Nobody can dispute that Detroit doesn’t work very well anymore. There is vast poverty, unemployment, and blight. Plus a litany of other problems, most of which are well-known.
The question is, what do we do about them? What can anyone do about them? Within the last few years, the city has also been forced to face another unpleasant truth. There are too few people.
Too few, that is, for a city of Detroit’s physical size. You could tuck Manhattan and Boston within its borders and still have room left over. Once, Detroit was a bustling city of nearly two million people.
They weren’t packed together like sardines, but were spread out, largely in well-maintained single-family homes. That was sixty years ago, and pretty much everything is different now.
The census showed that there are barely seven hundred thousand people left. In some cases, one of two families remain on blocks otherwise filled with vacant or burned-down homes. There began to be talk about “shrinking” or “consolidating” the city.
People talked about ways to get people to move from the worst areas to more hopeful neighborhoods, to make it easier to provide city services. The mayor announced that his team would identify four to ten stable neighborhoods as part of a project he called “Detroit Works,” and then build up and further strengthen them.
This all made good, sound logical sense.
In theory, that is. However, there was strong negative reaction from those who didn’t want the city to give up on anywhere. Soon, instead of talking about “shrinking the city,” the mayor was using the phrase “repurposing our land.“
But that didn’t silence critics. The plan to unveil the target neighborhoods was pushed back. Finally, yesterday, the mayor presented a plan, which was far different from the ambitious program once talked about -- and is somewhat confusing.
Now, instead of special neighborhoods, the Mayor says he wants to focus on the entire city, which may sound nice but is not possible in reality Bing does plan to focus on three “targeted areas.”
But instead of providing special services for these areas, the mayor says he plans to give the entire city enhanced services for the next six months, but then track and analyze how things function in the three target areas, which have a total of about sixty-seven thousand people.
After that, the mayor says he wants to take what the city learns in the study areas and apply them elsewhere. He even used Governor Snyder’s now-famous phrase “best practices.“
All this left everybody shaking their heads in bewilderment. What the mayor seems to be talking about may be politically correct, but makes no sense. As one consultant said, “They have to set some priorities here.” Nor is it clear where the money will come from for the temporarily enhanced city services.
Possibly I am missing something, But I don‘t think so.
Like it or not, we are in an age of limits and choices. Cities and states can no longer do everything, and be all things to all people.
Statesmen get this. Politicians don‘t. Detroit has boatloads of politicians; it needs leaders who can make tough choices. Which is why Dave Bing said he wanted to be mayor in the first place.