Kevyn Orr: How Detroit can rise again

Much of Detroit’s dysfunction is also due to simple complacency. “For a long time the city was dumb, lazy, happy and rich,” he explains. “Detroit has been the center of more change in the 20th century than I dare say virtually any other city, but that wealth allowed us to have a covenant [that held] if you had an eighth grade education, you’ll get 30 years of a good job and a pension and great health care, but you don’t have to worry about what’s going to come.”

But as it became increasingly clear this promise was unrealistic, “there needed to be some very nimble and agile thinking and leadership that was listened to,” he adds. “There was nimble and agile thinking and leadership that was spoken—but nobody listened.”

Due to a failure to adapt, “we lost our edge,” and not just to the U.S.’s global competitors, but to challengers in the South like Atlanta, Chattanooga and Dallas. Atlanta offers a nice foil to Detroit.

Fifty years ago, “What was Atlanta? Atlanta was a small city that had a bakery. . . . I used to drive through Atlanta in the ’70s when I was coming back from Michigan, ’76 through ’83, and Atlanta had peach tree hospital and the varsity drive-in restaurant.” Now Atlanta is among the 10 largest economies in the U.S. Adaptive political leadership in Atlanta encouraged entrepreneurship and development.

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