Detroit’s Municipal Bankruptcy: Racialised Geographies of Austerity

Sarah Phinney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Urban geographer Jamie Peck theorises austerity urbanism as a dominant state practice of financially ‘restructuring’ the fiscal agendas of local governments in order to reduce government budget deficits in times of economic recessions. This project seeks to investigate the role of race in the context of austerity urbanism in Detroit following the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008. What is clear is that subprime lending in Detroit was explicitly a raced event. Analysis of austerity politics in Detroit demonstrates that the city is clearly spatially divided along racialised lines. Black city pensioners, former public sector employees, and ‘deliquent taxpayers’ were blamed for Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy in narratives centering on their bloated and generous benefits during the city’s financial decline. The policy outcomes of austerity programmes during the city’s financial crisis impacted racialised, poor communities, specifically the outcomes of privatising the city’s water services that led to state-sanctioned water shut-offs. This paper explores the ways in which race figures in the causes (race-based credit redlining/subprime super-inclusion lending practices) in the way the crisis was narrated to wrongly apportion blame to the racialised poor and city pensioners, and in the effects of the crisis, where water shut-offs wrought punishment on the racialised poor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalNew Political Economy
Early online date9 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Austerity urbanism
  • Detriot
  • neoliberalism
  • race
  • urban restructuring


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