When it comes to Detroit, this actually may be one of the most exciting weeks since Henry Ford began paying people $5 a day a century ago.
Detroit is a mess. A blighted, bankrupt troubled mess. Everyone knows and has known that for a long time.
The good news is that there are now plans in motion by people in power to do something about it.
Today, the result of a massive, detailed survey of the city, something never before attempted, is being released to the public – together with a concrete plan to clean it up.
They are calling it “Every Neighborhood Has a Future, and it Doesn’t Include Blight.”
This isn’t being unveiled by a couple of urban studies professors or second-string bureaucrats.
Mayor Mike Duggan and emergency manager Kevyn Orr are solidly behind this plan – as are three of the most-respected people in the city:
- Dan Gilbert, the Quicken Loans czar who has been buying an astonishing amount of land downtown;
- The dignified and deeply respected Glenda Price, who turned around Marygrove College, heads a foundation for Detroit Public Schools, and serves on a million boards;
- Plus Linda Smith, who runs the highly-regarded civic group U-Snap-Bac.
Those three headed a blight removal task force who, as part of their work, presided over a project to document, categorize, and map every parcel of land in Detroit – every one.
Then they came up with a concrete and tangible plan to do something about it.
This will take years and cost billions, but for the first time there is a path to getting there, and nobody in power who has a vested interest in stopping progress.
According to a report by John Gallagher in today’s Detroit Free Press, the key to cleaning up the city is not the expected massive demolition plan, but a Detroit Land Bank which, for the first time, has been given real power.
Thousands of buildings will undoubtedly have to be demolished. Yet there is also going to be a huge emphasis on repairing and rehabilitating homes that can be saved and getting people to move back and live in them.
That may be the hardest part.
To get middle-class, stable families to Detroit in any numbers, you need to have safe streets, police who come when called and reliable public schools. Detroit today has none of those things.
You also need something else: People who take pride in their properties and keep up their homes.
I once owned a beautiful little house in an older suburb next to Detroit. Someone bought it and cut down the trees, dug a pit in the back yard and left a steam shovel sitting there.
Somehow, a way has to be found to help and force residents and business owners to keep up their properties.
But things are happening, most of all, a willingness to confront reality. The future of Michigan’s most important city is going to be the backdrop and the real topic of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Mackinac Island Conference, which starts tomorrow.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the politicians and business leaders think – and what they are willing to say.