I love Detroit. Although that’s a minority opinion of late, it’s as true today as it was when I was growing up there. I never knew a vibrant, thriving Detroit, but I’ve heard the stories and seen the pictures. Now it’s broke and desolate, looking for a way out, or at least a way back to even.
In that quest, many are turning their heads east, looking to Washington for a bailout, either in full or in part. The case they make is rife with moral hazard but steeped in emotion. Ignoring the horrible precedent and future liabilities it would open for taxpayers – how do you save Detroit but not Chicago, Baltimore, Illinois or California? – no lesson would be learned by politicians who empowered themselves with unkeepable promises, crony deals and corruption. And, more importantly, the residents of Detroit would not see the consequences of their blind loyalty to a political party they empowered to do this to them.
Pain must be felt. A price must be paid for this level of irresponsibility over that long of a time. No one is innocent in the death of Detroit; there are only varying levels of guilt in the city.
With a bailout (hopefully) off the table, another way must be found to dig out Detroit from the $18 billion debt-valanche under which the city finds itself. In looking forward it might be helpful to look backwards for some possible answers.
In its heyday, Detroit was a beautiful city with great buildings, a large geographic area with nearly 2 million people and an amazing art museum. Its heyday is long gone, but those things still exist and have value. Sure, in the cases of the buildings and land that value has diminished, but there’s still some.
First, the buildings and land.
The old saying about land is true, “They aren’t making any more of it.” It has value. It could be sold off not to people/companies looking to build but to create new cities. This would free it from the corruption of Detroit’s government and the hindrance of its taxes/regulation.
The beauty of the architecture in downtown Detroit cannot be overstated. These are real buildings, not these prefabricated “green” ugly glass buildings being built today. These are the type that can’t be built today – not only because of regulations, but because of the cost is too high and the skills needed to make them have long since vanished.
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