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Unfiltered: How Do You Fix Detroit?

Years ago, I had the good fortune to meet a man named James V. McTevia. Of all the financial advisors I've ever interviewed, McTevia is one of the few I would trust – with money or anything else.

So I was thrilled when McTevia agreed to add his thoughts to the Assignment Detroit blog. Some background: McTevia is the founder of McTevia & Associates, a Bingham Farms-based crisis management consulting firm. Its job is to help companies confront their problems, find solutions and restructure them for the future.

McTevia's 40-year career began in commercial finance, then moved into banking and industrial finance. He is author “Financial Reality” and “Bankrupt: A society living in the future.”

I asked McTevia to answer one question: What will it take to fix Detroit?


Detroit will never be the same. Nor will Michigan.

No one should waste oxygen pondering whether Detroit can “get back to what it used to be.” We need to focus intently, realistically and creatively on getting to a new destination. Together.

One cannot separate outstate Michigan's fortunes from metro Detroit's. Any high-school dropout who drove up I-75 amid the boats and snowmobiles being towed north to cottages owned or rented by blue-collar workers understands this economic hypothesis. Michigan towns that lack even an automotive widget shop are hurting, too.

Meanwhile, if Detroit – and the reeling smokestack economy that stretches to Saginaw and Bay City – is to be a comeback kid, our urban population will have to compete in a brand-new weight division. Pardon the boxing metaphor. After seeing Cinderella Man I often think of Jim Braddock as the ultimate in refusing to surrender despite the worst financial adversity, finding a way to fight against all odds to feed his family, to endure and to prosper.

Detroit taught 20th Century America its two most important economic tricks, one for better and one for worse. How to create an affluent middle class. And how to move from paying cash for a new set of wheels to taking out a five-year loan (then flashing your credit card at a fast-food drive-through).

The new century finds America spiraling deeper in debt, maxing out its plastic by the trillions, flailing away with no apparent solutions except to rob still more dollars from our great-grandchildren. Detroit and Michigan once again lead the way. In these hard times, we are the hardest place.

That's the truth of it. But as someone who has spent half a century helping individuals and corporations work through the pain of insolvency, I say, yes, Detroit and Michigan can be a Cinderella Man story. But only, as always, with lots of pain.

Yes, the feds need to spend money here (where better to pursue a recovery model?). But let's spend wisely – on jobs that put money in citizens' pockets while producing community projects that will endure for generations and will generate pride . . . unlike Wall Street bailouts pouring trillions into institutions people neither trust nor understand.

Many years ago I lived briefly in Cleveland, and never have forgotten the “Emerald Necklace” of parks encircling the metro area. Chicago's marvelous lakefront is mostly landfill. Does any major city anywhere possess so much acreage where we could invent a new standard for public works?

Meanwhile, Michigan has one of the nation's best and most extensive higher education systems, but with an uncertain future. Why not use the magic of competition to make Michigan the very best at training the young, and retraining the old, for jobs – all kinds of jobs – that will be around in this new century?

That kind of education and re-education never seems to live up to its promise. But it's what we must do unless we want to renew unemployment benefits endlessly. Let's get competitive about training and retraining. If an institution comes up with training programs that work – here – then let's pour all available dollars into them. Anything that doesn't work is something we can't really afford.

We have a new mayor and a new city council. They all appear ready and willing to make a real go of it and not play games. Detroit has always had a shot at being a truly remarkable and wonderful city. I believe we now have a team in place that will get down to business and make the tough decisions that need to be made for the good of the people and not the good of a few.

The people owe it to themselves to support this new regime led by David Bing as they try to move Michigan forward and make Detroit, once again, a key cog in the global economy.

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  • 1

    I have to agree whole heartedly, with all that was said above. Hope fully we will all see a better Detroit in the future.

    The new administration does look very good on paper, I can only hope that it will look just as good in real circumstance, unlike the last administration that was more oil and vinegar then a cohesive unit looking to make Detroit a better place for all of us to enjoy.

    Attitudes and egos are no place for politics of a failing city, listening to what the people need and want will the job get done. We will all have a struggle if we don't work together.

  • 2

    I'd add sorting out what's needed from what's wanted to that list of skills, especially if what's wanted is a return to how things were. Solutions for the future need to be feasible as well as fresh, popular as well as practical, and sustainable on all levels above all.

  • 3

    Supporting the Bing Adm is not a requirement nor fundamental to fixing the city..In fact when people make these political statements it only makes me question thier motives and intentions..

    In fact this very notion of "fixing" the city brings to my mind a myopic mindset and yet another tired set of ideas..

    Cities as part of thier natural evolution run thier course and that is a good and natural cycle. Instead of trying to "fix" the city with the so called 'approved' slate of political candidates as designated by suburbanites like McTevia.. I recommend we ignore many of thier visions and themes..

