The end of the tunnel.

I’m kind of surprised the Detroit bankruptcy news of Friday didn’t make a bigger splash, news-wise. I checked the usual aggregation sites and found most were still dithering over election results, but trust me: This is huge. On Friday, the judge presiding over the case approved the city’s plan of adjustment, i.e., their blueprint for shedding debt, satisfying creditors and setting the city up for what all hope will be a clear path forward.

It’s pretty complicated, and not easy to sum up for civilians, but here are the bullet points: The city discharges about $7 billion in debt, most pensioners take a 4.5 percent cut (and forego future COLA and health-care increases), the noisiest creditors settled for mostly real estate and the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection is preserved.

I have to agree with Laura Berman here: It was nothing short of miraculous:

The city’s Chapter 9 had begun in shame. But somehow the legal process provided enough incentives and framework for everyone involved to get things done. If (Judge Steven) Rhodes saw it as “all about shared sacrifice,” it was also about high stakes, huge dollars, and the whole world watching — all combined to enable a group of people to focus on solutions rather than acrimony.

Detroit, a city that’s been hard-pressed to get anything done for decades, was suddenly a place where deals got done. Problems that had been insoluble — think Detroit Water and Sewer Department — were resolved by mutual consent of parties that wouldn’t even communicate previously.

“We had a 40 year dispute solved — and it was like a footnote,” (Emergency Manager Kevyn) Orr said of the water department compromise, which created a regional authority.

The bankruptcy enabled a series of voluntary settlements that left little room for appeal: Not a long, litigious nightmare but a framework to quickly and creatively fix a broken city.

This NYT piece gives you a good overview of the so-called “grand bargain” that preserved the art and bolstered pensions.

It’s an imperfect solution, but what would be perfect? And this is very close to perfect for a situation that looked so, so dire only a year ago. I told someone the other day that walking around downtown reminds me of the opening scenes of “Atlantic City.” Woodward Avenue is torn up for the installation of a light-rail line. (Not a very good one, but a start.) Scaffolding rises up half the buildings, which are being converted, restored, condo-ized. Everyone’s complaining about how high rents are, and if you want to buy, you better have cash, because no one wants to wait on the banks to figure out appraisals in a market this crazy.

Of course the stubborn problem of the blossoming core and the withering outer neighborhoods remains unsolved. But streetlights are slowly being replaced, a new auction program to basically give away housing to people willing to bring it back is thriving, and if no one knows what the city will look like in a decade, there is cause for optimism. For the first time in a long while.

I’m just waiting for the pundit class to catch on, and it will be interesting to see what they have to say. Virginia Postrel will surely be disappointed that the art isn’t going to be redistributed to cities where it will be more appreciated — like the one she lives in — but just knowing she will have to live with this charming passage around her neck for the rest of her life…

(G)reat artworks shouldn’t be held hostage by a relatively unpopular museum in a declining region. The cause of art would be better served if they were sold to institutions in growing cities where museum attendance is more substantial and the visual arts are more appreciated than they’ve ever been in Detroit. Art lovers should stop equating the public good with the status quo.

…will be good enough for me. (Just an aside here: Where does a woman with the title of “culture columnist” get off writing that the art “should be sold to institutions,” ignoring the fact nearly all museums don’t buy much of anything, relying on wealthy donors to die and leave them stuff. There are some exceptions; I believe the Getty, in Los Angeles, still shops. I also believe Postrel lives in Los Angeles. What a coincidence. But even the Getty could hardly pick up the best of the DIA’s collection. Van Gogh’s self-portrait would end up in fucking Dubai or Moscow.)

OK, then. So it was a weekend for toasts. Also, another movie — “Whiplash,” which I highly recommend. It’s the story about what happens when a talented musician gets the wrong teacher, an abusive, screaming, hitting, mind-fucking asshole who just might be exactly what he needs. J.K. Simmons plays the teacher, well enough that the ticket-seller actually trigger-warned us: “It’s a very intense movie, and you need to understand that. We’ve had complaints.” Oh, for fuck’s sake.

So, bloggage? There’s this, a Bob Herbert column in Politico, on Bill Gates, education reformer:

There used to be a running joke in the sports world about breaking up the Yankees because they were so good. Gates felt obliged to break up America’s high schools because they were so bad. Smaller schools were supposed to attack the problems of low student achievement and high dropout rates by placing students in a more personal, easier-to-manage environment. Students, teachers and administrators would be more familiar with one another. Acts of violence and other criminal behavior would diminish as everybody got to know everybody else. Academic achievement would soar.

That was Bill Gates’s grand idea. From 2000 to 2009, he spent $2 billion and disrupted 8 percent of the nation’s public high schools before acknowledging that his experiment was a flop. The size of a high school proved to have little or no effect on the achievement of its students. At the same time, fewer students made it more difficult to field athletic teams. Extracurricular activities withered. And the number of electives offered dwindled.

