Detroiters must guard against renaissance psychosis, a mental state resulting from having expectations raised beyond the ability of Mayor Dave Bing to deliver. For now, at least, the beleaguered mayor’s ambitious and strategic revitalization initiatives have been more hodgepodge than substance. He should trim his list of recovery efforts to a precious few.
The Bing administration is long on good intentions. To be applauded is the offer of up to $4.7 million in tax breaks to help bring to the city a Whole Foods Market and encouraging Blue Cross Blue Shield, Quicken Loans and DTE Energy to move employees from the suburbs to a Detroit location.
It is also encouraging that five Detroit firms committed $4 million over five years to urge about 16,000 of their workers to buy or rent homes in the city. An earlier $1.2 million is available to 30,000 employees of the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System and Wayne State University who purchase or rent in designated neighborhoods.
However, the mayor’s vaunted Detroit Works project – whose goal is to sacrifice some neighborhoods so that others can survive – is sputtering. He’s had almost no success getting cops to move back from the suburbs – even with subsidies, reimbursements or other inducements.
The issue is not whether these targeted groups are entitled to a menu of freebies and preferential treatment, but whether the government should decide winners and losers. These abatements and monetary lures, after all, are not uniformly available to all people or all businesses. That they exist at all is a measure of the city’s many deficiencies and lack of competitiveness.
The Bing administration is desperate to try everything in its depleted arsenal to offset the higher cost of doing business in the city. Trying to force-feed big ticket schemes, though, has proved difficult and frustrating because they are not matched by reforms that provide a climate for success over the long-term. Untried are basic measures that can generate a real sense of optimism and galvanize public confidence.
One of the best indictors of the desirability and livability of a city, or lack thereof, is the rate at which people are moving in or out of it. Detroit lost more than half of its population in the last 60 years.
The middle class found the city uninviting and inhospitable. Too many neighborhoods are plagued by abandoned houses, extreme poverty and unwed mothers. Too many young men are not in school, in the home or in the workforce.
Nothing, however, is a stake in the heart of a city like random crime and senseless violence that has turned once-stable communities into out-and-out wastelands. It should surprise no one that a city that tolerates public disorder would be immune to retaining safety-minded, self-respecting people. Business activity is a costly proposition in a lawlessness society that features some of the highest homeowner and auto insurance rates found anywhere.
Elsewhere, companies that invest and create jobs tend to do so in pro-business climates that may or not offer incentives. The removal of excessive red tape influences such decisions. Easing Detroit’s stifling tax burden is a prerequisite of any growth and prosperity effort.
It doesn’t hurt to have political leadership capable of presenting a vision of the future that constituencies can see and embrace. And there’s nothing like a few tangible, achievable targets to confirm that small victories breed larger successes.
Residents in distressed neighborhoods struggle to hold their heads high. Put on notice that their communities are on track to receive substantially fewer services, they suffer from a dwindling sense of hope and pride.
Twisting in the wind, confused and unable to comprehend the revitalization game plan, they are baffled to see only the mayor’s select few receiving relief from the burden of high taxes, or cash benefits for moving into “salvageable” sections of town.
Detroiters left out of the loop must wonder where they went wrong. Help them understand, Mr. Mayor.