    Instead of using the magic of competition how about using the reality of government spending i.e defense budget, . Instead of wasting funds on a dead city how about shutting down the city and creating from scratch a new venue built and designed by all..

    Such a vision is labor intensive( will reduce unemployment) and allows folks ownership of thier future and thier venue..

    We need to create new goverment vehicles and new governance paradigms..such as

    1. One school district
    2. One Metro Goverment
    3. No home rule anyone can run for public office
    4. One police department
    To be continued..

    • 3.1

      There's my community activist. :)

      Shutting down the city huh, Now that is a great idea.

      I would have to argue yet again with you logic that not supporting the administration is a bad idea. Cooperation is the key to making the city a better place, between the city government and the people that live there. Or and this is just a thought, being that you want to shut it all down and start over.

      Lets just blow all the bridges that cross 94, 696, and 75. Fill all of that with water and put alligators in there. Now that is about as good a solution as yours huh. :P

      I am joking of course, about the alligators that is. ha ha ha!

  • 4

    I would also like to house all f the DPS students in dorms so we can immerse them in education and away from the toxic reality of life in a 3rd world venue..Of course this approach will also augment employment, construction and if we relocate some of these schools in new metro venues we can expand the concept of a city and leave a dying city behind...

    In a government we have a concept called 'checks and balances" no voter is obligated to submit to poltical candidates or thier administrations..

    Voters must demand and push back always..Again my premise is simple people are not compelled to live in toxic venues, people have an obligation to live better that includes leaving cities and tearing them down as well...Deconstruction is a positive development

  • 5

    We use to live just north of 6 Mile and just east of Woodward in an older but well maintained neighborhood. Several years after we left, we drove down our street on a nostalga trip. The decay was overwelming - burned out houses, junk cars, bare dirt in place of grass. Near our old house, we had to stop for 6 or 8 teenage boys playing hoops in the middle of the street. They refused to move so we nervously waited for maybe 2 minutes until they decided that we got the message - you don't belong here and don't come back.
    That was a very mild but freightening encounter. Every day, there are stories in the papers of others who have not been so forunate. We know people who claim they have not been downtown in 20 years because they are afraid. People are not going to visit or live in a city that is filthy, and where they fear for their lives and property. My wife and I are viewed as foolhardy because we regularly go to the casinos, Ren Cen, the River walk, Greektown and an occasional Tigers game but that is about it. There are many areas we just won't even drive through.

    If Detroit is to survive and reverse this spiral of decay, it has to begin with a huge cultural change. It has to start with the young, with 2 parent families who love their kids and who value education, with parental supervision and with honest political leadership setting a high moral standard. With Mayor Bing and Robert Bobb, I believe Detroit may have a good start. But it's going to take more than 2 people.

    Detroit has to be a safe, clean and welcome city. If this can't be accomplished, then it is almost pointless to consider any other proposals aimed at fixing it.

  • 6

    Reading comments like those posted by Jeff make me want to cringed...I could make the negative comments from my perspective as a Black person dealing with the suburbs..

    When will it ever end ....Detroit does not the mimdset of people like Jeff...It deserves better.

    • 6.1

      It seems that you can not see the forest for the trees. Jeff made some very valid points, yet you dismiss them because it came for the keyboard of whitey. Could your post be any more bigoted.

      Your look at life my friend has to change, you know what I think is your problem, it is you. Your Ideals are decidedly communist and racist. I can see that you do not like to hear to opinions that others might have to better the city of Detroit. I guess you would then become insignificant in a functional city, a socially integrated city, and a city that was revived would have no place for the meandering of your type of militant personality.

      Down with Whitey and all that he has begotten on Detroit. Put down the pipe, and face reality.

  • 7

    gthrasher, you are right about one thing - Detroit does deserve better but it's not just my mindset that's the problem. You and I can look at the same things and see them in totally different ways. Apparently you are pleased with what has happened to Detroit. I am not. Apparently you accept the overwelming decay that is destroying this city, morally as well as physically. I can not. I'm not sure that you and I will ever be on the same page and that is probably the biggest problem of all. And I know you won't believe this but I want black people to lead healthy, successful lives but again, my take on how to achieve that is far different than yours.

    Detroit has had black mayors for decades now. The city council is black. The police chief is black and Detroit is 85% black. Only the black people can turn this thing around, but it's going to take a drastic change in mindsets - both yours and mine.

  • 8

    @ robertprice,

    We have traveled this road before please get over me ..It is apparent you lack the depath and skills to debate me so your need to demonize me is getting old and stale..Please threaten me with some value and substance..BTW I do nto smoke a pipe..

    • 8.1

      Yes we have traveled this road, I like it too we are on a journey to understanding each other, So that one day we may work together to make life better for our children and their children. You don't like like this fact?

