The tragedy of Detroit

By Joseph Sunde

“Detroit developed best when it was bottom-up,” says Harry Veryser, economist and professor at University of Detroit Mercy. “When small communities, small parishes, small schools were formed… that’s when Detroit prospered.”

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In a recent discussion on what makes cities flourish, Chris Horst and I argued that cities need a unique blend of local community action, good governance, and strong business to thrive. Cities like Detroit have monstrous and complex problems, and the solutions will not come from additional top-down tweaking and tinkering. Rather, any such solutions will stem from complex networks of strong families, life-giving churches, healthy businesses, and intersecting institutions, all of which is furthered when governments rightly relate to their citizens.

Veryser’s overview is quite helpful in tying these pieces together, as his history of Detroit’s problems includes at least some discussion of each. The path to flourishing in Detroit has long been disrupted by the increasing momentum of planners and rent seekers. To save the city, it will require reorientation from top back to bottom, from centralization to spontaneous, and throughout the process, the church bears a heavy responsibility to offer prophetic voice and appropriate discipleship.

“The community has to develop itself; it’s organic,” says Veryser. “It’s not going to come back with government planning; it’s going to come back when government gets out of the way and decisions get made at the local level again.”

Adapted from Acton Institute PowerBlog.  Image courtesy Acton Institute.

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About Acton Institute

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is named after the great English historian, Lord John Acton (1834-1902). Inspired by his work on the relation between liberty and morality, the Acton Institute seeks to articulate a vision of society that is both free and virtuous, the end of which is human flourishing. To that end, the Institute engages in research, publishing, documentary film production, engagement with the media, and organizes seminars aimed at educating religious leaders, business executives, entrepreneurs, university professors, and academic researchers. Acton promotes sound economic thinking and an awareness of the moral underpinnings necessary for a free society.


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