A chronicle of the infamous bankruptcy of the Motor City, from financial mismanagement to rebirth.
In retrospect, the headline-stealing bankruptcy of Detroit, the largest municipality to file in American history, seems both tragically inevitable and necessary. For decades, the automotive industry that defined the city had been shrinking and consolidating, putting pressure on the city’s finances to deal with growing expenses and a shortage of tax income. But that’s only a single example identified by USA Today journalist Bomey in a lengthy list of reasons that gets at the complexity and systemic nature of Detroit’s problems, including an overextension and overcommitment to debt service, pension payments, and retiree health care costs. The author, who was the lead reporter for the Detroit Free Press on the city’s bankruptcy, hints at the chain of events that led to Detroit’s ruin, but his focus is on the elected officials, bureaucrats, and financiers tasked with trying to rescue the city. Among them are the appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr and former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whose embarrassing corruption scandal led to his conviction on racketeering charges following the end of his term in 2008, an event that can be read as the symbolic death knell of the city. As Bomey breaks down the numbers behind the city’s default, he provides eye-popping statistics that perfectly capture the near-apocalyptic level of duress. For instance, adjusted for inflation, the total value of private property in Detroit fell from $45.2 billion in 1958 to $9.6 billion in 2012. Though the book is well-paced and highly readable, the collapse of Detroit is not an undocumented subject, and there is little in this narrative that has not already been dissected at length. But it’s an important subject, since the tale of Detroit’s financial woes can serve as a case study on how other cities can deal with economic transition.
An engaging reconstruction of Detroit’s financial crisis and the broader implications of its comeback for other American cities.