DETROIT . . . FOR SALE

I just don't feel good about turning municipal assets which have been created for the public good over to profit seekers.

One of the likely options for dealing with the fiscal calamity in Detroit will be the sell off of city assets. There had already been some investor floating the idea of privatizing the Belle Isle city park. And recently, of course, the city's world class museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, is in the cross hairs.

I grew up in what was called Poletown, razed with cries of great anguish to make way for what is now the site of a Cadillac automobile factory. As you probably know much of the inner city of Detroit is already razed; by abandonment, decrepitude, arson, and looters. Some would suggest turning over that great expanse of open property to commercial interests. Let's make Detroit over into a money machine; in effect, an industrial park. After all, the folks who left the city for dead are comfortable wearing their blinders in their outlying, suburban sanctuaries, upwind of the decay right next door. All their shopping is right at hand. No need to go Downtown.

The administrators in charge of fiscal affairs of the City of Detroit are attempting to take Detroit, my hometown, into bankruptcy. Put very simply, the city's expenses exceed its income, and a big fraction (roughly one-third) of the city expenditures goes to debt service.

Very recently these trusted folks had been negotiating with the city workers over pension rights. In a gambit to snooker the process they asked for a good faith extension with the workers representatives and turned around and used that five minute interval (!) to file their bankruptcy petition.  A judge ruled against that move as unconstitutional. Apparently is is not permitted to reduce city worker pension benefits to pay off debts.

My issue in this is to point out how seemingly good, well-intentioned individuals are also at the same time all too willing to end run a good faith process to get what they feel is the best thing to do. Sort of like what we see in so many movie plots (in real life?) where certain people in high positions feel justified to hold the power of life and death and destruction because they deem their cause to be right and just.

The problem is that we seem to have become so imbued with the profit motive that ethics and morality are easy victims to expediency. The right thing to do is totally up for interpretation. With some, however, the right thing is the profitable thing.

There are also signs of hope. With all the good low cost housing in Detroit folks are starting to look at the city as an affordable option. Young blood is moving in with energy and inspiration. New companies are forming. The Farmers Market is flourishing.

That means to me that people are getting together. And, that is a good thing. I trust in the fundamental goodness of our species.


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