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You can’t build Detroit without Detroiters

If many readers aren’t excited about the future of Detroit, the corporate, foundation and establishment stakeholders who trek to the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference every year are.

It appears all of the obstructionists are gone — no more fighting city council or elected Black or local leaders with any real say.

Few are left to question the ideas coming out of the conference. No more big showdowns where former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick presents Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson with a bottle of vodka. No more Eight Mile-style battles — Lansing runs this show.

This year, it is clear Detroit is not just key to the state’s growth, but also its prosperity. Detroit is the state’s finest asset. Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan for an emergency manager-led bankruptcy, to boost the region, came at the right time for some. It was the action needed to convince investors Detroit is viable and ready for business.

Now, more than ever, dissension from the dominant narrative is not appreciated — haters beware.

The message: Detroit is ready for investment, don’t get in the way.

But notice what is silenced.

Despite this apparently rosy time, many Detroiters are dealing with massive water shutoffs, poverty and unemployment.  An impending increase in DDOT fares and parking tickets, closed and embattled schools, neighborhoods destroyed by foreclosure and the loss of Belle Isle.

It would truly be wonderful if the changes happening in Detroit —- many announced at Mackinac, from a new hockey stadium to ideas for closing the skill gap — will lift all boats.

The Mackinac optimism for Detroit rises as Black political power declines and Black poverty and desperation increase.

Unfortunately, many of the changes inspired by the conference or proposed from Lansing will likely increase income inequality. We will see the evidence in coming years — a downtown for the wealthy and well-educated, the neighborhoods for everyone else.

two detroits?The fear here is not in making Detroit a great city but the likely reality that bad policy, including emergency management, will create an unequal city — two Detroits.

Now is the moment to listen to Detroit if we are all to be successful.

If Detroit is to become a healthy, sustainable city it’s time to do things differently.

For Detroit to be successful, quality of life must improve in the city including state dollars for a robust regional mass transit system. Legislators must take on disproportionately high insurance rates in the city, and share the cost of these rates throughout the state. There must be money for parks and a real program for entrepreneurs, small business development and economic opportunity for Detroiters. “Neighborhood” Detroiters must be the first hired. Opening a business must become easy for longtime residents who should receive the bulk of loans and grants.

Social mobility and economic empowerment are desperately needed in Detroit, but it wont’ be achieved through exclusion. You can’t build Detroit without Detroiters.

Until the state and city has full participation — economic and civil — Detroit will not rebound.


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