Ain’t No Party Like a Detroit Party

4 o'clock shift at the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan (1910s).

How the mighty have fallen, or in this case a cancerous barely breathing giant, long into its death throes, has finally died a very public and highly publicized death .

On July 18th, Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, filed the city for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Essentially means that Detroit is going to be fucked for a while like a Russian immigrant sold into a human trafficking ring.

4 o'clock shift at the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan (1910s).
4 o’clock shift at the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan (1910s).

The once great and powerful fifth largest city in America in its prime had 1.8 million residents. Now its mass exodus has cut the number by more than half, leaving less than 700,000 people. It’s pretty hard not to blame them for leaving either; the city has a projected long term debt of between 17 and 20 billion dollars. Many pension funds, if the bankruptcy goes through, may only see ten cents on the dollar.

The filing has a one to three month wait for approval that could very well be drawn out by creditors if they can create a good enough case opposing the bankruptcy; but that’s like trying to bleed a stone. The only people likely to get their money are secured debt holders like the water company who could seize assets to recoup their losses. Bankrupt by name or not, Detroit is out of money, and there ain’t no party like a Detroit party until someone cuts the power.

Resident Michael Sobczynski has lived in Detroit for his whole life, and while he knows most people see the bankruptcy as a necessary evil, he doesn’t see it working out so well.

“The residual population is increasingly illiterate and poor,” said Sobczynski. “Of those, the criminal element population remains well represented. Thus, the calls for police and fire services from break-ins, to arson, to robbery, continue, many of which are never answered by police.”

The tax base has been decimated by the exodus, leaving many behind who already do not have the means to pay their bills in the first place. To add collection insult to injury, tax abatements are given to companies such as Quicken Loans just for setting up shop.

“It strikes me odd that these tax evaders are viewed as heroes by the media outlets when they selectively offer to fund a clean-up of a park, tear down some houses, cover maintenance on EMS vehicles, or provide toilet paper to the fire stations,” Sobczynski continued. “Heroes?  I think they are manipulative thieves.”

But wait, let’s imagine a situation in which Canada were to buy Detroit.

Western part of the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit, Michigan.
Western part of the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit, Michigan.

Given the way the Harper government likes to throw money around, remember he lost three billion dollars – no big deal – some people and even legitimate media sources have speculated on the idea of Canada purchasing the border town.

“They’re [Detroit’s] number one goal would be to attract organic nationals to invest,” said Cheryl Collier Political Science Professor at the University of Windsor. “But if you can’t and other people have money, this is what globalization is about.”

In 2011, China purchased over 3000 square kilometres of land in Argentina. That’s close to eight Toronto’s, for agricultural development, while no maps were redrawn, this may be the closest contract representing a land deal in our time.

“That kind of call [for Canadian Investment] is not as outrageous as it may seem,” said Collier.

Collier however sees private investment in the city as the solution, not the annexation of Detroit… Bummer.

Of course such investment would not a Louisiana Purchase make, but what would both parties stand to gain if the ridiculous came to fruition?

Canada would get the Detroit Tunnel in full, collecting double the revenue and upkeep as well. The Lions, Tigers and Wings would all become newly Canadian franchises. Well… we could probably let them keep the Lions. Best yet, people could swim across the Detroit River without creating an international uproar.

And what about those newly Canadian Americans? It’s unlikely that too many would leave for other parts of Michigan as those that have stayed are largely too poor to move anyway. So for them they can have universal health care whether they like it or not. They also stand to gain access to a better education system, and comparatively more reasonable tuition fees. There will be real beer for them, with a lowered drinking age. But let’s be honest, they’re already coming here for that anyway.

The Coleman A. Young Municipal Center houses the City of Detroit offices.
The Coleman A. Young Municipal Center houses the City of Detroit offices.

So what do Detroiters think of this idea? Well it depends on who you ask.

Katie Anderson, who works at downtown cafe Roasting Plant thought it was a good idea at first but quickly reneged.

“They probably should buy Detroit.” said Anderson pausing for a moment. “No, no. How does that make me feel? I don’t want to be Canadian.”

Zak Pashak, Detroit Bikes, is a Canadian expat who recently started the largest bicycle manufacturing shop in North America in Detroit

“I think universal health care would be a nice addition for many people lives living in the city. It’s a crazy idea and obviously not going to happen but it’s creative thinking,” said Pashak. “Americans have beaten up on Detroit for a long time. I’m sure some parts of the country would be happy to see it go.”

Most insightful of all may have been Phil Cooley, owner of Slows Bar-bq.

“In innovation and business and art and so many different things borders are certainly obsolete,” said Cooley. “It’s a more global “we” these days. Canada is an amazing place and so is Detroit but there is this strange difficulty to visit, play or work there, those boundaries need to be opened up.”

Whether hopeful or cynical, idealistic or realistic, only time will show how this city moves forward. Governments can bailout banks and auto companies but it looks like Detroit is on its own.

By: Jay Verspeelt