December 3, 2013 will go down in history (depending on who you ask) as day of infamy for the City of Detroit. I personally saw it as another session with the fellows at another Van Dusen Leadership Forum.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013, is a day of infamy because on this date, the Honorable Steven Rhodes of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District declared that Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy relief. News story after news story carried the message that Detroit was indeed bankrupt. Detroiters and the national audience have been bombarded with the news surrounding the bankruptcy.
We have seen headlines speculating on if Detroit was eligible for months, stories on what assets are available for creditors, loans, swaps, and many other issues surrounding bankruptcy. We all saw it coming, and for anyone who was surprised by that news, I have a bridge in the upper part of the mitten that I have the authority to sell....and if you believe that, then shoot me a message on Twitter so I can give you the details. Seriously, if you were surprised by this news I hope it was because you were doing things that are way more important like solving the world's economic woes.
Since eligibility for bankruptcy has been declared, can we please change the conversation now? Believe me, in this city there are a myriad of things that should be discussed besides bankruptcy, a plethora of pertinent information that should be dispersed to engage not only Detroiters but all Michiganders. I understand that this is a historic and important time, but again it is not shocking news: it was evident.
The City of Detroit is bankrupt, now what? Is this all we are going to be known for at this time? Aren't there other conversations and discussions that need and should be taking place instead of this? I think so, and if you have read my other posts then you know that my opinion is the only one that counts in this medium, because heck it is my post.
We should be having a conversation (and I mean a broader discussion besides the one that the Free Press is doing through their Editorial Board) about what the city, and more importantly the state, is going to do to ensure that this does not happen again to the City of Detroit or to other municipalities. Like I have stated time and time again, we can either have mutually assured destruction or mutually assured revitalization. An example of a conversation we could be having is one that the Van Dusen Leadership Forum attempted to unpack in its latest workshop; Welcome: in Unfamiliar Territory.
The discussion at the forum centered on the different ways that Detroit can be welcoming. Ideas were spouted and conversation was sparked, ideas and conversation that the main stream media would benefit from picking up. Ideas such as having a Detroit Day Festival or "Homecoming" celebration for those that live in neighboring cities or states, those that grew up in the City of Detroit or lived here for a long period of time and considered the City of Detroit home. The celebrations would allow them to see their old neighborhoods and experience that feeling of "home." Other ideas centered on having policies that strengthened the neighborhoods such as having legislation that rid the area of the horrible policy of redlining, so that living in the city would not cost you an arm and a leg (literally).
I am not bashing the media, by all means there are times when the media does highlight the works of the community, but there are whole stories that are being ignored or not covered to continuously inundate us all with the fact that Detroit is bankrupt.
If you have been following my blog posts there should be one thing abundantly clear about me, I am passionate about the City of Detroit and its development. I would not have returned had I not been passionate. Please believe that a talented and Howard University/University of Michigan Law School educated young woman, could do great and wondrous works in other locales.
No other locale housed my family, though. It is the place where others who came before me, who share my blood line made strides and efforts to make changes for not only themselves, but for the City of Detroit as a whole. With that little backstory you can now understand that as a native Detroiter I am ready for the conversation to change.
The media should be highlighting the efforts of businesses, non-profits, and community organizations. Efforts such as the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation's HIRE DETROIT campaign to get 25,000 Detroiters employed or Southwest Detroit Business Association's work to get local contractors in the pipeline to bid on MDOT work on West Vernor Highway or even Detroit Soup with its innovative approach to crowd funding which is allowing neighborhoods a voice in the development of their community. There are organizations such as Detroit LISC which has leveraged over $60 million dollars in 2013 alone, to assist in development efforts throughout the City of Detroit. Yet their story is nowhere in the media. There are so many stories within the city showcasing the efforts and lifeblood of residents and organizations, yet the only conversation being shoved down our throats is that of a bankrupt Detroit.
If you want to talk about the City of Detroit being bankrupt let's talk about what each side can concede so that we can make this transition as smooth as possible, or push more stories on how the Honorable Gerald Rosen is trying to get the philanthropic community, businesses and the like to buy into his "grand bargain" campaign so that the DIA and the pensioners can be assisted in some way during this time. Even further we can discuss how the growth of the State of Michigan's "rainy day fund" to over $500 million after being depleted for three years will assist in the strengthening of Southeastern Michigan.
In terms of strengthening, we can discuss the great work of the Detroit Police Department's Chief of Police. We can discuss how he is doing much to improve safety in the neighborhoods and the image of the Detroit Police Department and respond to residents so that they can feel safe and secure.
With all the media completely missing all these things, it is easy for people to become despondent and think only negatively about the City of Detroit which perpetuates the conversation that is becoming very stale. This month I was fortunate to attend a District 1 meeting where this very topic, of having a positive message being distributed by the media and the conversation shifting from bankruptcy to what is occurring in spite of this ruling, was discussed. All were left with the impression that the positive stories are being washed over and that the true story of the City of Detroit and its residents was being ignored. From the meeting they were resolved, as we all should be, to do what we can to ensure that the positive stories are being highlighted as much as the negative stories. The story needs to be a whole one, one not just of bankruptcy, but of hope, revitalization, and inspiration. Detroit is as multidimensional as we Detroiters are, and to pigeonhole the City of Detroit as a bankrupt municipality is wrong, disrespectful, and lazy. I am not the first one to ask, but I will ask again, can we change the conversation?
Follow me on twitter @ConsultantintheCity.
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