THINKING FOR OURSELVES
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Nov. 28- Dec. 4, 2010
TIME Magazine has wrapped up its yearlong effort to cover Detroit. Its writers ended where they started, telling the business and foundation elite gathered at the Detroit Economic Club what they wanted to hear. Echoing a phrase that corporate powers love, TIME editor in chief John Huey told his audience, “Detroit has some very difficult decisions (and) somebody has got to make some tough decisions or they’re going to get tougher and tougher.”
All the “tough decisions” come down to supporting the corporate plan to shrink Detroit. In the farewell article by Daniel Okrent and Steven Gray, we find this view put forward as absolute truth. “The city,” they write, ” has to abandon those overgrown parts of itself that are hopelessly blighted and refocus its resources on those parts that can be saved.”
“Detroit,” they pronounce, ” has to employ a form of triage …to abandon failed neighborhoods so still functioning neighborhoods can survive.”
After 100 print stories, 200 online stories, 750 blog posts and three cover stories, the best TIME could come up with was a repeat of the corporate wisdom that it heard the day it arrived.
So much for its standard of investigative journalism.
Lacking in TIME’s coverage was any indication that it questioned the capability of the “politicians and philanthropists” to provide good ideas about the future of Detroit. Since the rebellions of 1967, nearly fifty years ago, these same interests have poured billions into the city in one failing downtown development scheme after another. If their thinking about Parke Davis, the Ren Cen, Poletown and Casino Gambling has proved so wrong, why should we now trust their thinking about neighborhoods?
They think that uprooting people from place and memories and putting them in neighborhoods with which they have no connection, will somehow make their lives better.
In fact, the things that foundations do well, youth programs, support of arts and protection and development of natural parks, are now all going to suffer.
Instead of cheerleading schemes that shuffle people around like pieces on a checker board, TIME should have taken a second look at some of the policy decisions that have drained people and money from Detroit.
First among them was eliminating residency requirements for public servants in 2000. Nowhere does TIME acknowledge the impact on the city when hostile state legislature under pressure from the police and fire associations outlawed residency requirements.
As TIME was packing its bags, Mayor Bing acknowledged that 53% of Detroit police officers now live outside the city. “One thing we’ve heard from the community, loud and clear, is that we need more public safety officers living in the neighborhoods,” Bing said.
Restoring residency requirements for police, fire, teachers and all public employees should be the first step in attacking the vacancies in Detroit. Any new Charter School should be required to have 100% residency in the city.
Residency requirements should be combined with an aggressive program requiring our anchor institutions; hospitals, universities, banks and public utilities to spend 30% of their budgets on locally-produced products, services and labor.
Moreover, anyone who works in the city and earns more than $150,000 (10 times the majority of Detroiters) but lives elsewhere should be taxed at 3.5%. The 3% is what all residents pay; the .5% is in lieu of property taxes lost when they choose to live somewhere else
Rebuilding our city does not mean looking to the past as TIME suggests, Rather “defining the characteristics of city life that for centuries have made it an appealing way of living” requires rethinking how to create economic relationships that favor local production and consumption, self-sufficiency and ecological care.
Detroiters in neighborhood after neighborhood are creating a new urban life. TIME missed almost all of them. ___________________________________________