Gates said it himself in the fall of 2008, “Simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for.”

Really? You don’t say.

And with that, we start off another action-packed week. I hope yours goes well.

Posted at 9:04 pm in Current events, Detroit life |

20 responses to “The end of the tunnel.”

  1. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on November 9, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    Glad to hear good news for Detroit — meanwhile, down here in supposedly superior Ohio (or so I’m always hearing re: that state up north), we’re looking at yet another step towards rote drill-farm brain-dead achievement-test processing centers, aka dysfunctional-by-design schools.

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  2. beb said on November 9, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    Waait, because a small high school can’t field a good football team they’re a failure? No wonder education reform is going nowhere. People have their heads up their … misguided expectations.

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  3. alex said on November 9, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    Made it back from my delightful week in Chicago. Heather, and anyone else here who would like to meet face to face sometime, I would be open to doing that on one of these visits. Not sure when the next one will be, but my friends in Wadsworth would love for me and my partner to come for a stay-cation with them in the summer. Incredible spread they have there. It’s an entire equestrian community. My friend Dede has always been an animal lover and although she got into horses relatively late in life, she has made it her full-time vocation. She is one of relatively few people there who actually rides her own horses and is surprised that other people are just keeping them as sort of expensive yard pets and hiring other people to do all of the work. She is a lucky lady who no longer needs to work for a living and has fully devoted herself to this new hobby. She has a couple of very calm and sweet geldings which she chose because they’re much easier-going than mares or and tend to get along better with each other than other combinations.

    I didn’t try riding today. As an inexperienced rider I would only ride in her arena and not on the trails because horses can be spooked easily by anything and throw riders off.

    Well, time for night-night and back to work tomorrow.

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  4. Deborah said on November 10, 2014 at 4:25 am

    Alex, I would love to meet up when you’re in town again, with other Chicagoans as well, one of these days. It was fun to meet Scout and her partner Pat when they were in Santa Fe.

    Here’s hoping that things continue to improve in Detroit, which they no doubt will.

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  5. adrianne said on November 10, 2014 at 7:51 am

    The schadenfreude is strong after reading Virginia Postrel’s “Detroit, you don’t DESERVE a first-class art museum” screed. The Detroit bankruptcy case, miraculously, may end up saving the city. A rare thing these days.

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  6. LAMary said on November 10, 2014 at 9:38 am

    beb, the amount of money spent on high school football is mind boggling. I hear the mothers of football players in my office chating and can’t believe they’re talking about high school sports. And their teams suck btw. I can only imagine what schools with good teams spend.

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  7. Sue said on November 10, 2014 at 10:46 am

    alex, depending on location, maybe I can come down from WI?

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  8. brian stouder said on November 10, 2014 at 10:51 am

    I’d like to think that, if I was a millionaire (let alone a billionaire!) – that I would have the presence of mind to emulate (for example) one of our locals, Chuck Surack – who generously supports our public schools (especially marching bands and music), rather than investing in some sort of pie-in-the-sky panacea that I thought up my own-self.

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  9. alex said on November 10, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Sue, whereabouts are you?

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  10. Connie said on November 10, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    Beb, I would be interested in your take on the Detroit bankruptcy as a city employee. I assumed you and your job will move to the reorganized and separate from the city water and sewer authority. Does your pension still take the bankruptcy hit? Which turned out to be far less than you all originally expected.

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  11. Charlotte said on November 10, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    Alex — I spent much of my childhood in Wadsworth! My dad hunted with Mill Creek, and Bud and Pat Murphy (the master of foxhounds and his wife) pretty much raised us. I spent every weekend during hunting season kicking around that quadrant between 132 and 173, and I-94 and 45. Still have family with barns in the area — oh! and my first job out of college was running the Young Riders Championships at Temple Farms. My first and last horse show job — got OUT of the family business as fast as possible. It’s a terrific part of the country, and I”m so glad to see most of it staying in farmland (my brother’s old pal Larry Leffingwell at Temple started the organic farms as a way of demonstrating to the family the value of land that grows food that close to the city. He’s made a pretty good go of it too.)

    Snow here this morning! Supposed to go down to zero overnight. Woodstove is chuckling away, storm windows are on, spent the weekend putting the garden to bed. Bring it on winter!

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  12. Judybusy said on November 10, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Charlotte, we did many of the same tasks! I’m taking a chance and not putting chicken wire around my tree peony–I’d put in another azalea and used the wire cage for that to keep out the bunnies. We also decided it was time to put on the heated mattress pad, with the very cold temps forecast. Perhaps not as cozy and picturesque as the woodstove, but ohmygod after getting that last winter, I don’t know how I’ve survived in previous winters. I’ve got tomorrow off, and hope to go XC skiing. Also making a beef barley soup tonight and a chicken pot pie tomorrow.

