THINKING FOR OURSELVES
A Regional Look Beyond Crisis
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, April 11, 2010
The week began with the release of yet another report stating the obvious—Detroit is in economic trouble. The report, issued by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, continues the orchestrated effort to heighten the crisis mentality in our city and rush us toward quick, ill-considered actions.
We have already seen the consequences of such hasty, thoughtless decisions. In a city where every mayor since 1958 has knocked down abandoned houses, the Bing administration couldn’t even get its first one right. State inspectors, who heard about the efforts through the media, said the city did not file proper notice with the Department of Natural Resources. So demolition was halted to investigate DNR concerns about the release into the air of harmful materials like asbestos.
Mayor Bing should stop this aggressive demolition program and do some truth-telling. The Foundations pushing him are using the sense of economic crisis to justify reshaping the city in accordance with their “vision.” Touting “dire” predictions and “dramatic” consequences, they have been hosting conferences, issuing reports and sending out press releases, all proclaiming “Detroit is in trouble!” “We must shrink!” “Bing is bold!” “Bing is right!” What they haven’t been doing is listen to the people of the city.
Neither Bing nor the majority of the City Council seems to notice that all their demolition is not producing any new revenue. It is not fostering any way to resolve the budget crisis.
For example, the much-discussed industrial-sized farm proposed by John Hantz is based on free tax delinquent land and tax breaks on agriculture. Industrial scale farming is just one more industry promising jobs and capitalizing on the desperation of the city to garner tax breaks for itself. We have had a history of such corporate squeezing from GM to the RenCen to Casinos and stadiums. Many of Detroit’s financial woes stem from the fact that corporate development insists on tax breaks, on removing their holdings from contributing to the public coffers. Industrial farming is no different.
The Research Report mentions nothing about the connection between our current economic woes and the tax-exempt status of major corporate land. Nor does it raise the deeper question of the connection between the wealth and expansion of the suburbs and the poverty and shrinking of Detroit.
The single most effective way to stop the shrinking of Detroit is to stop the expansion of suburban sprawl. The most obvious place to stop this sprawl is to change land use policies so that they encourage rather than discourage the creation of the new “aerotropolis” in ways that benefit Detroit.
While media attention centers on the tearing down of Detroit, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano is developing what amounts to a whole new city near Metro Airport. Ficano is predicting 64,000 new jobs around the airport, and early reports say that he is making progress. A123 is building a battery factory and GE is planning a $100 million Research and Development center, aiming to hire more than 1000 engineers.
Rather than pouring billions in destruction, the Mayor should be pushing for light rail connections to the Airport and taxing suburban land use to limit suburban sprawl and bring revenue back to the city.
Emphasis on shrinking Detroit rather than regional planning is being driven by the non-profit industrial complex whose motives are murky and whose members and their interests remain obscure. A quick look at who paid for this recent report and who is running the Foundations fostering this plan reveals an interlocking directorate that would have been the envy of the Robber Barons.
It is time to slow down and recognize that this economic crisis is not a natural disaster. It is the product of decisions made to benefit a few. We can make different decisions to benefit a whole region if we take the time to talk together about what we can do.