Gilbert (David Coates)
Detroit’s problems got another national airing Sunday in a “60 Minutes” segment on CBS.
The piece, “Detroit on the Edge,” featured scenes of “what a great American city looks like when it goes bankrupt,” and opened with CBS News correspondent Bob Simon likening Detroit’s decline to a natural disaster or war zone, flashing scenes of the defunct Packard Plant, abandoned houses and darkened neighborhood streets.
Simon noted that Detroit’s financial troubles have been more than 50 years in the making for many reasons, “all true and all linked,” he said. The automotive industry slump, race riots, mass exodus, corruption, bad management and bad luck played a part, he said.
The hardships led Detroit to file in July for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history to shed some $18.5 billion in debt.
Simon detailed the blight, violent crime rate and public service shortfalls, including police response times, aging fire equipment, blighted homes and abandoned schools.
Amid the grim reality, though, Simon highlighted progress.
Quicken Loans Inc. founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert was lauded for “an oasis of activity” downtown. The billionaire Detroit native and real estate investor, who also owns the Cleveland Cavaliers, has invested more than $1 billion buying and renovating buildings and works to attract businesses and residents.
Gilbert has helped bring in more than 90 companies, including Chrysler Group LLC and Twitter, and provided seed money for more than 20 Internet startups.
Gilbert’s pitch to draw them in: “You can impact the outcome in Detroit,” he tells Simon. “And that sells. It’s crazy, but it sells. ... But here you can actually see — what you do affect a great American city and its hopefully historical comeback.”
After the show aired Sunday, Gilbert said on Twitter that he “expected more” from “60 Minutes.”
“Is a ‘me too’ story of mostly ‘ruin porn’ news? A city’s soul that will not die was the story & they missed it,” he wrote.
The “60 Minutes” footage highlighted Detroit’s urban farming projects and efforts by Motor City Blight Busters, a nonprofit group that has boarded up and demolished several hundred blighted and abandoned houses.
“Today, people use parts of (Detroit) as a dumping ground, literally,” said John George, the group’s co-founder and executive director told Simon during a ride-along. “People should not feel safe coming into someone’s neighborhood and dumping their trash.”
The nearly 15-minute piece also touches on Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s progress in his initial months in office and the controversy surrounding the discussions of slashing pensions and selling off city assets, including works from the Detroit Institute of Arts collection.
“We’re getting at some of the issues already,” Orr says, noting the movement of the state-created Public Lighting Authority and recent reforms in the Detroit Police Department.
Orr tells Simon “I’m sorry” for what pensioners could stand to lose. “This is unfortunate. I recognize how severe it is,” he says. “I’m by no means insensitive to the human cost, but we don’t have a choice. These choices have been made for us a long time ago.”