    Very good news about Detroit–I would have totally missed this story because THE DEMOCRATS LOST THE ELECTION. In case anyone missed that.

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  13. beb said on November 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    What do I as a city worker think of the bankruptcy results? Not much. The city has shed a ton of debt but it’s still a structurally sick municipality. There is too little employment in the city and too much of that is minimum wage. At the same time the city covers a vast expanse so basic services will be expense (fire, police, EMS, water). Can the city live within its revenue? Probably not. Maybe Mayor Duggin can work the sort of miracle he did with the Detroit Medical Center, but after him will come another generations of grifters.

    As for the Water Department, it has been trying to restructure itself for the last three years or so. Changes in titles, changes in duties, trying to lay off as many workers as possible. It’s been demoralizing since no one know anything about what’s going on and everyone fears for the worst. And this was before the department was spun-off. There’s no clue what the new water authority will do once they are in place. All we really know is that our wages are not going up, medical expenses are going up and our pension (our till end of life fixed income) has been cut three different ways. I’m just glad it’s over.

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  14. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on November 10, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Did anyone watch Anthony Bourdain last night on CNN, his “Parts Unknown” series? He visited western Massachusetts and the tip of the Cape, old haunts for him and a venture into his own history as a heroin user. No real closing “and this is what should be done,” and I respect him all the more for that, in a way. A good piece of inquiry and reflection.

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  15. brian stouder said on November 10, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    A good piece of inquiry and reflection.

    Jeff, I’m on a dry-spell with the TV, lately. Other than s little MSNBC each evening, and F1 racing and The Voice (gotta love Pherrell), it’s mostly been “meh”, lately.

    But I will say, in all honesty, I was recently somewhat gob-smacked by the newest Viagra commercials*.

    In the newest batch, instead of 3-piece band music playing bumpety-bump lounge music while you see images of older men with tall trees in the background (and/or women painting benches with steady strokes, etc), they’re a bit more…..stark; almost accusatory!

    They feature a timelessly attractive woman with a fetching British accent (and no bumpety-bump 3-piece band accompaniment) imploring men to “finish what they start-ted”.

    The commercial leaves me a little unsettled, every time I see it; they really and truly are “the hard sell” (so to speak!)

    *Apparently they target The Voice/F1 fans, amongst other viewers.

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  16. Sue said on November 10, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    alex, I’m NW of Milwaukee. It takes me about 2 hours to get to my sister’s in Arlington Heights, so Chicago isn’t that much farther, maybe if I use the Edens it would be quicker still. But I’m not sure I want to drive all the way to the south side or south suburbs if that’s where you’ll be meeting; that’s a big chunk of driving time.

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  17. alex said on November 10, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Sue, I would always more than likely be on the north lakefront or in the northern ‘burbs. Funny, of a Sunday my friends and I used to go road tripping on Sheridan and before we knew it we would end up in Milwaukee having dinner. I always marveled that it was pretty much solidly developed the whole way there, lots of beautiful properties to gawk at.

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  18. Deborah said on November 10, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    I walked six miles today in Chicago, I haven’t done that since I was last here in July. It is so easy to walk in this city. Less so in Santa Fe, where the car is king except in the plaza area. It got up to 64 and sun in the afternoon, so quite nice. Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain in the morning and then go downhill from there.

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  19. Jolene said on November 10, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    If you are interested in the Obamacare case recently taken up by the Supreme Court that I wrote about a couple of days ago, check out the article at the link below. In it, Dahlia Lithwick, along with a colleague, does her usual brilliant job of explaining things clearly, and they are more optimistic about the outcome of the case to boot.

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  20. Sherri said on November 10, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    I spent a large part of today immersed in another Bill Gates education initiative: the Common Core standards. I’m serving on a curriculum adoption committee for our district for middle school math. We’ll be meeting once a month for the next two years, all day, and today was our second meeting. I’m not knocking the Common Core standards, at least not what I’ve seen in the middle school math so far. Implementation is more important than standards.

    But the difference between me and Bill Gates is, I don’t have billions of dollars. So, when I have ideas about how to teach math to middle school students, I have to spend hours in meetings studying research and discussing those ideas with a bunch of other community members and middle school math teachers, and then hopefully we find a curriculum that satisfies the standards and all our ideas and needs. If I’m Bill Gates, I could spend a few hundred million dollars, and get someone to develop the curriculum that I want, and give it away to get it adopted.
    (That’s more or less what Gates is doing with his “Big History” curriculum for high school.)

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