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The O'Neill Option

Paul O'Neill, the former secretary of the U.S. Treasury, has floated what I think is a great idea that addresses dual priorities here in Detroit.

The federal government should reimburse cities and towns who hire people from the unemployment rolls to tear down these structures, clean up the properties and, if there is no immediate buyer for them, to turn them into green spaces.

Not only will this create jobs, it will also provide lasting economic value as the properties get placed back on the tax rolls. And the program would give clear evidence that the taxpayers' (borrowed) dollars are producing a tangible public benefit.

Further, it also gets some Detroiters back on the tax rolls, which is just as vital.

Moreover, the idea also seems to dovetail quite nicely with Mayor Dave Bing's stated desire to right-size the city to more efficiently serve residents. And the call for the development of "green" spaces suggests that Detroit could not only re-vitalize itself, but also re-create itself as a pioneering "green" city.

There'd be work to be done before we could put something like this in place, of course. Potential workers would have to be identified, as would the targeted properties. And of course the city would need to do all of this within the context of a much larger, much more coordinated urban planning effort. But if we've got the will, I believe everything else could be put in place rather quickly.

Personally, I'd love to see the people of this city get paid to help bring it back. What do you think? Is O'Neill on to something? Could this kind of investment in both the people and property of the city be just what Detroit needs to kick its turnaround efforts into high gear? Jump in and share your opinion about the idea and whether it'd work here.

(Hat tip to Rick T. at the Time Inc. mothership for passing this one along.)

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