John came to Detroit in 1987 after working in Chicago. He chose Detroit over New York and Los Angeles because he really liked the people at the Detroit Free Press. He described the 2000s decade as a lost time for Detroit, when everything really fell apart. The city was built on the manufacturing industry, but the outsourcing of most production coupled with the recession hit the city hard, accelerating the exodus of people out of Detroit. The local government did not have the money to cover its expenses, resulting in rampant crime and abandoned homes. The city filed for bankruptcy in July of 2013, the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history.
However, according to John, several Detroit heroes, including Governor Rick Snyder and Judge Gerald Rosen who oversaw the case, saved the city by putting together a plan to turn around the bankruptcy. The city exited bankruptcy in December of 2014, and according to John was historically one of the best turnarounds because although Detroit came out of it with more than enough on its plate, the city started over with a solid foundation and the right tools to rebuild.
One of the best nuggets I got from our conversation was that John and his co-worker were the writers who coined the term “the grand bargain” for the amazing deal the city made with several foundations to save the priceless art at the Detroit Institute of Arts from being sold to pay off debt. Before coming to Detroit I distinctly remember reading about the history of Detroit’s bankruptcy and an article that mentioned the grand bargain, so it was fantastic hearing about its inception and meeting its originator.
John’s take on Detroit’s revival was captivating because as a millenial, the only Detroit I know is the blight-ridden ghost-town that the media portrays. I was not around 30 years ago when San Francisco was seen in a similar light, with rampant homelessness and crime, while the city today has boomed along with the tech industry. We often forget that major cities like New York and San Francisco have all gone through similar failures and turnarounds, so its important to remember that Detroit is going through the same cycle. As a writer and expert on economic development in Detroit, John’s opinions felt like the most well-informed I’ve heard yet. According to him, it takes a city historically 15-20 years to recover from such blight, and about 30 years for the population to begin to increase. While Detroit is currently still in the first five years of recovery, John thinks Detroit is doing everything right to return to prosperity. The process may only be centered in the downtown and midtown areas, but he believes that the revitalization will spread to the neighborhoods in the next 10-15 years. When I return to Detroit in the near future, I expect to recognize nothing in the city. In the best way possible.