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Poster City of Abandonment

The Chicago Tribune

White flight, corporate flight . . .

I grew up just outside Detroit and have felt an ache in my heart for this bleeding city for so many years now. It's long been one of the country's designated loser cities, beginning in the 1960s, when change hit it hard. The phrase at the time was "urban blight," a social cancer with unexamined causes that, in the ensuing years, has gotten progressively worse.

A year ago this week, the city, which is predominantly African-American, lost its self-governance when the Republican governor of Michigan appointed an emergency financial manager, an overboss with powers superseding that of all elected officials -- including the ability to rewrite laws, break contracts, privatize services and much more -- on the premise that only an autocrat could straighten out the city's disastrous finances. Four months later, Detroit made headlines as the largest city to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, but of course it wasn't "the city" that did so; it was the emergency manager. [...]

Detroit and other industrial cities that lacked a cultural pull stronger than the racism that was tearing them apart were simply too easy to abandon. Detroit also lacked a diversity of industry, so when the automakers fled elsewhere, the city was left struggling for a tax base -- and was getting no help from elsewhere, such as the state of Michigan, which slashed its revenue-sharing program with municipalities. This cost Detroit some $67 million in recent years, economist Wallace Turbeville, writing at Demos, explained.

"By cutting revenue sharing with the city," he wrote, "the state effectively reduced its own budget challenges on the backs of the taxpayers of Detroit (and other cities). These cuts account for nearly a third of the city's revenue losses between FY 2011 and FY 2013, coming on the heels of the revenue losses from the Great Recession and tipping the city into the cash flow crisis that it is now experiencing. Furthermore, the legislature placed strict limits on the city's ability to raise revenue itself to offset these losses."

Read Demos' report: The Detroit Bankruptcy