August 18, 2010; Source: Wall Street Journal | Frequently the cumulative impact of federal and state budget deficits and cutbacks get played out on municipal turf. In some cities, the turf is so destroyed that city officials can only consider radical remedies. The most extreme example of this is Detroit, where Mayor Dave Bing faces a collapsed economy and a political apparatus done in by Bing’s corrupt and convicted predecessor, Kwame Kilpatrick.
What does Bing plan to do? With the help of funding and advice from the philanthropic sector, Bing plans to “reconfigure this shrinking city” by shrinking it intentionally and thoughtfully, rather than in laissez faire haphazardness. The Mayor’s staff point out that the city faces an $85 million operating deficit at the moment, making the idea that the city can revive all neighborhoods impossible.
The mayor has to make choices.(Remember the controversies years ago over municipal government “triage” strategies in housing and community development?) Not every neighborhood can be saved, and the city needs to consolidate and demolish tens of thousands of vacant properties that make many neighborhoods appear all but unlivable.
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For nonprofits that serve the poor people in these neighborhoods, these choices have to be wrenching, especially given Detroit’s sorry history of wiping out neighborhoods such as Poletown (to create a General Motors plant) and Black Bottom (to build Interstate 75) through urban renewal eminent domain strategies.
According to the WSJ, Detroiters are also weary of philanthropic foundations and advisors helping the mayor think through the planned shrinkage strategy, especially since the salary of the chief planner recruited by Mayor Bing for this program, Newark’s Toni Griffin, is paid for by foundation moneys.
But the plan still isn’t there, only the broad outlines. And when it comes to making things happen for the remaining residents of Detroit’s downsized neighborhoods, what funding will be available to them after cascading federal cutbacks and state and municipal deficits?—Rick Cohen