“Gradually, Then Suddenly” Explores Detroit’s Bankruptcy

detroit today

In 2013, Detroit became the largest US city to fail. As a result of this process, Detroit lost approximately $7 billion in debt. While proponents of the process believed the bankruptcy was necessary to allow the city to balance its books and reinvest in city services, some critics argued the decision jeopardized the pensions that retired city employees rightly deserved.

Nearly a decade after this historic event, the documentary “Little by little, then suddenly” looks at what happened, how it happened and what lessons can be learned from it.

“It’s the story of a city that simply couldn’t make the political decisions it needed to make to avoid the complete collapse of services and finances.” – Sam Katz, Executive Producer of “Gradually Then Suddenly”

Hear: how Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy has shaped the city today.


Sam Katz is the executive director of “Gradually, Then Suddenly”. He says Detroit’s bankruptcy is the story of a city that was unable to make the political decisions necessary to prevent the collapse of municipal services.

“Cities across the country are kicking the streets, and Detroit’s story is what it looks like when you run out of road,” says Katz.

Chastity Pratt is the Wall Street Journal’s Education Bureau Chief and Associate Producer of “Gradually then Suddenly.” She says that for those who went through the bankruptcy, it was a painful experience that happened because of the political atmosphere in the city and state.

“It’s a story about the people in the end,” Pratt says. “The people of the city of Detroit were hurting and the people of the city and the state, for decades, didn’t understand.”

David Massaron is chief business officer and chief financial officer of Wayne State University and former chief financial officer of the city of Detroit. He says the decisions of Detroit’s elected officials since its bankruptcy explain why the city is now ready to make its short- and medium-term pension payments.

“The city’s democratically elected leaders decided to make the tough decisions and invested to ensure that our retirees would be protected in the future,” says Massaron.

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Janet E. Fishburn