This 1973 Report Predicted Detroit's Eventual Problems

Illustration for article titled This 1973 Report Predicted Detroit's Eventual Problems

Earlier this month, the Detroit Free Press laid out Detroit's decline in a thorough analysis, countering the notion that the city's bankruptcy filing was an inevitable outcome. The piece hits all the right notes: skyrocketing debt thanks to a ridiculously complex deal to fund the city's pensions by then Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, declining state revenue, sinking tax revenues, crime, businesses leaving the city, awful public transportation, and so on ...


A chunk of these problems were identified almost from the onset of Detroit's so-called Era of Decline. For example, take this 1973 study commissioned by the federal government to address issues facing metro Detroit.

A snippet:

"The Southeastern Michigan region is confronted with fundamental problems of increasing complexity and severity...(I)t is plagued by a lack of jobs (with concentrated unemployment pockets), poor public transportation facilities, concentrated sub-standard housing and segregated housing patterns, inadequate health care and recreational program and facilities, fragmented social services and high crime rates, exacerbated by a correctional system which does not rehabilitate. These problems, at one time limited to the core city, are now having a rapidly expanding impact upon residents of adjacent and outlying communities of the region."

Sound familiar? Consider: This was before former Mayor Coleman Young — whom the Freep describes in their investigation as "an astute money manager who recognized, early on, the challenges the city faced and began slashing staff and spending to address them" — took office. And, this came around the time the state commenced a series of failed attempts to create an effective Regional Transit Authority.

The study provides a number of federal and state legislative suggestions for a number of issues it says are entirely "inter-related": transportation, health, education, housing, economic development. (e.g., "The state through legislation must significantly restructure the present property tax system to either: substitute another tax, to be collected and distributed area-wide, for a substantial portion of the property tax.")


If you're looking for a light 40 page Monday afternoon read, it's worth scrolling through the report. It lends more support to the narrative that, perhaps, something could've been done years ago to prevent the city from sliding into bankruptcy court. Maybe we wouldn't be talking about possibly slinging $500 million of art from the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection. Maybe Detroit wouldn't be making headlines about how it has spent $62 million so far on consultants working to restructure the city. Who knows? Maybe conversations about beefing up the (now) contentious Emergency Manager law, crafted by legislators to address municipalities and school districts in dire financial straits, would've never happened. (Of the 14 such entities, 11 are in metro Detroit.)

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)