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More Shrinkin' Thinkin'

Sorry for posting later than usual today, but I'm under the weather. Still, I wanted to link to yet another good column from Jeff G. at the Free Press, this one on stopping the bleeding in the city. I hadn't seen this when I was cooking up my post about shrinking Detroit, but I think it's worth your time to read and consider, as he also addresses that point.

And I'm still looking to talk more policy on this matter with the brilliant posters who come here. (Michael Moore and his new movie have me thinking kinda wonkishly these days.) Got any any concrete ways we might be able to get around some of the legal and logistical problems that could come with reducing the size of the operational portion of our city? Seems like it's even more relevant now that we've got Mayor Dave Bing talking today about consolidating the number of properties owned and leased by the city that house Detroit employees. Jump in this thread or the one on shrinking Detroit to share your thoughts. I don't think this is an idea we can afford to stop discussing right now.

Thanks. And see you guys tomorrow.

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  • 1

    At its root, I'm not sure how complicated the issue really is. You have a city in dire financial shape with outsized obligations. You are forced to make drastic cuts to services and city workers. You have city jobs that are some of the only reliable work in Detroit. You have unions that have a long history of rightfully looking out for their interests. Oh, and by the way, you have to make all these drastic cuts when the victims are the ones who are already suffering and they also have the ability to vote you out of office.

    So much credit has to be given to Dave Bing for being willing to make these difficult, tough choices. There is no shortterm upside for him, but he's taken exactly the right tone: These are not policy choices, they are choices of absolute necessity.

    As terrible as Kwame was in terms of his personal escapades, his lasting legacy was punting all of these tough choices and playing to his electorate. Making promises and benefiting the key players will get you re-elected, but it's poison for a city like Detroit.

    I'm currently living in NY and while I certainly have major issues with Mayor Bloomberg, the thing he has in common with Bing is that they both don't *need* to hold elected office. There is a real risk of imperiousness (Bing needs to be careful on this one or he'll be voted out), but the benefit is having an independent eye to really fix problems. Just keep the message clear: the situation is dire and these are steps that must be taken. I wish hizzoner the best of luck.

    Also, I'll echo what's been said before: Fantastic work by the staff here on this project. As a Detroit expat, I'm really looking forward to following your work and reconnecting with the city that I love.

  • 2

    I don't see a huge legal problem in acquiring these properties. So long as a city exercises eminent domain power in "furtherance of an economic development plan" the constitutional public use requirement is satisfied. (Kelo v. The City of New London). I am not sure what Detroit's blight statute contains, but some jurisdiction have allowed the condemnation of entire "blighted" areas in which not all of the buildings are "blighted" but are "deemed necessary for redevelopment".(Centene Plaza Redevelopment Corp. v. Mint Properties).

  • 3

    Unfortunately, it's not as simple as rif23 proposes. Michigan Constitution Article X, Section 2 forbids the type of eminent domain at issue in Kelo. IF the city takes the property and just holds on to it, that would probably still count as public use, but turning it over to any sort of a farm operation, even a community co-op, probably wouldn't be.
    Another problem is price. Assuming it's homes we're talking about, the city will have to pay 125% of fair market value (see the same section of the state constitution). Given home prices in Detroit, this may not be a big burden. The city may want to ask themselves if 125% is actually too low: is there anyone who would lose their home and not have receive enough money to find a new home? How much money is the city willing to spend on this project?
    Finally, eminent domain requires finding a property's owner, which is not always a straightforward proposition in the city (at least, not in my experience). Figuring out who owns what parts of the city is an important first step.

  • 4

    I agree that rightsizing is an idea that merits serious consideration, but the risks are substantial, too. As I wrote on my blog, the neighborhood where St. Cyril Parish used to stand gives a vivid example of rightsizing gone wrong.

    After decades of decline, the city decided in 2003 to raze the remaining structures and close off the side streets with cement barriers. The goal was to redevelop the entire corridor as a suburban-style industrial park.

    Unfortunately, most of the land has never been developed. Instead it's become an urban prairie, a dumping ground, and a danger to those who live just across the street from this wasteland. The pictures, even from Google Street View, are startling:

    This isn't to say that rightsizing can't be done. It may in fact be necessary. But if the city plans to clear land, it better have a plan to beautify it or put it to use afterward. Otherwise it'll just drive more people away.

  • 5

    Here are some better photos of the St. Cyril area (now called, euphemistically, the I-94 Industrial Park) from Sweet Juniper:

  • 6

    Detroit still trying to rebuild forty plus years after the riots, kinda like the Lions losing since 1957.

  • 7

    I have concerns about whether or not shrinking the active portion of the city will actually improve conditions or simply lead to pockets of unchecked criminal activity. Seriously, what could possibly sound more attractive to those looking to do wrong than publicizing the fact that large portions of the city will go unlit, unprotected, unseen and unpatrolled? I understand the general concept and while it sounds attractive, I am afraid that it is a practical impossibility. I believe that if such a plan were to go forward, Detroit would actually see a large increase in the number of murders, overdoses, fires, etc. and that they would be concentrated in the fenced-off areas.

  • 8

    To me, Urban Farming is definitely the answer for the created "wastelands". We desperately need to reduce our carbon footprint and become more locally sustainable. We've come far too disconnected from our roots. We need to put our hands in the dirt, start working together, and learn to take care of ourselves.

    I think shrinking the active portion of the city is a phenomenal idea. A truly livable, functioning, downtown surrounded by locally sustainable urban farms would be an ideal healthy environment. This new Detroit would truly be the envy of densely overpopulated urban areas that just don't have the space to feed themselves. If the US continues to head in it's current downward spiral, feeding ourselves locally will be a godsend.

    But I agree, that if the land goes unused, it could be a grave dangerous mistake. Reviving the left over land as functioning gardens, has to be part of the plan. It would give hope and create jobs as well.

    Darrell, on another note. I'm a local Documentary filmmaker. If you, or anyone at the Time house needs videography services, please spread the word and hit me up @ I'd love to be part of the team.

  • 9

    Out here in the boonies of rural central NY State, farmers work around obstacles -- trees, creeks, roads, houses. When you are planning to put in an "industrial park" you have to tear everything down in big squares. But for farming, or large-scale gardening even, there's no need to tear everything down. Take the pieces you can obtain easily, and go from there. You may even want to house your farm workers close to the fields to help keep an eye on things and reduce commuting -- though then you are back to supporting services to far and scattered dwellings. Just thinking out loud.

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