The Detroit Free Press reports a little controversy over last Sunday night’s ’60 Minutes’ feature of the largest city in America to declare bankruptcy.

Bob SimonCBS’ Bob Simon said that Detroit reminded him of Mogadishu.  “And Mogadishu is the worst place I’ve ever been … not the worst place in terms of danger, but the worst place in terms of what it looks like.”

Ten years ago we were working on the west side in Detroit.  Salvation Army friends who had recently returned to the USA after several years in Russia came to visit.  Not Mogadishu, but worse than what they had seen in any of the former Soviet bloc nations.

Bob Simon’s comment about Detroit’s decaying neighborhoods, “you get in the car and drive for 5 minutes” from downtown, true.

Visit Detroit and stay close to Wayne State, downtown and a very few other places.   Unremarkable as to urban decay.   But move out into the neighborhoods.  You will see some things that take your breath away.  I’ve long admired Lowell Boileau’s Detroit photos which say much about the quiet decline of the streets where ordinary Detroiters live.08a

Quiet decline.  “At one point, Simon tells George [John George, founder of Motor City Blight Busters] the street looks as bad as any he has seen in the U.S.  George replies that ‘if all of this would have happened overnight, you’d see FEMA here, the president, helicopters flying all over.  But because it took 50 years, there’s no urgency.'”

September 11, 2001.  My appointment with officials at the Coleman Young Building cancelled.  Everyone told to evacuate the building down the stairs; they shut down all the elevators.  Like all Americans, stunned and anxious.  Late afternoon I exit the Southfield Expressway at Joy Road in the 15 passenger Ford van on my way to pick up young people and leaders for our Tuesday evening youth activities.   It’s warm, sun shining, people are driving with their windows open.  I am listening to the news from New York.  And then I become aware surrounded by rush hour Detroit drivers that no other radios are tuned to New York.  Music.  No news.

There’s been no urgency to address the decline of Detroit.  And on 9/11 there didn’t seem to be any urgency in Detroit about what happened that one day in a city several hundred miles to the east.  Just as there was and continues to be no awareness let alone urgency by a nation about what has been going on for half a century in Detroit.

60 Minutes and other news prophets now have our ears tuned to the Detroit bankruptcy story.  Perhaps we are stunned.  And if so, this could be midpoint in a turn around century for Detroit.