Thinking for Ourselves
By Shea Howell
May 27 – June 2, 2012
Now we know what the plan is. For the last two years, through the fiasco called Detroit Works, the Mayor, Foundations and the financial interests they represent and the mainstream media have been telling citizens of Detroit, “there is no plan.” At public meetings and through countless broadcasts, citizens who suggested that there was a master plan to forcibly remove people from their homes were called paranoid. Then the combined Sunday Edition of the Detroit News/Free Press published the full color plan.
To anyone who has been following city development over the last few years, this was no surprise. It is exactly the plan everyone knew was coming. It clearly intends to free up land on the east side of the city, now openly talked about by developers as the next opportunity for them.
This plan is completely illegitimate, and quite possibly illegal. It is nothing short of a declaration of war on neighborhoods. It did not emerge from any citizen process. It was never presented in any public meeting and it is had to believe that even in this weak and often misguided city council there would a majority of members callous enough to support it.
The essence of the plan is the forced removal of people from their homes. Even the Detroit News had to acknowledge this in its lead paragraph about the plan. It said, “The city is trying to encourage—or push—people out of rundown neighborhoods that are largely vacant.” How will it “encourage or push” them? By cutting off services. The services being “stopped” are street lights, which haven’t been on in many neighborhoods for years, tree trimming, removal of abandoned houses, a process that continues at a glacial pace even the best of neighborhoods, and police services, whose absence might not be noticed. The city is vague about what it intends to do with water, fire protection, garbage pick up and basic sanitation.
If past history is any guide these, too, are likely to be cut off. Certainly that was the strategy used in what is now widely considered one of the most shameful episodes in city development, the destruction of Poletown. Folks living in the neighborhoods targeted for clearance would do well to learn the lessons from that effort and begin immediately to develop local safety and support organizations to resist the plan to force them out, house by house.
Behind all of this is the effort by the city to evade using eminent domain, made more difficult thanks to the residents of Poletown who attempted to ensure that what happened to them would not happen to anyone else. After years of court battles and legislative effort, the city cannot simply declare areas cleared for development. Further, the city cannot take homes without fair compensation. In other words it’s a lot cheaper to try to drive people out than to legally take property for public purpose.
Every one who cares about the future of our city should reject this inhuman, vicious plan. How dare public officials and their appointees declare war on the poorest, most elderly among us? How dare they think a city that denies aid to elders is a city anyone thinks is worth living in? How dare foundations and corporate interests who are orchestrating this plan for their own benefit pretend they are interested in our people?
The Mayor told the truth about one thing. He didn’t have a plan. He had a declaration of war on the poor. All of us who care about the future of our city need to make clear that the only plans acceptable for our future begin with the recognition that every life is valuable, every home is sacred. The mayor’s plan is a disaster.