Keith B. Richburg, China correspondent at the Washington Post and a native of Detroit, reminsces about the city’s glory days and the reasons for its long slide into blight and decay. 

My heart aches today knowing that my beloved home town of Detroit now has the notoriety of being the largest American city to officially file for bankruptcy. But the filing was really just a formality. Detroit has really been broke, broken and in decay now for decades — a shell of a city, with a small downtown and some scattered neighborhoods dissected by miles of abandoned storefronts and vacant lots.

The Detroit I remember ceased to exist a long time ago. But it was kept alive by a pride, a nostalgia for its former glory, and an illusion that revival was just around the next corner. We who love Detroit — even people like me who abandoned it long ago — were all complicit. I could visit for a week or a weekend, set the rental car stereo to the Motown oldies or classic Detroit rock songs from a bygone era, take in a Tigers game, have a hot dog and a Vernor’s ginger ale at Lafayette Coney Island downtown, and comfort myself with the fiction that this was still the same city I knew growing up as a kid.

Of course, the old neighborhoods are nothing like they were. My older cousins and aunties in their 70s, 80s and 90s are still in the same houses as before. But theirs are some of the few houses still standing on streets that are now mostly abandoned; they live behind metal burglar bars on their windows and the curtains and shades pulled tight. If I go in the winter, I know their streets will never be cleared of snow and ice, so the driving is treacherous. And I never go out at night. My old house on McGraw Street burned down and was reduced to rubble years ago.

Read Keith B. Richburg's entire piece at the Washington Post.

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