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.