As a native Detroiter I have to admit that it does my heart good to see all of the development going on from downtown to midtown. The Ilitch family, Dan Gilbert, Detroit Edison, General Motors, etc. are pouring resources into making the Motor City a world-class destination again. Building anew, renovating and updating old structures, along with a good mix of residential and business development will go a long way in getting more citizens streaming to the city’s core.
However, there has been a glaring omission that seem lost in all the feel good headlines of the past few years. What’s going on in the city’s neighborhoods? Where are the headline stories of new development going on where longtime residents live? I’m talking beyond the occasional blurb of a strip mall going up on one of the main roads. I’m talking serious business and residential developments.
Most of the news that make the airwaves discussing communities not associated with the downtown/midtown do-over is negative. Where’s the “Marshall Plan” when it comes to areas like the one I grew up in on the northwest side of the city?
It appears that what is going on is a gentrification process that has repeated itself in most major metropolitan areas across the country. It hasn’t escaped me that this process seems to cut across racial and economic lines. The question begs who typically benefits from these renaissance efforts. Conservative Detroit News columnist, Nolan Findley wrote several columns over the last few years where he touched on the inequalities of the development efforts going on in the city.
But I digress as that issue begets a future column as I want to concentrate on a conversation on what it would take to revitalize the various communities in Detroit, and cities like it.
First, there must be much more community involvement and representation in the development that goes on in the city. This push
must come from communities themselves to have a say in what goes on in their city. The executive (mayor) and legislative (city council) branches of local government must do more to get capital, investment, and development into the neighborhoods. The city is divided into seven city council districts. What about creating development councils for each district headed by the city council representative for that district? It should also include involvement from the mayor’s office. The community should also be involved as representatives from block clubs, neighborhood and community associations, police precincts, etc. should take part in the process.
Second, when the city awards a major development project for the downtown/midtown area, put in a stipulation that the winning bid must also add a smaller pet project that positively impacts a neighborhood. That could be housing development on a small scale, contributing funds for small business development, adopting a school and providing resources (i.e., money, technical equipment, teachers, expertise in certain areas) for an agreed upon amount of time, tearing down abandoned homes, spearheading cleanup efforts, and so on.
Third, work in conjunction with state and federal governments in providing capital for small businesses that wish to open in these communities. Start with those that live in the neighborhood, as they should have first crack at starting businesses since they have the most skin in the game.
Last, but probably most important, put more resources into making schools a priority. Work towards getting neighborhood organizations, the business community, law enforcement, and the aforementioned district development councils involved in our schools. Hold meetings in the schools themselves so those participating, along with those that attend, can see first hand the state of the school they are responsible for. Also, let’s return to providing recreational activities in the schools.
These ideas are not a cure all. How to implement them will certainly provide spirited discussions from all involved but in order to lift all boats together there must be a concerted effort to vastly improve the communities that lie outside of today’s popular destinations.
Have some ideas of your own? Get engaged. Feel free to join the conversation in the comment section below.
Don E. Lang, Jr.