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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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  • 1

    So tearing the City Down is as cackamamie as it gets.

    Exceptionally STUPID!

  • 2

    But we need WPA reincarnated as a permanent thing and careful thought and creative thought would have to be tapped as to what to do.

    The Robots and Mechanization are taking over and we had better face it and determine what human time should be spent doing rather than chashing extended unemployment checks.

  • 3

    While their at it - how about some urban farming using less polluted sites for consumable agriculture and in the more polluted areas farm rapeseed for oil production. It works in Japan ( and it would provide taxable industry in places that are a drain on city finances. I considered this about 3 years ago after realizing the cities east-side felt more like a Mad Max set than a working community. The land sure is cheap but my concerns were where to store the industrial equipment where it was safe from vandalism and theft and how to get a corrupt City Clown-cil to rezone the land without outright graft.

    @island: What do you think will happen to the large percentage of decaying housing and industrial sites? Get companies and families to renovate? It's far easier/cost-effective to tear down and consolidate into what can be managed by what remaining city services are left. Take off the tin-foil hat and try to think of an alternative plan that makes more sense.

  • 4

    That's interesting, Dan. I wasn't aware of Rapeseed (unfortunate name) and its uses. Are we currently using polluted areas for consumable agriculture? I know there are upwards of 50 or so urban farms in Detroit... my wife and I were checking out the one by Avalon in the Corridor last weekend, very cool.

    I really like O'Neill's ideas. Getting people in a concentrated area of the city is not only vital for the survival of Detroit but, as they're figuring out in Copenhagen right now, is becoming vital to the survival of the planet (and NO... it's not just because of not driving cars).

    The only thing I would say is don't close it down to just the unemployed... I'm working 3 jobs between my career and a business I'm trying to start AND pursuing my passion... and I'd STILL find the time to go downtown and swing a sledgehammer to help out and earn a few extra bucks.

  • 5

    Kudos Mr. Dawsey for another important, informative piece. Putting Detroiters to work to re-invent Detroit is not just a great idea, it is essential for success. WE have to come together as citizens and decide both what we want to do and how we need to do it so that the city and her citizens benefit. Green spaces, community farms, open spaces for children to play and grow - to be able to be a part of this means that the citizens themselves would feel a sense of ownership in their surroundings. Working people who feel invested in their communities will lead to a new sense of hope in a city that many contend is a single heart beat away from death.

    I hope we learn more about O'Neill's ideas and I hope we put some of his ideas into action right here in what used to be the Motor City.

  • 6

    Mr. O'Neill's idea deserves consideration but I would take it further, as I have written elsewhere in this blog. Let's have with appropriate financing the surrounding suburbs annex adjacent sections of Detroit. This should be part of a regional plan that receives long term loans, targeted subsidies dedicated to regionally re-organizing these areas into 21st century urban villages, developing over the next 5-20 years. The core of Detroit can preserve old and foster as well the new Detroit, one that is rebuilding itself around a modern 21st century hub supporting new trade, manufacturing, living, and compete in a globally growing market. It can only govern itself if this model is adopted. There are many areas to save, restore, that will anchor new areas in both the core and perimeter villages.

    The scars left of a once world class Detroit now need to be taken down, but with care, and replaced with places people in the 21st century are going to live. The region and city do not need to preserve old lines that only represent a discredited social order of a past lost in deep racial divide and an uncompetitive labor order that made its peoples' skills obsolete and inflexible to adapt.

    With what is now a vast wasteland left as a reminder of the old order, this will only continue to harm the entire region's housing, schools, employment, security and lost identity as once a leading, proud urban center.

    Tearing down is only a first step, what replaces is far more important.

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