For anyone who cares about the story of Benton Harbor, Michigan, the new feature in New York Times Magazine is worth savoring. Benton Harbor is the first town in Michigan to have its local democracy essentially shelved under the revamped emergency manager law. For us, the question has always been whether taking democracy away is a prerequisite to fixing a broken place.
With terrific, nuanced reporting, Jonathan Mahler homes in on the disparity between the economic reality for people in Benton Harbor and the economic ambitions of those who want to build a luxury golf resort on land that includes the town’s treasured park. He writes:
[I]magine that you live in a city where generations of residents have struggled to find work, a city that has stubbornly resisted decades worth of attempts to reverse its fortunes. Then imagine being told, without a hint of irony, that the answer to your problems is a $500 million, high-end golf resort. Oh, and also, an unelected state appointee will be running your city until further notice.
I think it’s worth pointing out again that the sponsor of the new emergency manager law, State Representative Al Pscholka, represents Benton Harbor and is a former vice president of a community nonprofit that’s a big part of building the luxury resort. It’s easy to imagine, as Mr. Mahler suggests, what it’s like to be in Benton Harbor under circumstances like these. It’s also easy to imagine that you’re on one side of tracks, and the folks turning the wheels of government are on the other.
Eclectablog’s got a good read of the NYT feature, too – it’s worth seeing through his eyes. After the jump, our first report on Benton Harbor.