My examination of Detroit in the quarter-century after World War II suggests that the origins of the urban crisis are much earlier than social scientists have recognized, its roots deeper, more tangled, and perhaps more intractable.  No one social program or policy, no single force, whether housing segregation, social welfare programs, or deindustrialization, could have driven Detroit and other cities like it from their positions of economic and political dominance; there is no simple explanation for the inequality and marginality that beset the urban poor. It is only through the complex and interwoven histories of race, residence, and work in the postwar era that the state of today’s cities and their impoverished residents can be fully understood and confronted.

That’s from the introduction of historian Thomas Sugrue’s seminal book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit.  It is one unparalleled starting place for anyone trying to understand the events of the last several days in Detroit.  Even in Detroit’s heyday just after World War II, when it was the fifth-largest city in the U.S., Professor Sugrue finds the seeds of its decline.  And the dynamics between the state government in Lansing and the City of Detroit are certainly one part of the story, as Professor Sugrue told The Globe and Mail recently:

The governor and state legislature have mostly been elected by voters who are profoundly suspicious of Detroit, who see it as a sinkhole, a corrupt Third-World country, emblem of urban misrule. They believe that if their tax dollars go to the city, the money is going to be wasted on more mismanagement.

For  the full post-bankruptcy interview with Professor Sugrue, see here.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Dan Hopkins

Dan Hopkins is an assistant professor of government at Georgetown University.