The once-great motor city continues a steady, serious decline into economic hardship. Detroit's population is down to around 700,000, compared to 1.8 million in the 1950s. It has the second-highest murder rate in the country. And the city's massive budget shortfalls recently prompted the state government to take over financial control of the city.
The announcement this year that 50 city parks would be closing due to lack of funds was the latest, depressing blow to Detroit. But just as temperatures began to warm up, Mayor Dave Bing declared that businesses, private donors, and foundations had come to the rescue.
Led by automotive interior manufacturer Lear Corporation — the Southfield, MI company made a $5 million donation — Bing managed to raise $14 million to salvage the city parks.
Lear made the largest contribution, but UAW-Ford unions, other auto companies like Ford Motor Company and GM, and foundations including W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan also contributed funds or other donations.
"I've become pretty adept at begging," Bing had joked in a news conference at the time.
The mayor was joking, but the city has been reliant on private fundraising to maintain its basic functions. Bing has raised $22 million for programs for seniors and youth, and businesses also gave $8 million to the city this year for ambulances and police cars. It's not only Detroit that's experiencing the unfortunate trend of private funding supplementing government functions, as states like California are also seemingly always on the brink of closing state parks.
Post-apocalyptic images come to mind when talking about Detroit, but it's still a major city, with beautiful and popular urban parks like Campus Martius and the Detroit Riverfront. Belle Isle Park is the largest urban island park in the country, with 982 acres of open space, a Conservatory and Nature Center. There's something especially upsetting about what Olmsted called the "lungs of a city" facing closure, since they’re so integral to basic happiness of residents.
The city is taking steps to nurse its public structures back to health. It's undergoing a financial restructuring, during which an early report declared it to be in "financial ruin," but will hopefully get the city back on track so the mayor no longer has to go hat in hand to local corporations.
And who knows, with real estate values and occupancy at an all-time low, maybe Detroit will be home the next urban renaissance. Until then, for now at least, enjoy the parks.