” Once, Detroit seemed an anointed city, hitting the top five by population and leading the way in manufacturing wages. Yesterday, Detroit became the biggest U.S. city ever to file for bankruptcy.
The move came after Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr could not persuade creditors, unions, and pension boards to renegotiate the city’s massive debt. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder honestly called bankruptcy the “only feasible path to a stable and solid Detroit”—except that the path is a long and winding one. A federal bankruptcy court judge will now have the Solomonic job of sorting out the city’s finances.
Bankrupt Detroit will default on about $2.5 billion in unsecured debt to “conserve cash” for police, fire, and other services. With a budget deficit believed to be more than $380 million, and long-term debt at least $14 billion and probably between $17 billion and $20 billion, a mighty city has fallen. City workers and retirement systems are complaining that bankruptcy could change pension and retiree benefits guaranteed under state law—but Orr noted that federal bankruptcy laws trump state law in this matter.
So is Detroit dead? No. Despite the bankruptcy filing, Detroit remains home to many businesses and major corporations. It’s home to about 700,000 people and more than 2,000 churches, according to Yellowpages.com. Sure, it’s also home to lots of crumbling buildings, photos of which Time and others have flashed in their pages so often that the term “ruin porn” has stuck. But WORLD has tried to show the story less told: See “Beyond ruin porn.”
If you want to go back 15 years to what some said was Detroit’s great hope, gambling casinos, see “Triple or nothing.” If you want to see the hope that Christians this year are bringing to poor corners of the city, see “Brightmoor fighters.” But no one should pretend that this will be easy: As one WORLDmag.com story quoted the lament of Detroit native Michael Barone, “Those who have visited both Detroit and Hiroshima will have trouble guessing which country won that war.”