LANSING —

Kate Green

In a move that surprised only those
political observers old enough to remember when Detroit was a
bustling city that actually had people on its downtown streets,
yesterday Gov. Jennifer Granholm stood alongside State House
Speaker Rick Johnson (R-LeRoy) and Senate Majority Leader Kenneth
Sikkema (R-Wyoming) to announce a bold new economic initiative
intended to make Michigan a rival with Florida for the reputation
of being the most “old-people-friendly” state in the
union. The plan, entitled “Reviving Michigan’s
Manufacturing Base and Outlying Suburbs in Order to Hasten the
Flight of Young Educated Residents,” calls for a refocusing
of state efforts and resources to build more expressways, factories
and retirement communities. Notably absent from the press
conference was Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was ruled far
too young to attend and was unavailable for comment.

Democratic presidential candidate Richard Gephardt, who skipped
CNN’s Rock the Vote debate last week to campaign with old
people in Iowa, was on hand to applaud the decision, along with
members of the AARP. Gephardt called the state’s policy shift
“a major victory for Michigan’s voters.” He went
on to say, “This marks a significant departure from the
failed anti-worker policies of the Bush administration.”
Experts on the Michigan economy, however, told the Daily that the
announcement does not mark a major policy redirection so much as it
formally reaffirms the state’s policies for most of the 20th
century through the time of this announcement.

Later in the day, state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk (R-Kalamazoo), who
is best known on campus for trying to give the state authority
effectively to censor the University’s curriculum because he
disapproved of the English Department’s course “How to
Be Gay,” announced plans to move the University to a new
location “maybe in California or Massachusetts or some place
like that.” University President Mary Sue Coleman said that a
decision has not been made, but that “You can be sure
wherever we go, we’re taking the Life Sciences Initiative
with us.” There was no word on the fates of Michigan State
University or Wayne State University.

When asked by reporters why she decided to discontinue her
“Cool Cities Initiative,” Granholm cited a quote in
Sunday’s Washington Post. The quote was from Bruce Katz,
director of the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy at the
Brookings Institution. Katz said Cleveland is getting its act
together and “I believe that if Cleveland had not tried so
hard it would look like St. Louis or Detroit.” Granholm
responded, “When Cleveland is making fun of your reputation,
you might as well just give up.”

Granholm’s announcement comes on the heels of some bad
news for those interested in reviving Michigan’s economy. The
Big Three Detroit automakers have been losing market share to
foreign competitors. Plans to revive the city hit a pothole when
the backbone of the redevelopment, Compuware Corp., announced it
will be cutting its workers’ salaries by up to 60 percent in
the face of millions in losses. In September, the U.S. Census
Bureau announced that 33,371 young people have left Metro Detroit
in only the last three years.

Richard Florida, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in
Pittsburgh, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,”
a book about attracting the young, educated, diverse demographic to
cities, said, “If most of your hair hasn’t turned gray
yet, Detroit sucks. I guess Granholm is saying, ‘If you
can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’ ”

Indeed many experts strongly believe that the state of Michigan
has for decades followed a set of policies that have led to results
that young people find unattractive, including urban sprawl. The
Detroit area, the nation’s most segregated big-city region,
is populated by low-rise homes and shopping centers miles away from
the city of Detroit itself. Detroit does not offer an exciting
lifestyle for recent college graduates. The economy relies heavily
on the auto industry as well — an industry that does not
provide the types of jobs young, college-educated people work.

Efforts to tame sprawl draw harsh criticism from older
suburbanites who feel that the government will infringe on their
property rights. Legal experts say these suburbanites will likely
remain successful in court, but Prof. Florida adds,
“They’ll grow old lonely because their children are
going to leave the state. They’ll be happy just to see their
kids a few times a year on holidays.”

Pesick can be reached at
“mailto:jzpesick@umich.edu”>jzpesick@umich.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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