A 'Tale Of Two Cities' As Detroit Looks To 2014 It became the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy. Its former mayor was sentenced to 28 years in prison. And a TV personality compared it to Chernobyl. But a new year is on the horizon, and for some parts of Detroit, things are looking up. Really.
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A 'Tale Of Two Cities' As Detroit Looks To 2014

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A 'Tale Of Two Cities' As Detroit Looks To 2014

A 'Tale Of Two Cities' As Detroit Looks To 2014

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For the city of Detroit, this year has played out a lot like a Greek drama. Its former mayor was convicted of corruption. Then Detroit became the biggest city in American history to go bankrupt. And through it all, journalists and news crews have swarmed the city to file reports from a place that can look post-apocalyptic when framed a certain way.

Sarah Hulett of Michigan Radio tells us how Detroit residents are coping with all that attention.

SARAH HULETT, BYLINE: So there I was at Avalon Bakery in Detroit's midtown. The streets outside were a snowy, slushy, mostly unplowed mess, and all these customers want to do is pay for their loaf of Motown Multigrain, or Poletown Rye. But Detroiters are a gracious if weary bunch. So when they see yet another reporter sticking a microphone in their faces asking what do they think of all this media attention, they answer politely.

JEFF REID: Whatever bleeds leads, so people like to show the dilapidation and the poor parts and it's just so much ruin porn.

LESLIE DESHAZOR: It actually isn't surprising that the media has put so much attention on Detroit. I just wish that more of it were positive.

JONATHAN RAJEWSKI: It's become the kind of like stepchild city everyone likes to make fun of. Everybody's done it, everybody's made fun of Detroit.

HULETT: That's Jeff Reid, Leslie DeShazor and Jonathan Rejewski. And even if they're not always crazy about the way their city is portrayed, none would argue with the fact that Detroit had a newsworthy year.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A federal judge today threw the book at the former mayor of Detroit. Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in prison for widespread corruption that...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It's a sad day for the Motor City. Detroit has now filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history....

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: The only place I've ever been that looks anything like Detroit does now: Chernobyl. I'm not being funny. That's the truth.

HULETT: But Detroit's story is not just about astonishing corruption and dystopian landscapes.

NANCY KAFFER: Our new cliche for Detroit is it is a tale of two cities.

HULETT: That's Nancy Kaffer. She's a columnist for the Detroit Free Press and she's grabbing a grocery cart to pick up ingredients to make cookies for friends who are helping her move. She's relocating from the suburbs to, wait for it, Detroit.

KAFFER: We're here at the Midtown Detroit Whole Foods, which is the first Whole Foods to open in Detroit.

HULETT: This Whole Foods is part of the up and coming, hip, more affluent Detroit. The store opened over the summer to great fanfare. In the past year, this neighborhood and a few others have seen remarkable revitalization; big companies are relocating downtown, bringing thousands of workers to the city's core.

You can now find boutiques, bars and restaurants, nightlife, people. Nancy Kaffer says the fact that Detroit's story is so complicated makes it all the more fascinating.

KAFFER: Every year that I've been covering the city, we always say this is the most pivotal moment, this is the biggest turning point in the city's whole history. And it's always true.

HULETT: In large part that's because Detroit is the poster child for distressed cities. Its problems are bigger, its scandals more spectacular, but fundamentally they're the same problems facing dozens of cities. So how Detroit deals with its financial mess, as it strives to stem its decline, is something a lot of people are interested in.

Back at Avalon Bakery, Jeff Reid says he'd sum up 2013 like this.

REID: I would call the last year kind of a cleansing year, and the beginning of a renaissance.

HULETT: Reid moved to the area to take a job at Ford, but at first he lived outside the city.

REID: I moved to Canton because I was afraid that I'd get killed if I lived in the city of Detroit.

HULETT: Then he visited and like others he fell in love with it. He moved here a little over a year ago. Reid says he thinks the city is maturing and he points to the fact that voters elected Mike Duggan mayor last month. Duggan is white and he moved to Detroit from the suburbs specifically to run for mayor.

The last time the city elected a white mayor was 1969. But Reid says it's people outside the city who are making a big deal about Duggan's race. He says Detroiters just want someone to make things work.

REID: They don't care what color your mayor is. They just want the snow plowed, the trash picked up and the streetlights to come on. They don't care if a white guy does it or a black guy does it.

HULETT: 2014 will surely test the city's ability to do those basic municipal things, while at the same time it tries to pull off a massive financial restructuring. Year after year Detroiters have hoped that now their city has finally hit rock bottom. But the thing about Detroiters is they usually believe a renaissance is right around the corner. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Hulett.

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