Refusal to Accept Reality is Killing Detroit

Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press, April 10, 2009

Detroit’s fantasy will be its downfall.

Many residents and elected officials think the city cannot only survive but look the way it did 50 years ago by the sheer force of their will and ignorant audacity. They appear unaware of the economic crisis that the rest of America is struggling to survive.

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School board members let politics keep them from telling parents they cannot keep open schools that hold a fifth of the population for which they were built.

Some council members are watching the city die before our eyes, but this out-of-step, out-of-date faction is too busy finding insult in every offer of help, threats in every suggestion to share responsibility. They’d rather see the city die than relinquish what matters more to them than survival–power.

It’s about power

The City Council’s motives are clear. A majority is fighting to maintain sole control of the Cobo convention center, even if it means losing the North American International Auto Show and other events that would bring much-needed money into Detroit.

Worried that the regional Cobo authority embraced by nearly all other elected officials might cut into their power, this slim majority has decided not to share. They would rather the hall sit dilapidated and empty–and lose the auto show–than to admit that a city $300 million in debt might need help.

The school board’s motives are clear. Detroit Public Schools’ emergency financial manager, Robert Bobb, the new sheriff in town, quickly determined that the district has more school buildings than students to fill them and proposed closing some to pare down the district’s $300-million-plus deficit. Bobb plans to close 23 schools that were built for 19,275 students but currently hold only 7,095.

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Detroit, as it once was, does not exist. DPS, as it once was, does not exist.

And the new Detroit that is struggling to meet its needs is getting no help from many of its residents and too many of its leaders.

We need to see Detroit as it is.

Detroit wants neighborhood schools in neighborhoods where it can no longer afford to provide service.

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