Detroit is broke. Belly up. Busted. Bankrupt. Largest city in the history of the U.S. to file for Chapter 9. But a city the size and significance of Detroit doesn't go straight to Chapter 9.
For over 100 years, Detroit has been the leading edge of trends in America.
Chapter one was the birth of the automobile and the creative geniuses who innovated the internal combustion engine and harnessed its power to move people from place to place much faster than horses and much more individually than trains.
Chapter two was when Henry Ford conceived of a new method of manufacturing the car that would revolutionize industry and the economy.
Chapter three was that mass manufacturing made the cost of a car affordable for the masses and cars became a ubiquitous fixture in American life as well as the symbol of upward mobility.
Chapter four was Detroit saving America. It was precisely the Motor City's prowess at turning steel, chrome aluminum and rubber into personal transportation to making planes, tanks, and ships that gave us the tools to win World War II. Without Detroit, we might all be speaking German or Japanese. America must never forget chapter four.
Chapter five is that after the war, Detroit once again unleashed its magic into building post-war America into a nation of industrial workers who made good money and who made good machines and whose heavy lifting created the happy days into which Baby Boomers like me were born and the middle class that gave their parents the steps of the ladder to climb beyond the poverty of the Depression and the pain of the war.
Chapter six was Detroit's contribution to the culture. It was the greenhouse of the music of our lives from the immortal moves of Barry Gordy's Motown sound to the hard charging guitars of Nugent, Mitch Ryder, the MC5, America's pop culture was influenced, if not shaped as much as was our taste for whitewall tires, chrome grills, and bucket seats.
Chapter seven was one of America's largest cities being rocked by the race riots of the 60's and the beginning of the polarization that led to white flight to the suburbs and the beginning of a population decline.
Chapter eight, that was Detroit being utterly ruined by breathtaking corruption of its local government and by union demands for a bigger piece of a shrinking pie both in the public and private sector. The city's government didn't have the will to rein in the corruption nor the guts to say no to the unions.
And that took them to Chapter 9...bankruptcy.
The saddest part of the Detroit story is that it's not the story of a failed city who couldn't. It's the story of one of the world's great and most successful cities who could, and who did great things, but then was willing to sell its soul for lesser things and to tolerate unthinkable things. It's unemployment rate has tripled since 2000 -- twice the national average. Its street lights don't work a whole lot more regularly than its people -- 40 percent of the street lights stay dark. It's homicide rate is epidemic and for 20 years, it's been considered one of America's most dangerous cities. It takes the police in Detroit an average of 58 minutes to respond to a call compared to 11 minutes average elsewhere. Just under 80,000 city structures have been abandoned.
Detroit once was the leading edge of America. And now the bad news -- it still is. Take a good look at Detroit in all of its former glory and current gore and know that as it has been on the front of America's trends, it still is. Detroit is today what the rest of America is on track to being in another 20 years. Reckless spending, corrupt unaccountable government, and caving in to demands from those who are dependent on its cowardice to never say no.
If we don't learn from Detroit's collapse, the rest of America will be the next chapter.