If you have never seen an entire city privatized, keep your eye on Detroit. Saddled with an $18-billion debt, it is staring into the abyss of bankruptcy. Its demise parallels that of other large industrial cities after World War II, when federal highway, housing and energy policies fueled suburban growth and the massive exodus of middle- and working-class whites, leaving behind an impoverished and segregated city with ballooning social needs and a vaporizing tax base. Detroit’s fall was the steepest and most enduring: it has lost 1.1 million people since 1950. And its tragedy is special: the automobile industry, on which its prosperity depended, pushed relentlessly for policies that benefited General Motors and decimated Detroit. Privatization is a politically explosive word. Progressives point to corporate theft of community resources like water and energy, and conservatives respond with stories of government corruption and market efficiencies. But such rigid dichotomies overlook two kinds of private initiatives on which Detroit’s recovery depends. Already, there are signs of revival in the business district and middle-class housing construction required to build a tax base. But downtown development and gentrification must not overrun the burgeoning efforts of devastated communities to rebuild themselves. Right now, Detroit has a non-cash underground economy that relies on informal networks and barter systems to support 150,000 people, a fifth of its population. There are 27 urban farms of an acre or more and 1,800 community gardens. “Agriculture in the city,” says community activist Charity Hicks, “is the way of resilience and the means of resistance.” This is privatization that must be nurtured.