Good morning! We’re not gonna do another look at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s future, even if the latest New Yorker piece leads with a juicy tidbit involving Mayor Mike Duggan. Instead, we’re looking back 10 years to Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy.
On July 18, 2013, yours truly was frantically filing articles for a national outlet while using spotty internet (that’s what I get for trying to work poolside on a summer Friday). But the bankruptcy filing was just the capstone after a grueling state takeover and years of austerity measures: cuts to services, worker layoffs, all sorts of closures, threats to abandon low-population neighborhoods, and few resources for struggling residents or those in crisis. No matter how you feel about Detroit’s “revitalization,” a lot has changed in the last decade.
Of course, culture is as vibrant as it ever was, and in this week’s Detour, we’ve got events, wins and new projects from the city’s chefs, musicians and artists. We’re also looking at an insufferable construction season, the latest upheaval in Hamtramck, office vacancy and a group of scientists at the forefront of public health research who spend their days testing our
poop wastewater. Have a lovely weekend — go pick some mulberries for homemade scones (and wine?!). <3 Kate and Team Detour
Detroit in Five
Budget bonanza: Big bucks are coming to Detroit — $210 million, to be specific — as part of the largest budget in state history, set to be signed by Whitmer. The money will be directed toward a number of projects around the city, including $23 million for upgrades to Belle Isle, $4 million to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and $12 million to Midtown Detroit Inc. to create an 83-acre walkable museum district. (BridgeDetroit)
WFH forever: Downtown Detroit — at least from 9-5 — is quiet, and dust is gathering in the offices high above street level. Office vacancy rates are up, and leasing levels are about half what it’s been in the last few years. But has anyone told the developers who are still betting on big commercial real estate projects? Don’t worry, the Ilitches have a plan: charging a premium for a “highly amenitized Lifestyle Office.” (Outlier Media)
All jammed up: You aren’t imagining it — there really is more construction this summer. Over the next few years, an even busier summer construction season will become the norm as some of our aging freeways and roads are completely dug up and replaced. (Outlier)
Pride and the fall in Hamtramck: To hear Mayor Amer Ghalib tell it, a “militia” of local politicians armed with a Pride flag invaded his city last weekend. A couple of city commissioners — now fired — and some protesters raised the rainbow flag on a city flagpole in defiance of recent ordinance that was widely interpreted as a blow against LGBTQ+ people. Speaking on former GOP governor candidate Tudor Dixon’s podcast, Ghalib insisted the city wants to stay “neutral” on LGBTQ+ expression. Dixon’s previous foray into Islamophobia didn’t come up. (Detroit Free Press, Michigan Advance, Pride Source, Metro Times)
From boom to bust and back: Detroit is marking the 10th anniversary of its bankruptcy, the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy filing ever based on the amount of debt owed. The approximately $18 billion in debt stemmed from unfunded pension and retiree health care liabilities, plus debt from the water department and government bond sales. Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager appointed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder to lead the city through Chapter 9, took a victory lap this week and called it “the most personally satisfying” bankruptcy he’s ever overseen, in that it was “for people as opposed to corporations or businesses” (though retirees might have a different take). Now with a credit rating at its highest level since 2009, Detroit is once again taking on debt, selling $100 million in municipal government bonds to finance blight remediation around the city. (Michigan Radio, Associated Press, Bloomberg)
Ten-year stats snapshot: The city’s financial health has improved, and it collected $402 million in income tax revenue last year, compared to $254 million in 2014. The Detroit Land Bank Authority now holds just over 6,000 vacant residential structures, compared to 40,000 in 2014. Estimates of police response time 10 years ago were anywhere from 20 minutes to almost an hour, while today the police department says it takes police about 12 minutes to respond to emergencies. The fire department’s response time also went down to eight minutes this year, compared to 18 minutes in 2014. At the time of bankruptcy, the unemployment rate was about 21%. This year, it reached a low of 4.2%. While poverty rates have decreased significantly, as of 2021, nearly one in three Detroiters are still living in poverty. And that key metric — population — may have fared the worst of all, with about a 10% decline in the last decade. (Axios Detroit, Freep)
How retirees, creditors are faring: Detroit’s spiraling debts largely stemmed from its outstanding financial obligations to two groups, pensioners and creditors. Both incurred severe reductions in their payments as part of the “Grand Bargain” approved by bankruptcy court. All city retirees lost their medical benefits and get smaller monthly payments today. Firefighters, who are forced to retire at 60, often have to find other work to make ends meet. Two major bond insurance companies got some real estate out of the deal, including the Joe Louis Arena site, the old police headquarters and a number of properties on the RiverWalk. Bedrock has scooped up many of these properties, which are in various states of development (paywalled). (Reuters, AP, Freep, Crain’s Detroit Business)
Emergency management under the microscope: Detroit’s bankruptcy was preceded by the state appointment of an emergency manager, the same legal mechanism that set off the devastating chain of events that poisoned Flint. There is plenty of criticism (and a failed lawsuit) about the emergency management law, because it undermines democratic rights and the power of local elected officials. Even though Democrats are now in power, they won’t commit to changing it. (The Atlantic, ACLU of Michigan, ProPublica)
Lost to time: Remember when Queen Bey herself (obliquely) referenced bankruptcy? Or when a local artist eased the bankruptcy pain with a giant can of Crisco? How about when everyone from the “RoboCop” screenwriter to Mark Wahlberg was asked for their two cents on the city’s fate? Remember the proposal for cities like Ann Arbor to “rent” swathes of Detroit? Or for Canada to just buy it? Other “save Detroit” ideas from a decade ago: Green space galore, urban planning, a gayborhood, (photographs of) architecture, a private university, hipsters and a billionaire, a tax shelter for the rich, no taxes at all and selling all the art (that one had legs). Invite immigrants to resettle here, have federal employees relocate here, make city employees stay here, and make the city smaller while you’re at it. One more from PETA, you guessed it — veganism, baby. Don’t worry, we won’t also make you revisit all the “___ killed Detroit” and “Is ___ the next Detroit” examples in this journalistic genre. We can’t wait to see which of today’s ideas stand the test of time in the ’30s. (Billboard, HuffPost, CNN, CBS News, The Century Foundation, Global News, New Scientist, Next City, Slate, Wired, The Atlantic, Architect Magazine, Washington Post, New Yorker, Freep, ThinkProgress via Wayback Machine, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)
How poop became one of Detroit’s best tools to fight pandemics
By Koby Levin
In April of 2020, when COVID-19 seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time, Brijen Miyani, a doctoral student at Michigan State University, drove to Detroit to hunt for the virus in the sewers.
