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Paralyzed By Paranoia

Caught wind of an interesting debate recently at the Web site Planetizen about the effectiveness of "right-sizing" troubled cities like Detroit. The debate seems even more resonant now that Detroit Mayor Dave Bing seems to want to distance himself from any language that suggests a re-sizing of the city.

In the meantime, the land management arguments are being ratcheted up on all sides, with Bing hinting that residents who don't leave areas targeted for right-sizing won't get squat in terms of city services and his harshest opponents likening the mayor's right-sizing plans to the vilely racist and criminally inhumane "Trail of Tears" incident.

Me, I'm not sure how you else can develop an effective land-management policy for Detroit without condensing the serviceable boundaries of the city. More than 138 square miles of land. Likely fewer than 800,000 people. A $400-million budget deficit. A vanishing core industry, and few replacements on the horizon. Who is going to come in to re-fill the abandoned homes with families, the vacant lots with homes and businesses? And how much longer should we let good land go to pot before we're done waiting for the return of these fictional masses?

Sure, I think Roberta Brandes Gratz poses a great question in her argument against "right-sizing"...

Can anyone point to one city, just one, where any of these "renewal" schemes that dedensify cities have worked to regenerate, rather than further erode, a city? Just one. No theory please; just real on the ground success.

But I also thinks she fails to consider just how much this city has already been "dedensified" over the past 50, 60 years. Right-sizing Detroit isn't proposed in lieu of doing something else productive and regenerative with what is there. It's a response to what is not.

No, I don't think land management policy should amount to a land grab for corporate interests, and see little reason why proper oversight — and civic diligence — couldn't prevent this. I don't think Bing should, or legally even can, cut off services to a Detroit neighborhood because people won't move. And I'm staunchly against selling away even one square mile of the city, and was glad to see that the mayor apparently is, too.

But even as a child, I heard people preaching about the importance of land, its value to any struggle for opportunity. "It's the one thing they don't make more of," people used to tell me. And right now, I just see land languishing. Entire swaths of residential neighborhoods around streets like Van Dyke and Chene are just gone. The westside of the city, while more densely populated than the east, also has neighborhoods with huge chunks missing, too.

Meanwhile, many Detroiters continue to resist change out of fear that government, philanthropic and business interests just want to run out the city's black poor and working class, then hand the city over to white suburbanites and big companies who're secretly laying in wait for property values on East Grand Blvd. to plummet to appropriate levels. And hell, I could respect even that overly skittish attitude...if it were married to an organized plan of resistance and revitalization for Detroit.

But what I see instead are people paralyzed by paranoia, fatally anxious over accepting any help at all by dire warnings shouted by people who, in their stout determination to thwart The Man, refuse to acknowledge that they are the ones helping to uphold a miserable status quo. As one of my dearest friends said to me over lunch downtown at Sweet Lorraine's this afternoon, "This is Detroit: We need to accept that we are The Man."

That's real talk right there. I'm not worried about Roger Penske getting over. I'm worried about my mother getting adequate police protection, about my younger cousins not having to fear getting shot outside their home and on their way to class. I'm worried about what business opportunities the city will have for my children in 10, 15, 20 years. Detroiters don't need to be beaten down with fear anymore. Detroiters need to be so empowered and engaged that they openly welcome opportunities to partner and exchange ideas in the name of reviving this city — and dare anymore crooks to try to take advantage. The people shouldn't be taught to fear public policy; the people should be taught to shape it.

And yes, those policies should reflect the best interests of the people who live here, including land management. Out of respect for the many Detroiters — especially black folks — who have maintained their homes and communities through the city's worst times,  moving even one family should be weighed and undertaken with the utmost seriousness. But I do think there's a way to provide people with fair and proper incentives, to move folks with dignity and genuine concern for citizens' sense of community.We just need to commit ourselves to that way.

And out of respect for the very real oppression of Native American peoples, I won't even think to compare the idea of moving a family from one end of Brightmoor to another to one of this nation's worst-ever crimes against humanity.

