It might be a little too early to call, but I’m saying it anyway: Detroit has officially become cool. It must have happened somewhere in between Eminem driving with the guitar track to “8 Mile” playing, a gospel choir signing powerful chords in the background and the news that a Robocop statue would indeed be coming to Detroit (If you think I’m kidding, look it up. It’s happening, get excited). But despite the new post-industrial, resilient and rugged makeover the city received from Chrysler’s Super Bowl commercial, Detroit still faces major structural and planning problems. And while the stylistic remake is nice, and certainly is a necessity to the overall reinvention of Detroit, it doesn’t solve the material problems that Detroit faces — specifically population decline and abandoned neighborhoods.
The Chrysler commercial ends with what should become an iconic phrase: imported from Detroit. But what Detroit needs to concern itself with is how to also import people into Detroit. That is, how to make equilibrium in a region that essentially is a donut — a metropolitan area without a hub city. Michigan residents overwhelmingly choose to live in the suburbs, and those who do reside in Detroit only find work outside its city limits. But Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder have introduced new programs to help solve that problem and entice more residents to live in the city.
If you have ever played Sim City, you’ll recognize that municipal and citywide issues usually have a cyclical effect, and just like your virtual city, the same is true for Detroit. Population decline causes the loss of the tax base and tax revenue. This in turn causes a dip in city services, which causes more population decline. When population declines, businesses leave. When businesses leave, jobs leave. With no employment in the city, residents default on their homes, and neighborhoods become abandoned. Abandoned neighborhoods cause a decrease in property value, leaving no incentive for people to return to the city. It’s a complex succession of events that would probably better be described in an ever useful flowchart. What Bing and Snyder’s plans attempt to do is to break the cycle by providing financial incentives for buying homes in specific neighborhoods that have the greatest chance of development.
Bing’s plan, entitled Project 14, has received a lot of criticism from Detroit’s City Council, but is actually a valid and beneficial program. Project 14, using funds from the Federal Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative given to Detroit, plans to renovate 200 homes in the Boston-Edison and East English Village and then offer them to the 53 percent of Detroit police officers who don’t live in the city at reduced costs. The genius of the plan comes in its ability to address two problems at once. Not only does Project 14 work to bring in more residents to Detroit — specifically financially stable and middle class residents — but since the incentive is for police officers, Bing is also addressing the problem of crime. Having police officers live and work in those neighborhoods fosters community and an environment of safety — something that would certainly incentivize others to move as well.
Snyder also mentioned in his State of the State address a new initiative called “Live Midtown.” The project is part of a greater program called 15×15, which is designed to get 15,000 young people to move to Detroit by 2015. “Live Midtown” offers incentives to employees of the Henry Ford Health System, Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State University to buy apartments or homes in the Midtown Detroit area, another burgeoning neighborhood in the city. The hope is that these financial incentives will encourage young professionals who work for those employers to move to Midtown. The program has been highly touted and has high expectations for being successful.
Detroit had previously tried a residency requirement for public employees that ended up causing strife, anger and tension between the suburbs and Detroit until its repeal in 1999. So, it’s good to see the leaders of this state, Bing and Snyder, recognize bad policy and take a different approach to entice people to live in Detroit. If the Robocop statue or Eminem’s sleek driving skills weren’t enough, programs like Project 14 and “Live Midtown” will work to incentivize moving to Detroit and further a professional youth movement to move back to the city and help with its revitalization. For me personally, though, they had me at Robocop.
Will Butler is an LSA sophomore.