My analysis of Detroit’s problem is that the roots of racism that exists in all of America was uniquely exacerbated in this city. For the past 40 years, Detroit has been in a stubborn conflict of philosophies that unless is finally resolved will keep the city from a much needed recovery. In fact, this deadlock has now thrust the city into a crisis of immense proportions.
One side has attempted to create a conclave of gentrification to push through the malaise, to grow Detroit in spite of the frustrating residue of the city’s blue-collar era. The other side continues to try to find an economic solution to the city’s problems despite a school system that has failed miserably and community that commits crimes against itself at appalling rates.
My analysis suggests that no city government could have turned around Detroit’s depopulation without resolving the city’s institutional racism, which until now, has been a suppressed issue that acts out in violence. And my analysis also suggests that no attempt to gentrify Detroit out of its decay will have the growth rate to overcome the city’s budget issues. Even if the city’s small growth of last year were tripled to maximize the potential of the millennials, it would take a quarter century to grow out of the city’s financial crisis. The city’s infrastructure and pension costs are just too great for any realistic gentrification population growth to meet the city’s growing needs for revenue, even if we ignore for the moment the violent reaction and tax collection difficulties that would accrue to such an apartheid policy.
At some point, the city is going to have to find a way to reinvest in the city’s existing population as part of a holistic solution. Mr Gilbert has done a masterful job of buying up real estate and creating a vision of what Detroit could become. He just has no viable pathway to get there without bringing along the city’s population. Detroit has 620,000 African Americans spread throughout who are part of the equation. Their history is one of oppression, defiance, and internal struggle in the face of exodus.
Social safety net policies will not placate Detroit. Only a solution that builds a real economy that includes the current population will work. Yet few businesses remain in the United States that can provide a living wage to a population whose educational system has failed them so miserably. A radical departure from the status quo is what will be required to turn around Detroit.
My suggestion is that the gentrifiers who are putting their hopes in Kevin Orr to bust apart the city and start over should stop thinking that this path has any chance of success. Can Detroit gerrymander its geography and carve out the parts of the city that would take decades to recover under a build out scenario, returning blighted areas to the historical township structure of unincorporated American lands? That scenario is vastly unlikely politically or realistically, and no other city would annex blighted sections of Detroit. The emergency manager will not choose such a path. Detroit must face its demons.
Yet, with the right strategy, one that is inclusive of all its citizens, Detroit can actually recover quite quickly, and in so doing, Detroit can provide the rest of the country a blueprint to find the gold buried in all of our inner cities, our people. The strategy must overcome the catch 22 circular arguments I have listed above. No current political or economic policy exists to do so. It must be invented. As such, the paradigm shift that is necessary to create such a political invention will be called radical by some.
Radical or not, with no other viable alternative in sight, Detroit can either reinvent or wither. My vote is for re-invention.