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Detroit: The sad decline of a once great American city


In declaring bankruptcy, Detroit merely acknowledged the unavoidable truth. The immediate pressure might be the city’s unmanageable debts. But its financial woes are merely a symptom of apparently inescapable decline.

Detroit’s is a sad tale. The home of Motown, once the beating heart of the world’s car industry, was hollowed out by irresistible economic forces, exacerbated by mismanagement and corruption. The population plummeted, leaving behind a ghost town of abandoned properties (70,000 at the last count), spiralling crime (the murder rate is at a 40-year high) and near non-existent services (only a third of ambulances in use).

A sad tale, but a far from unique one. Not only is Detroit just the latest (and largest) of a growing list of urban insolvencies. It is also part of a far older tradition. Indeed, the US is littered with the municipal remnants of mining booms, industrial fads and agricultural experiments long past. One reason is space: in so big a country, there is always room to move on. But such relics are also a reflection of the American character, with its unflinching entrepreneurialism and capacity for starting again. Detroit may be bankrupt, but hope is not gone.