Detroit’s renaissance psychosis

City of Detroit

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.

2 thoughts on “Detroit’s renaissance psychosis

  1. Detroit’s rebirth presents an enormous challenge. Sadly, nothing seems to be working.
    I have to give the Mayor credit for trying to rebuild the city. His Heart is in the right place but nothing is happening with any visible speed which suggests that his initiatives cost money which no one seems to have or wants to give to Detroit. The mayor needs cash to provide more than adequate police and fire ptrotection. This also begs the demand that there be a visible presence of both within the major heart of the city and the neighborhoods. While the population is shrinking there does not appear to be a measurable drop in crime. If there is, then a better job of PR is in order to spread that information throughout Metro Detroit. The only salvation I see is to build the city up by starting with downtown and like the spokes of the wheel Detroit is eventually move into the neighborhoods. A good start would be the Woodward Corridor. Get that rail system in place at least up to the State Fair and don’t bicker with the Suburbs. I am not convinced some leaders in the burbs want to see Detroit Survive regardless of their pronouncements to the contrary. And don’t get hung up on where the street cars should travel. Our blatant stupidity from the past comes back to haunt us. The Street Cars that ran up and down Woodward should have never been discarded. Even though that’s in the past why can’t we use the rails that are under the road way that have been paved over?

    Not enough time or space to debate this issue.

  2. Selecting communities “to save” does leave some feeling left out. My mom has worked so hard to keep her block intact, as so many of her neighbors have done. But whenever there is talk of revitalization or emphasis on enhancements, her community is never invited to the stabilization table. Mr. Bing targeted a handful of communities for extra attention, like Green Acres. They deserve all the help that is available, as do all of the Detroiters who maintain order, fight blight and care about the city.

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