Hispanic and Asian community groups in
Detroit are protesting a controversial economic plan approved by
the Detroit City Council that would spend $30 million to set up an
economic and cultural center, dubbed “African Town,”
exclusively for black business owners. These groups are right in
protesting the plan, and the City Council should rescind the
resolutions passed in support of it.

Beth Dykstra

Author and developer Claud Anderson originally brought the dea
of creating an economic sector of the city for black business
owners to the Detroit City Council. Anderson believes that while
blacks make up 85 percent of Detroit’s population, they are
continually treated like second-class citizens. Under his plan, the
city would set aside $30 million dollars from casino development
for investment in grants and low-interest loans for black residents
of Detroit.

While taking this money away from casino development is a
positive step, to reserve that money exclusively for black
residents could renew racial tensions in a city that is desperately
working to overcome a racial divide; keeping these tensions low
remains critical to the economic vitality of Detroit.

The city is crossing racial lines and working with the
predominantly white suburbs to prepare for large-scale projects and
events like the 2005 Major League Baseball All-Star game, the 2006
Super Bowl and a proposed expansion of the aging Cobo convention
center. Creating a zone of the city specifically for black
businesses would only reinforce the racial divisions that persist
in Detroit, the nation’s most segregated major metropolitan
area.

If Anderson and his supporters are truly committed to fostering
economic development in Detroit, they should make the grants and
low-interest loans available to citizens of all races in the city.
Given that the city is 85 percent black, demographics would ensure
that blacks would still derive the most benefit from the plan.
Making the grants and loans available to all races would also make
the proposed development program impervious to lawsuits that would
delay its implementation.

Considering that 26 percent of Detroit residents live below the
poverty line, any proposal that could provide economic hope should
be expedited. As this number is more than twice the average in the
state of Michigan and across the nation, it is evident just how
much economic investment is needed.

An encouraging sign is that during debates regarding the plan,
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick kept an open mind. Even though he vetoed
City Council resolutions in favor of the proposal, he engaged in
sustained dialogue with the plan’s author. At its core, the
plan is flawed because it would be viewed as discriminatory, but
the idea of Detroit investing in its own economic development is a
refreshing departure from the common thinking, which, at least in
metro Detroit, holds that the key to revitalizing the city is money
from suburban visitors, consumers and investors.

The idea of Detroit re-investing in itself, instead of being
dependent on investment from the neighboring suburbs is one that
city leaders should further explore and promote. The City Council
should withdraw its support for Anderson’s plan, and set up
an alternative program that will not once again divide the
state’s largest city across racial lines.

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