  • 9

    @ jeff,

    Please refrain from projecting your myopic views on my posts....BTW it is not incumbent on me to be in concert with you about anything..I have no desire to seek your approval or validation..Your views from my vantage point are underdeveloped tired themes which offer nothing of value at end of the day..

    Again with regard to your comments my premise remains the same it is white folks like you who remain a barrier and obstacle to those seeking life , liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the city...

    It is white folks like you who need to remind me and others that Detroit is 85% Black, police chief is Black, etc..So much for the mantra of United We Stand'

    Michigan has a legacy of whites only governors, senators, ceo's, university presidents, etc and what has that yielded ?? It is easy playing your "race card" game since white folks invented he 'race card" from slavery, jim crow to disparate treatment yada, yada, yada..

    Do me a favor go lecture to your friends about thier decadence, decay and ignorance..The development of white folks in this region will have more impact than any Black Detroiter impact..

    Deal with this truth..

  • 10

    Slavery has been over for more than 140 years, gthrasher. Now, it only exists in your mind.

  • 11

    A chip on the shoulder may be completely justified, but it is of no help nor any use to anyone -- instead, it stands as a barrier to progress, personal and communal.

  • 12

    @ karwinwikoff,

    I agree so get rid of yours..

  • 13


    I have respect for history plus I don't need to deal with the depravity of slavery to comment on white racism it is quite lethal and present in 2009....

  • 14

    That's called "projection" -- when you see in others that which plagues you -- even when it isn't present in the others in whom you see it. Chipless in Central NY.

  • 15


    Irrevelant in Central NY...Please spare me the psychobabble..This is a chat forum get a grip!!

  • 16


    You are a fraud..You and I have nothing in common .. We are not walking down any yellow brick road together..You attack and demonize me with your racist venom and now you want to 'play house.."

    Please refrain from inserting childrfen in to your pleas to matter to me..I do have an idea for You during this holiday turkey weekend.....................................

    Bite Me!!

  • 17

    I don't think I could have written a better satire piece about race relations in the City of Detroit, than what you three just provided in this comment section.

    White says he and all his friends are afraid of the scary blacks in the city! Kids playing basketball, HELP!!!

    Black cries racism from white bigots! White people suck! Suburbanites don't know anything about us!

    White responds that's a typical black response, always reverse racism. Blacks are the reason the city sucks!

    Here's my two cents, you people all need to grow up. Whites, blacks, male, female, Detroiter, Surburbanite. This type of garbage isn't going to do anything; dwelling on our past is futile. We need to talk about our future, not our racist past, and apparent present. GROW UP.

  • 18

    @Billy Ward,..

    You forgot to add your part in the satire piece..

    White on sideline adds nothing of value to race relations in the City of Detroit just the usual worthless lectures from a nobody who claims history is not important, only the present and future matter and then offers up the usual impotent suggestion to GROW UP I retort with WHO CARES AND PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH.....

  • 19

    Too bad this discussion devolved into polemical personal affronts, or it might have been informative.
    What the out-staters and non-Michiganians seem to be missing is that it's time for you all to engage in a bit of ontological self-reflection and realize that (a.) the very concept of "fixing" Detroit, and hence this whole discussion, is rooted in white, upper-middle class values and sensibilities; and (b.) it was white people moving _out_ of Detroit rather than dealing with and correcting their own fear and prejudices that created the most segreated city in the U.S. The Truth here is that one must be the change one seeks in the world, and that doesn't mean standing by in Oakland County preaching to Wayne County about how to fix itself. Go to Detroit; shop in Detroit; work in Detroit; get to know who Detroit is today -- maybe even live in Detroit. Just thinking out loud here ...

  • 20

    One thing that needs to be fixed and can be is the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. Read the Sprit of Detroit Blog and sign the petition. Follow FixDetroit on Twitter.

  • 21

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  • 22

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    Unfiltered: How Do You Fix Detroit? - The Detroit Blog -

  • 23

    […] Unfiltered: How Do You Fix Detroit? – Of all the financial advisors I’ve ever interviewed … I asked McTevia to answer one question: What will it take to fix Detroit? Detroit will never be the same. Nor will Michigan. No one should waste oxygen pondering whether Detroit can “get back … […]

  • 24

    […] Unfiltered: How Do You Fix Detroit? – Of all the financial advisors I’ve ever interviewed … I asked McTevia to answer one question: What will it take to fix Detroit? Detroit will never be the same. Nor will Michigan. No one should waste oxygen pondering whether Detroit can “get back … […]

  • 25

    […] Unfiltered: How Do You Fix Detroit? – McTevia. Of all the financial advisors I’ve ever interviewed, McTevia is one of the few I would trust – with money or anything else. So I was thrilled when McTevia agreed to add his thoughts to the Assignment Detroit blog. Some background: McTevia is the … […]

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