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18 Jun, 2010 05:51

Hope of recovery for former US auto powerhouse?

Detroit used to be one of America's premier auto manufacturers, but with the demise of its carmakers, Detroit’s residents are facing rising unemployment and crime in a city which has become a shell of its former self.

There is a saying that Detroit is a city of death – the local morgue filled with unidentified bodies supports that.

Most bodies that arrive are there for a few hours only, but some of them have been stored in the coolers for years, since their families cannot afford to properly bury them. Sadly, the city only allots the morgue about $22,000 a year for this purpose.

In fact, at one point in one Detroit morgue, up to 80 bodies were piled up, most of which were unsolved murder cases awaiting burial.

The main problem of Detroit is the lack of jobs. By some estimates, the rate of unemployment here is 50%, mostly because it all was tied to the auto industry. So, post-apocalyptic neighborhoods remained when the jobs, then the residents, did not. Once the forth most populated city in America is the ninth today.

Fewer signs are more emblematic of decay that the Michigan central station, built to be the US greatest train station, until mismanagement and money shortage derailed those hopes.

When it was built in the early 1900s, it cost $15 million. New owners came in decades later and bought the Michigan railway station for a third of that price – just $5 million. Years afterward, the going price for this building is less than $80,000.

Chris Casquejo, Detroit resident, says that the authorities “still haven't figured out what to do with it – whether they're going to redevelop it or just tear it down.”

The problem, which led to the city degradation, is poverty, which creates crime, and crime keeps business away. No business – no jobs. No jobs – more poverty, and more deaths.

Although, there are small signs of a comeback – and these are casinos, which hire thousands and add nearly hundred million dollars to the city’s coffers. Crime on the streets is going down for the first time in months with more murders solved. And more unclaimed bodies in the morgue are cremated or buried with private donations.

While prospects are still bleak, there are hopes that, as the rest of America comes out of the economic crisis, Detroit will also return to its former glory.

Correspondent Cedric Moon and photojournalist Jon Conway were honored for this story at the 50th Annual Monte Carlo Television Awards. For more on the awards, see here.