Orr, a bankruptcy expert, was appointed in March under a Michigan law that allows a governor to send a manager to distressed cities, townships or school districts. A manager has extraordinary powers to reshape local finances without interference from elected officials. But by July, Orr and Snyder decided bankruptcy was Detroit's best option.
Detroit, a manufacturing hub that offered well-paying blue-collar jobs, peaked at 1.8 million residents in 1950 but has lost more than a million people since then. With more square mileage than Manhattan, Boston and San Francisco combined, the city does not have enough tax revenue to reliably cover pensions, retiree health insurance and buckets of debt sold to keep the budget afloat.
Donors have written checks for new police cars and ambulances. A new agency has been created to revive tens of thousands of streetlights that are dim or simply broken after years of vandalism and mismanagement.
While the downtown and Midtown neighborhoods are experiencing a rebirth, many others are scarred with blight and burned-out bungalows.
Detroit also has an unflattering reputation as a dangerous place. Police Chief James Craig, who arrived last summer, said he was almost carjacked in an unmarked car.
The bankruptcy case is unfolding at a time of historic political transition. Former hospital executive Mike Duggan takes over as mayor in January, the third mayor since Kwame Kilpatrick quit in a scandal in 2008 and the first white mayor in largely black Detroit since the 1970s.
Orr, the emergency manager, is in charge at least through next fall, although he's expected to give Duggan more of a role at city hall than the current mayor, Dave Bing, who has little influence in daily operations.