Sustainable Cities Collective has re-launched as Smart Cities Dive! Click here to learn more!

Governing the New American Municipality: Your Crash Course in Detroit Politics

Kevyn Orr announces Detroit Bankruptcy, July 18th 2013

Detroit's bankruptcy shocked those who obviously hadn't been paying attention to the pandemic issues of inequality sweeping across cities in the United States over the past half century. The state of governance in Detroit becomes more twisted everyday: the City's planning future characterized by an emphasis on the Detroit Future City Framework, the controversy over Council elections by district, all overshadowed by the tension of Michigan's Emergency Manager law.

The dismissal of Detroit's problems as only Detroit's problems comes from the blame being placed solely on political figures. Two names you may recognize are Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick, both former mayors of the City. Coleman Young was mayor from 1974 to 1994, and is often described as anti-white and thus wrongly credited with furthering the white-flight trend that decimated Detroit's tax base. Kwame Kilpatrick was elected mayor in 2002, and was recently convicted of racketeering. Beyond the racist connotations often attributed to criticisms of Detroit political figures, the problems here are not attributable to a single person.

Detroit City Council Districts 2013

In search of more sustainable civic engagement in the City, Detroiters have mixed opinions on the fact that this year's City Council and mayoral elections will be determined by districts for the first time in over 100 years. Will the districts truly be more representative or is this a disguise for gerrymandering districts heavy with white, business-interested, voters?

The Detroit mayoral race is one to watch for political buffs because the primary on August 6th narrowed the field of candidates from sixteen to two – but the Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr, is really the one who will be running the City, even post-election. As crazy and undemocratic as Michigan's Emergency Manager law is, many of our cities could have emergency financial managers and municipal bankruptcy in their futures.

Is this the future of governance in the American Municipality? What do you think of the political shifts taking place daily in Detroit and in your city?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.