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Trickle-down urbanism, no future at all

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan

The concept of trickle-down urbanism is key to understanding the regional discussion of Detroit’s bankruptcy and current state of affairs. Trickle-down urbanism is a failing policy-directive, according to University of Pennsylvania’s history and sociology Professor Thomas Sugrue. Trickle-down urbanism is a take-off of President Ronald Reagan’s 1980s economic policy, which directed tax benefits and other incentives to businesses and the wealthy in hope that economic benefits would trickle-down to everyone else.

Sugrue believes much of the current policy efforts in Detroit reflect the trickle-down philosophy in which benefits to hipsters, the creative class and professionals will have little impact on the mostly poor or working-class African Americans who live in the neighborhoods.

Sugrue was in Detroit last week for the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Policy Conference, which ironically, coincided with the Michigan Citizen’s State of Black Detroit.  Sugrue, born in Detroit, is perhaps best known locally for his book, “The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality of Postwar Detroit,” in which he analyzes the 60 years of disinvestment along with race and class segregation.

Interestingly, Gov. Rick Snyder appeared to base his rationale for the emergency manager-led bankruptcy in Sugrue’s work when he went on a national press tour to explain his unprecedented actions. And as Wayne State University Professor Peter Hammer points out, neither Mayor Mike Duggan nor the governor nor emergency manager have mentioned race in their analysis of the city’s financial challenges or their plans for the city. As a matter of fact, most plans for the city do not seem to include or acknowledge the neighborhoods let alone race.

According to the Detroit Future City plan, called the “Bible” by Mayor Duggan’s administration, most of the neighborhoods will actually be obliterated. Remade into green space or some other such craziness.

History shows us the Detroit we see today was created by deindustrialization, racist policies and racial violence. To not acknowledge this history in creating a plan for the future is beyond shameful and guarantees more of the same.

Detroit’s reality of disinvestment, disenfranchisement and poverty continues in the form of an emergency manager-led bankruptcy. The person presiding over the plan for Detroit is not elected and has done little to address the reality or even present possible policy solutions for everyday Detroiters. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is disposing of assets with no economic plan for the mostly Black working class — a wasted opportunity. His plan requires the disposal of any enterprise department —the revenue generating departments — and says nothing about creating opportunity.

Unions, one of the most effective tools in lifting Black folks into the middle class, are being decimated by Orr’s plan.

The Detroit Future City plan had community meetings but no significant input in the actual plan. The Detroit Future City plan is the “Bible” that bulldozes the neighborhoods and reinforces Palmer Woods, Indian Village, Rosedale Park, historically stable and economically viable communities.

Orr could require a Community Benefits Program to build the $650 million hockey stadium. He could have let the trash department workers put together a plan to have their own business contracting trash collection with the city. The best plan for the art could be a fire sale that would keep retirees with a pension of $19,000 a year from being cut to about $12,000 a year AND having to pay their own rising health care costs.

Detroiters have engaged in a 60-year battle for self-determination and economic empowerment — there are no signs of this struggle ending. Mayor Duggan must stand with the community that has already come out against Detroit Future City and Orr’s plan — the blueprints for Detroit’s destruction. For Detroit to become a habitable and sustainable place, Detroiters must have a say in the future of their city.


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