DETROIT, MICHIGAN — Although Detroit’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing made headlines around the world, it was no surprise to the long-suffering residents of that U.S. city. Those who live there endure long police and fire response times, amid the blight and urban decay of a city that once was the fourth largest in the United States. But some residents see the city’s bankruptcy as a fresh start.
While more than 1 million people have left over the last 50 years, lifelong resident John George decided to stay in Detroit, and he watched it hit rock bottom.
“The good news about hitting rock bottom is sometimes you get a bounce, and that’s what we’re looking for. A bounce from the bottom back up, you really can’t go too much farther than a bankruptcy to hit rock bottom,” he said.
The streets of this neighborhood are a symbol of Detroit’s rock bottom. Homes once populated with middle class families, with cars in each driveway and bikes on each sidewalk, have been replaced with piles of garbage and burned out ruins.
As founder of the charitable organization called Motor City Blight Busters, John George’s mission is to tear down things that once were the soul of this neighborhood - now abandoned and neglected - so they don’t encourage crime, vandalism or fire.
He said he’s seen enough hardship in Detroit to not be surprised by the city’s bankruptcy filing.
“Detroit needs a second chance, and I think that, by filing that Chapter 9, that is our second chance,” said George.
“This is an economic shot heard around the world," said University of Michigan Law Professor John Pottow. He said the eyes of the world were upon Detroit, and how its leaders and residents responded to the financial crisis, because other municipalities could suffer the same fate.
“There’s public deficits in every major European country right now. You know, the Greek crisis as well. So they’re seeing this as maybe the canary in their own coal mine about what’s going to happen in the future, and they want to see what happens,” he said.
What John George saw happening was the city reinventing itself as something more than just the home of the U.S. auto industry.
“Buildings and people and cities go in cycles, and for Detroit, it’s our time for us to cycle out of this negative time, and cycle into something better, something more stable, more revitalized, more beautified,” he said.
Along with shedding its crippling debt, George wanted to see Detroit improve services, decrease crime and shorten response times by emergency workers.
And with the blight removed, maybe, just maybe these streets will see new life again, reminiscent of the fond memories of John George’s childhood.
“If it’s clean and safe, we can attract new families, young families, and I think that will happen in time," he said.
In the meantime, John George is doing his part to help the effort, tearing down Detroit’s urban blight, one street, one house at a time.