Like I said, I think the idea of right-sizing Detroit is a good one, an idea that shouldn't be allowed to become the latest boogeyman under our collective bed. But if right-sizing the city is so wrong, then what, really, is the right answer? This city, this region, we can't stay the same. And we can't go back to what we used to be.

What's so bad then about setting a new course?

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  • 1

    Good Job, Darrell!.. I think all property OWNERS should be FAIRLY compensated: Why is everyone it seems, is afraid of making a stand?..That is, ' grabs by the Man...Look at Atlanta, still a much smaller (No pun, ..I mean population wise,..)..THAT AREA was in the Home '...Of THe Man!.. Citizens took charge AFTER Rev. King was Assassinated!..If anywhere had an excuse NOT to trust, it was/is THERE! What happened to Democracy?...(Or Communism?).....'The Greater GOOD, for the Greatest Numbers...'?Remember everyone, about the concept of Public Domain?...On second thought, being in Detroit area with the Freeways' Example, maybe NOT SUCH A GOOD Memory?!... All Great American (non-racist events0 projects happened , even if many were shortchanged. , when enlightened "LEADERS" did the right thing, and made a good moral case for doing a project, or creating an event! This concept was central, in Detroit, and the Nation when the Reuther Brothers were shot, beaten -up(but never '..down...'!)by The Man's Co. thugs. The greatest American in my lifetime, maybe of all time, Rev. King, risked...Hell!...Gave His life to enact what God gave all of us!.. Am I being a little over the top/..NO!!! LOOK AT THIS CITY!...STATE!...Country!...World!.. Heck1, give the people THEIR Market value...people rarely get any emotional compensation!9$$$$).Tear down the Damn , empty businesses, or Be World's First REAL , GREEN City!! Feds. could use job corps, youth corps, or whatever..NO!..Screw everybody ELSE!!! Grab a 'friggin' rake, or your bear hands, and pick up crap around YOUR LONE, neighborhood house( oxymoron)!Then clean up the empty lots..This isn't brain surgwery! It will get your minds off a seemingly Hopeless, situation!..When some punks break glass and streetlights, trurn the Damn porchlights on!..You KNOW WHAT TO DO!! Get it done! . Hey!..Sorry lonely wdows and widowers..Yeah, that's wher your kids played...sad.. But Crap!, Wouldn't you like to see some YOUNG Kids playing now?..You Family Split a Long Time ago!...Yeah, it Hurts!...Only time my dad Cried(that I saw) was his last look-a-round the house he struggled to keep up...45-50 years ago!! Someone was just murdered in that very house recently, and THAT's BS!! Screw politicians!.. Screw Attorneys!.. Screw what's left of The Man..Let's get this S--T, DONE!! Do it for THE NEXT Generation; ours-yours need to move-aside, NOT 'step aside'! Amen!!

  • 2

    I agree with Nolan Finley when he deplores the latest fashionable buzz words... so much crap trying to be upbeat about the wrong thing and the Republican Notion that Government is BAD, and the individual should do everything.

    Detroit needs a fine Architect-Planner and a fine planning commission. PERIOD! And they need to embrace DDD because what they are doing is exactly what a fine planner would embrace if not capture and expand upon.

    Look, I live in Ole Black Bottom area... the Lafayette Park area in the Mies Townhouses, recognized as the finest Urban Renewal Project in the world. People from around the world visit us regularly but the Time Blog pretends that we don't exist.

    Walter Reuther made it happen with his close friend Oscar Stonorov, an Architect-Planner who encouraged the team from Chicago to do it.

    Walter would accept nothing but the best.

    More of this type of housing should exist and be updated. It's relatively inexpensive to build this way and those displaced should have the opportunity to live in beautiful environments like ours.

    The State Housing Development Authority has been acting like vacuous air heads not doing their duty for the past 20 years or so.

    Every effort should be put together to consolidate more areas near downtown and put up decent, affordable, beautiful, Architect designed housing.

    It has been proven that it can be done.

