I’m finding it a hard concept to get my head around, but Detroit, Motor City, yesterday filed for bankruptcy, the biggest US city to ever take such action. Its liabilities total $18.5bn (£12.1bn) – a pit of debt that has racked up over 60 years, and which neither the bankers nor city debtors are willing to compromise on.
Visitors to Detroit – and there are many among the automotive fraternity, given its hub as home to the Big Three car makers (Ford, GM and Chrysler) and their support businesses – will perhaps not be surprised. It’s been a long time since it was safe to walk around Detroit at night, or even step from a car in a lot of districts.
This is a city with 78,000 abandoned homes, an unemployment rate that has tripled (from pretty dark depths) since 2000 and which has a murder rate that is spiralling out of control. An estimated 60 per cent of children live in poverty. Many of the abandoned homes are occupied and then set on fire, not by the occupiers but by local residents eager to drive away unwanted visitors.
The police can barely respond, understaffed, under equipped and, I suspect, struggling to scratch out a living. I can’t claim any great first-hand knowledge of Detroit’s troubles, but when we go to the motor show car manufacturers like to employ ex-policeman because they know where and, perhaps more importantly, where not to go. Trouble is, for every one who’s delighted to have made a difference and got out alive, there’s another one happy to take you here, there and everywhere “to have some fun” and, presumably, a cut of the profits.