What Detroit Needs Now

With Governor’s Snyder’s announcement that an emergency manager is on the way, the time for navel-gazing and re-litigating the past is over. It’s time to finally take strong, even radical, action to fix Detroit.

So, what to do now?

I do not pretend to have a magic formula. But I think a new mindset is needed — one that starts with accepting where the city is and a willingness to confront its problems without fear or preconditions. Here are some ideas for where to start:
– First of all, we need to all agree that apocalyptic predictions of ever-worsening doom are not helpful. Of course Detroit’s problems are solvable. It might be hard to solve them. Solving them might require a lot more courage and innovative thinking than we have mustered so far. But Detroit’s predicament was brought about by human beings and can be solved by them.
– Stop assigning blame. The decline of Detroit has complex causes. Suburban critics like to dismiss everything as the result of decades of “mismanagement.” City residents blame the business community for largely abandoning the city and cite such things as racism and federal housing policies that encouraged development in the suburbs. To some extent, everybody is right. But honestly, at this point, it hardly matters.
– Everybody needs to accept the fact that this is going to cost money. Back in the 1970s, pulling the New York city government back from the brink of collapse required an all-hands-on-deck effort that involved the city’s creditors, city unions, the state, the federal government and other stakeholders. It was not cheap, quick or painless, but the action paid off. Detroit’s salvation will require an equally serious approach.
– City residents have to accept that Detroit needs outside help and drop some of their suspicion. Reviving the common-sense idea of leasing Belle Isle to the state would be a good start.

I have owned a home in Detroit since 1998. Over that time, I have seen a lot of rebirth in parts of the city. Overall, I am optimistic about its future. However, a really muscular revival of the urban core seems unlikely if the city government continues to lurch needlessly from crisis to crisis just because the city, state and region will not act boldly.

Michigan needs Detroit. Everybody knows that. Detroit cannot exist outside the reality of being part of the region and state that surrounds it. Everybody knows that, too. So, let’s all stop pretending and just get this done.