    Get those displaced into neat places and then pull out the shovels and start planting.

    Mixed or "diversified" communities are great.

    And yes, lines will have to be drawn on the maps as to where areas will be designated for various uses by the planners, including removing decrepit old houses.

    One of the latest buzz words is "sustainable". If I hear one more person use that word they should beware that I might have a baso-vegal event all over them.

    Same for Right Sizing. It is a meaningless term. The size is the size... what you do within that size is what counts.

    Yes you probably will turn off the street lights in certain areas and you may pull up the roads but the utilities will probably remain in place. Parks will have to be created in some locations.

    The whole thing is a huge task to grow a new city and it can be done.

    But now is the time to professionally PLAN!

    Does Bing understand that. Apparently not.


  • 3

    It would seem to be difficult indeed for the city to "rightsize" given the current law on eminent domain (Proposal 4 that passed in 2006). The City clearly has the authority to remove blighted (abandoned) housing but must proceed on a house by house basis. It can't use eminent domain to take housing that is well-kept, regardless of where it is located, unless there is a public purpose for doing so. It can't use eminent domain to take property for the purpose of economic development and increasing tax revenues. What options could the City pursue to get the owners of well-kept houses in low density neighborhoods to leave? The City could offer the owners a lot of money, but the owners would be free to accept or reject any offer. The City could also find a public purpose for using eminent domain. What public purpose? The City would have to be creative here and have some excellent legal advice. Would a public park qualify? A nature preserve? How about the argument that cutting the high costs of delivering public services to abandoned neighborhoods qualifies as a public purpose? These are questions for lawyers.

    As critics have argued, right-sizing if it involves the use of eminent domain, has the potential of becoming an extraordinarily intrusive governmental policy. Opponents of right-sizing will expand the scope of the conflict and frame the issue in ways that recruit allies to their cause. Mayor Bing can try taking it to the hole, but he's going to get banged up.

    Right-sizing isn't going to stem the bleeding (population loss). The City needs to enact policies that give middle class residents reasons to stay. Cutting the millage and the income tax would help. Improving the public schools and/or going to charter schools or tuition vouchers might help.

  • 4

    ...true enough, jstrate, but it's ...'...chicken or egg...' theory. Cut taxes first then pray that its enough of incentive to maintain total revenues as more people move in/back?..OR...Do spotty city services get cut and/or eliminated and sensible citizens split for good, continuing the current trend?..Surprisingly, THE ARTS really do facilitate renewal; I never really believed that before, but I do now. See Jackson, MI. example of restoration, and select removal of empty older factory complex for Arts Place(?). Residential-loft-mixed(not LOW income---Sorry THAT has never worked-anywhere!) OK Maybe-Maybe La Fayette could be considered although was/is HI_med.-Low income area.. The Jackson, MI. example should be inspiration for Detroit.

  • 5

    The Citizens Research Council Report published in April on the fiscal condition of Detroit is outstanding and has a lot of very relevant information. Property taxes furnish 12.2% of city revenues,about $195.8 million in FY 2010. The homestead millage is 65.6. The Wayne County community average is 42.7. Eight years of 3 mill cuts will bring it down to the Wayne County community average. The first year reduction in revenue would be no larger than $9 million. Middle class taxpayers seeing cuts in their property taxes would have reason to hang on. The expenditure side of Detroit city government, like most governments, is under pressure from health care costs (active and retiree). The CRC Report shows that the City has a disproportionately large number of retirees with the City budgeting $124.5 million for retiree hospitalization (Table 25). The cost for pensions is also huge. Something has to be done in these areas. If the City can find ways to keep its retirees from leaving Detroit so that they spend their money right here, that would be a great plus. Cutting their property taxes would help in this regard.

    Detroit was once a "world class" city and it still has the cultural facilities of a world class city. There's no point in messing with what works!

  • 7

    [...] since we all love mental health, I want all my fellow LionsDetroit fans to check out detroit.blogs.time and tell me what you think about[...]

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