Detroit: A Ground Zero for Innovation?
Robert Taylor of PolicyMic recently wrote about private companies in Detroit whose growth might surprise you. Yes, the run-down, bankrupt city of Detroit is seeing growth. And the growth is in fields that you wouldn’t normally expect.
To give you a nice summary of Detriot’s current status:
Detroit is absolutely bankrupt. The city faces a cash shortfall of more than $100 million by June 30. Long-term liabilities, including pensions, exceed $14 billion. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder wants to bail out Detroit's city government even further. Thanks to the financial situation of Detroit, emergency services like police and fire departments are being severely cut short. 911 is only taking calls during business hours. Homes have been abandoned making parts of the city look like a ghost town.
With the loss of public services, even emergency services, what are people to do? Answer: Turn to the private sector.
Private cops: Started back in 1995 by Dale Brown, Threat Management Center has grown to 1,500 clients. Brown’s company is funded voluntarily, which means that his customers don’t go to jail for not paying; rather, if Brown’s company doesn’t provide the services the customers want they'll shut their doors.
Private transit: Last year the Detroit Bus Company was founded by a 25-year-old entrepreneur, Andy Didorosi. The buses run on soy-based biofuel and don’t follow a route. If you need a lift, just call or text and the bus will come pick you up. It’s cheaper than the government buses, and includes WiFi. Perhaps best of all: free rides for students that attend after-school programs.
Private bench builders: Some students from the Detroit Enterprise Academy wanted to build benches that included book shelves at the city’s bus stops. They built one bench, but the city deemed it “unapproved” and took it away. I guess only cities can make benches.
Taylor provides other examples of ways that people are adapting and innovating in the bankrupt city, including repurposing vacant lots into gardens. Detroit still has a long way to go to recover from their self-induced mess, and I hope that they can learn from their experience to not make the same mistakes.
Private businesses can, indeed, do what people typically think only the government can do. Maybe we don’t need the government to deliver our mail, regulate the passenger plane and train industries, run garbage trucks, pave roads, manage parks and the list goes on.