Weeks earlier, when his adviser asked whether he wanted to drop his research on herpes and shift to more work on COVID, he did not hesitate. “I was like, ‘Hell yeah, let’s do this,’” Miyani recalled.
Culture & Community
🍽️ When Chef Greg Beard Sr. took over Brother’s Barbecue to open Soul-N-The Wall, he gained more than a new building — he got a new menu item as well, the Boogaloo sandwich. Vigilante Kitchen + Bar not only hires workers recovering from addiction, but provides them with on-site support services including counseling and recovery meetings. Mezcal Mexican Bar and Kitchen opened in Ferndale last year, and now the fine-dining restaurant is expanding to Detroit. If you’re into Detroit rap, you’re familiar with Icewear Vezzo, but he’s not the only one making moves. His wife, Kiara Smith, is opening juice bar Fresh and Pressed in Troy this weekend.
👨🍳 Saffron De Twah Chef Omar Anani wins regional semifinals on Food Network’s “Chopped: All-American Showdown” and now has a chance at a $50,000 prize. He’s also crowdfunding for a community kitchen and meals for residents near the eastside restaurant…
🌼 Detroit Creative Society providing young creatives in Southwest Detroit tools they need to grow and flourish…
🎛️ At Wayne State University’s J Dilla workshop, K-12 teachers learn modern production and techniques for introducing music into lesson plans…
🎶 New, local music from Dames Brown, Curtis Roach, Illingsworth, Toughie…
(Freep, Hour Detroit, Eater Detroit, Metro Times, LaunchGood, Model D, BridgeDetroit, Essence Magazine)
🎷 The 31st annual Concert of Colors takes over the Detroit Institute of Arts and other cultural institutions through Sunday. With too many acclaimed performances to mention — from reggae to Arab jazz to Greek dance and a Montreal acrobatics troupe that incorporates traditional Guinean instruments — you’ll want to make it a multiday multicultural extravaganza. There will also be talks on music, culture and art. Free.
🎁 Celebrate Detroit’s 332nd anniversary at the 10th annual Raise the Flag Fest, tonight through Tuesday. This five-day event includes a pre-party at Greektown’s Delux Bar & Lounge, a charity fundraiser at McShane’s Irish Pub in Corktown and a Detroit Hustles Harder-sponsored block party in Eastern Market, headlined by just about every rising local musician you could think of. Free.
🐝 Get the buzz on honeybees from the experts at Bees in the D on Friday at the Outdoor Adventure Center by the RiverWalk. Learn, snack, sip local wine and craft a pollinator habitat for your own outdoor space! Pre-registration is required. 21+, $27.
🥳 Join other Detroit residents at the second annual Community Fun Day at Belle Isle Aquarium on Saturday as part of the 2023 Freedom Arts Festival. The afternoon includes art, music, storytelling, games and food trucks. One nifty activity: a cyanotype constellation workshop using the sun and seeds, inspired by the work of artist Sonya Clark.
🌸 Head over to the gardens at Detroit Abloom on Saturday to celebrate Vegan Fest with live music, vendors and food demos. Free.
🖼️ Enjoy an evening of Art in the Garden on Saturday, showcasing the talented works of local artists at Griffin Gardens in northwest Detroit. Free.
🍜 Little Asian Bites hosts a night market on Sunday (during the day) where participants can sample local vendors and businesses selling Asian and Asian American cuisine. Head over to Shed 5 in Eastern Market to partake in an integral part of Asian culture. Free.
🎨 Detroit legend DJ Bruce Bailey, visual artist Daniel Cascardo and Motown legend and Michigan Arts Access ambassador Martha Reeves will be in attendance at the Midtown Art Fair. The fair also features artists from All Means All, a support program for artists with disabilities. Buy or make art amidst the music and food offerings on Sunday in the Cultural Center. Free.
📖 Two-time recording artist Peace Bell will host a writing workshop and open mic on Tuesday in the Dequindre Cut. Poems on Place welcomes participants to listen and share stories, songs or poems on community, identity and space. Free.
⚽ Kick it with the Detroit City Fieldhouse on Wednesday and help cheer on the home team at a Women’s World Cup watch party, as defending champs Team USA square off against the Netherlands. Food, drinks and giveaways. Free.
Written by Aaron, Alex, Koby, Lynelle, Malak, Miriam, Noah, SaMya, Sarah and Kate, who feels positively youthful compared to the governor’s population council.
Sorry to tell ya — despite the lore, Superman ice cream probably isn’t local (or good)