Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
May 21, 2012
Week nine of the Occupation
The Report of the Emergency Manager has been greeted with little enthusiasm. It has not offered any clarity on plans for the development of the city under the new regime. The vague promises of improving the quality of life, while stripping the city, are as hollow as the document itself.
Meanwhile the city is developing. Dan Gilbert now owns 17 downtown buildings, totaling 2.9 million square feet of commercial space. His employs 7,500 full time employees, rivaling the workforce of the entire city government. His plans for reshaping Woodward Avenue are far reaching, attracting national and international attention. They were developed without any public commentary or discussion. Presumably, he will claim public endorsement from the Detroit Works Strategic Framework, as his “placemaking” plan begins to take shape along the lower Woodward Corridor.
With less fanfare and on a much more ominous note, developers began eviction proceedings against hundreds of people in the Cass Corridor. A 127 unit building on Griswold followed the efforts to evict 300 people from Henry Street. These eviction efforts have been met with strong resistance and are helping bring into focus the real impact of development in pursuit of dollars. The human cost of driving people out of homes so that developers can increase rent is becoming a common practice in the city. In response, drawing upon the experiences of fighting foreclosures, deeper coalitions are emerging, raising questions of ethical, just development. The Moratorium Now! Coalition has been holding a series of public meetings, taking testimony from people facing evictions. This resistance is not only helping people regain homes from banks, but it raising critical questions about who our city is for and who we need to protect with public policies.
And while the Emergency Manager Report hinted that Belle Isle is an expensive proposition for the city, more plans for its reconditioning are underway. Nearly $2 million has been spent on the Grand Prix Track for this weekend’s race. The historic horse stables are getting a new roof, costing nearly $1 million dollars and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum is finishing up a multi-million dollar renovation. Plans are evolving for renovations of the James Scott Memorial Fountain and the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon. The Historic Designation Advisory Board is pursuing getting the island designated on the National Register of Historic Places, a move that will require state approval and may limit the options of the Emergency Manger to use the island as a source of revenue to solve short term budget issues.
And now Livernois Avenue is again slated for a facelift. ArtPlace America supported by the Kresge Foundation and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation will be creating art installations along the Avenue of Fashion. This will be coupled with nearly $1 million in federal dollars for “beautification” of the street.
To the south, Matty Moroun and his pals the Koch Brothers are dumping petroleum coke along the riverfront. We are assured by the Environmental Protection Agency that we have nothing to worry about, as the mountain of black waste expands along the riverbank. It is a vivid reminder to all of us of the costs of our efforts to continue living in a petroleum dependent world. As Oil Change International points out, “It’s really the dirtiest residue from the dirtiest oil on earth.”
What is becoming clear is that our formerly elected government and our current appointed dictator have little to say about the forces driving development. The shape of our city now depends on how we the people engage with one another and with those whose decisions are affecting all of us.