“Six months from now, you are going to be able to judge for yourself whether the leadership of this city has a sound plan and is achieving it.” Those were the words of Mayor Mike Duggan when he was sworn in. His six-month challenge is coming to an end. All this week, The Detroit Journalism Cooperative will look at the changes in Detroit over the past six months and how the city is functioning under bankruptcy. Michigan Radio’s Detroit reporter, Sarah Cwiek, and investigative reporter Lester Graham spoke with Cynthia Canty on Stateside about Duggan’s efforts.
Noting Detroit’s 60 years of population decline, unique among the biggest U.S. cities, the Wall Street Journal last weekend explored Mayor Mike Duggan’s efforts to reverse the trend. Even during his first half year in office, Duggan knows his success on this particular issue could be a major factor in his re-election, the newspaper reports.
“The single standard a mayor should be defined on is whether the population of the city is going up or going down,” Mr. Duggan said in an interview at his City Hall office six months after he was sworn in. If he fails, he says he doesn’t expect to run in 2017 and win—marking the boldness of his undertaking, considering the long odds he faces.
Duggan’s first term, of course, has taken place with the city in bankruptcy. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr controls the city’s finances and the police department, but Orr’s term is scheduled to be up at the end of September. Duggan has made public his enthusiasm, high expectations for himself and staff, and his energetic vision for the city.
These first six months of Duggan’s mayoral tenure have been full of headlines about cooperation with city council, blight removal, lighting improvements and a renewed focus on the city’s neighborhoods, the WJS reports. But like many city residents, advocates and observers, the newspaper is essentially asking the question “Will Duggan’s momentum continue?”
Judy Washington, a 55-year-old project manager, toured an open house on a recent weekend. Ms. Washington said she thinks about leaving the city “all the time,” but stays because Old Redford shows signs of coming back and she feels a “sense of responsibility” to help the city revive. “I think the jury’s out,” Ms. Washington said when asked about the mayor’s plans. “We’ve been down this road before.”
A hedge fund manager is butting in to improve Detroit.
The New York Times DealB%k blog reports this week about a hedge fund manager who set loose in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood a herd of goats. Twenty of them. Yes, nestled within the blog’s financial news about bond rallies, wireless regulations and global business deals, was the post about Mark Spitznagel’s “experiment.”
Spitznagel, DealB%k reports, is the founder of the $6 billion hedge fund Universa Investments, and he’s brought the herd from his northern Michigan farm into one of Detroit’s most challenged but resilient neighborhoods that is also known for its urban agriculture, including a “Farmway,” and public artwork.
Spitznagel released his goats on Thursday, capturing the attention of the DealB%k blog:
To most of the world, the solution to debt-ridden Detroit is money. But for one hedge fund manager, it’s goats….Mr. Spitznagel says he is contributing directly to the community. “It’s an urban farming experiment,” he said of his plan to leave his goats to roam and munch on overgrown grass. “Goats are an effective way to do landscaping,” he added.
DealB%k reports that Spitznagel plans to hire unemployed adults and some kids, er, “local youth” as herders. He’ll build housing for the goats. At the end of the summer, he plans to ” sell the goats to Detroit butchers and give the proceeds back to the community.”
Blight removal, job training and access to mortgages will be enhanced in Detroit with a $100 million investment from JPMorgan Chase, the Detroit Free Press reports.
The formal announcement is to come Wednesday, but the Freep’s John Gallagher writes today that the funds will come over five years, half in grants, half in loans.
Chase has been working for several months developing the program, which will be announced Wednesday at a luncheon featuring Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Mike Duggan, and JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon, as well as local foundation leaders and business executives including Dan Gilbert, founder and chair of Quicken Loans.
Don’t rebuild. Instead, rethink, urge filmmaker Carrie LeZotte and author John Gallagher. And if you want to see what can result when that happens in challenged cities like Detroit, tune in to our Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner DPTV at 9 p.m. to see the documentary film, “Lean, Mean and Green.” It offers a glimpse of Detroit’s freshest, forward-looking projects and some in other cities that maybe can help drive some ideas here.
LeZotte, like many of us, took inspiration from Detroit Free Press writer Gallagher’s recent works: “Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City” and “Revolution Detroit: Strategies for Urban Reinvention.” Indeed, the pair are among the top books I recommend to people who say they want to understand Detroit. In a city where the past, of course, is prologue, Gallagher both respects the history of the city and its people and looks forward. He asks AND answers questions about what new history could be written.
While doing so, he visits urban farms, business incubators, specialty museums, public art projects, outdoor recreation centers and other creative public, private and community ventures. LeZotte is there with a camera, and what results is an energetic, inspiration, people-focused story about what’s possible here in Detroit.
Some people say these cities are finished. … Other people disagree.
Tune in to see if you agree.
-By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda
@WDETSandra and firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner Michigan Radio reports that the Detroit City Council has agreed to transfer more than 16,000 city owned properties to Detroit’s land bank authority, a move that allows Mayor Mike Duggan’s ambitious blight eradication efforts to move forward. Reporter Sarah Cwiek reports on how the mayor plans to use the non-profit land bank as a key tool in the fight against blight.
The moves would essentially go like this: federal money granted to Michigan for blight removal would head to Detroit and replace already-budgeted city funds for that effort, allowing those monies to go toward pensions.
That’s according to a Detroit Free Press article this morning under the headline “Obama, Michigan in talks to free up $100 million to aid Detroit pension deal.” Quoting sources speaking on the condition of anonymity, the Freep reporting team outlines how the funds would get from Washington into Detroit neighborhoods and/or pension funds, depending on how closely you’re tracking each dollar in the trade.
Officials from the Obama Administration, the Freep says, have been in discussions with key state figures. But:
Obama, not keen to set a precedent of the federal government sending money to cities or states with deep pension debts, has publicly said there’s no support for a bailout of bankrupt Detroit. But Obama also has been under pressure from unions not to let retirees suffer in Detroit, a city that votes heavily Democratic.
Sure, this story has some future forecasting, but at least in this case it has to do with funds coming into the city. While Detroiters live sometimes live under a “promises made, promises broken” cloud based on past history, perhaps this particular Freep story is more of an accurate forecast of the city’s next chapters. The time may be right for more commitments from Washington D.C. to spread some of its relative wealth into beleaguered municipalities like Detroit.
The four major deals reached by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and his team of attorneys in the past week with different city creditor groups must be reassuring to anyone watching for signs of future stability and the city’s ability to properly and prudently spend funds. Those deals are the commitments from three insurers of Detroit unlimited general obligation bonds, the deal approved by Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes that reduces the city’s obligation on some pension debt, and yesterday’s announced agreements with the leadership of both pension groups for relatively minor cuts to payments in those systems.
Maybe the next announcements will be just that: who’s next to help.
-By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda
@WDETSandra and email@example.com
“There is plenty of blame to go around for what has happened in Detroit. However, most of the hubris laid at the feet of Coleman Young doesn’t belong there,” writes Larry Gabriel in Bridge magazine this week.