What kind of city? By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

What kind of city?

By Shea Howell

Dec 1 – 8 2012

What kind of city will Detroit become? That is the fundamental question underlying the struggles swirling through the City Council chambers. It is the question that has been brewing, sometimes boiling over, in public opposition to much of the direction dictated by the State, the foundation-government elite, and the Mayor.

In the last session of the City Council, this question burst out into the open. Most people in the city were heartened by the refusal of Council to be bullied into a questionable contract with Miller Canfield, the dismantling of the water department, and the wholesale transfer of vast amounts of land to John Hantz. The council raised thoughtful questions about conflicts of interest, the privatization of an essential public service, and the absence of specific agreements around land use. These questions fall under the responsibilities of the Council to protect the interests of the city. The hundreds of people who packed the council chambers and gathered outside the doors wanting to speak demonstrated the intensity of opposition to these issues.

Our mainstream media had pushed for yes votes on all these issues. They went apoplectic when the Council rejected them. This media response shows they are clueless about the nature of the struggle unfolding in our city. Most of their commentary aimed at painting the City Council and Corporate Counsel Krystal Crittendon as chronic naysayers. Their absence of analysis was covered over with vitriolic name-calling. In one short posting Nolan Finley called the council “puppets,” “dolts,” “worst elected body in America,” a “pack of pipsqueaks,” “who stuff their campaign accounts,” “don’t give a damn about poor people.” and folks who “preen and prattle,” while obstructing everything. This rant offered no analysis and ended with yet another plea for Governor Snyder to get an emergency manager law to put all these obstructionists “on the sidelines.” From the liberal side of the media, Jack Lessenberry did no better. He referred to the Council as “petulant two-year-olds” who “repeatedly reject proposals clearly in the best interests and those of the people who live there.” Actually Jack, most of the people who live here welcomed these no votes.

They are votes that said we do not want a city run by back room deals. We do not want a city where public resources necessary to sustain life become sources of profit. We do not want a city where public lands become scarce and privately controlled by a single individual. We do not want a city where development is pursued at any cost, without regard to the most vulnerable among us.

In saying “no” to the directions dictated by the corporate interests, at least some in the City Council reflect a different vision for our city. That vision has been growing slowly and surely in our neighborhoods for years. It is the vision that recognizes that Detroit offers the opportunity to create a new kind of city, capable of developing self-sustaining ways of life rooted in local production of what we need to survive and thrive. It is a vision of a city that embodies values of common access to the land and water; education that encourages creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving; and values art and craft as essential. It is a city where people struggle to make the decisions that determine their future.

This vision, emerging in many small places, is beginning to coalesce into a broader understanding of what Detroit can become.

The corporate elite sense that it is not the particular policies that are being rejected. It is their vision of a whiter, wealthier, privatized playground that is being challenged. If they could get their emotions under control, they might see that the city emerging, in spite of them, is one they too would value.