Is America in Danger of Becoming Detroit?

July 28, 2011 / by / 0 Comment

(theGrio) Detroit is in dire straits these days, and the Motor City could give us a hint as to where America is headed.

Faced with limited resources, a $155 million deficit and a declining population, that city’s mayor, Dave Bing, is implementing what he calls the Detroit Works Project. Under the plan, more populated neighborhoods with a better chance of making it will receive more city services than those overrun by abandoned homes. Fire, police and emergency medical services will remain the same throughout the city, and plans to contract the city, depopulate empty areas and relocate people to concentrated areas have been abandoned. Meanwhile, the city will focus on demolishing crumbling, vacant buildings, and improving vacant lots and recreational areas.

Despite the name of this new project, Detroit isn’t working, and neither is America. Is this what the U.S. is destined to become, absent some badly needed injection of compassion? And are we ready, and why has it come to this?

After hearing about the Detroit Works Project, my initial reaction was that it represented, at best, municipal triage. You can’t save everyone in the city, so you prioritize, as the theory goes. At its worst, it smacks of Social Darwinism, survival of the fittest. But you really can’t blame hungry and hurting places like Detroit — out of cash, options and luck — for making tough choices.

Localities throughout the country are forced to cut and eliminate vital services such as the police, and reduce public school sessions from five to four days a week. And in Michigan, the cold-hearted, cold-blooded Tea Party governor has established a form of financial marshal law, in which the state government has the power to push aside a city’s duly-elected officials andreplace them with an appointed financial manager. Union contracts thrown in the garbage, elected school boards disbanded, city services privatized, you name it.

When I worked in Detroit in the ’90s as a financial analyst in the auto industry, I viewed the city as a symbol of a declining and segregated America — with blighted remnants of the 1960s riots, and a mostly poor chocolate city surrounded by more affluent white suburbs. Once a monument to American industry and prosperity, Motown fell victim to urban decay, a policy of neglect, white flight and competition from Japanese automakers. Obviously, things have progressed from bad to the unthinkable.

And yet it seems the current deficit-debt ceiling debate in Washington, a manufactured crisis, to be sure, is about to turn the nation into one big Detroit.

Despite the suffering in Detroit and elsewhere, there is a disconnect among the beltway Washington crowd. Although jobs are a top priority for voters, there are no jobs bills making their way through Congress. However, Congress has held hearings on radical Islam — three of them. Oh, and they’re going after that overarching threat to U.S. security and stability known as Planned Parenthood. Perhaps it is something in the water from the Potomac River that has made these lawmakers’ heads fuzzy. Or perhaps the corrupting influence of campaign financing has blinded them to the needs of their constituents.

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