Detroit exited bankruptcy with a plan to balance city budgets and improve services to residents.
While elected leaders have the responsibility of overseeing those actions, residents can help measure improvements – or declines – in their neighborhoods. They’ll get help learning to do that at two free events presented by Citizen Detroit. Dinner is included.
The “Dinner & Dialogues” are planned for 5 p.m., Wednesday March 25 and April 22 at the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, 111 E. Kirby. They are open forums where Detroiters can learn more about how the city’s post-bankruptcy “blueprint,” the Plan of Adjustment, was drafted and how it will be implemented, says Sheila Cockrel, former Detroit city councilwoman who is part of Citizen Detroit, a Wayne State University project aimed at educating and engaging the city’s residents in local government. It’s part of the Forum on Contemporary Issues, run by former WSU President Irvin Reid.
More information on the Dinner & Dialogue event as well as how to register for it can be found here.
“The idea was that regular Detroiters really want to understand the factual basis for the situations that the city was facing,” Cockrel says. “A hallmark of this program would be that we would deal in factual formation but also give people the opportunity to experience the complexity of making decisions.”
At the events, WDET’s Stephen Henderson, host of “Detroit Today,” and Sandra Svoboda, who covered the bankruptcy and blogs at NextChapterDetroit.com, will play the roles of Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes and Martha Kopacz, who was the judge’s “expert witness,” in the case. Working off a script based on her testimony in October, the duo will reenact Rhodes questioning Kopacz in court as part of the bankruptcy confirmation hearing.
“What we’ve done is excerpt the transcript because there’s multiple tiers and layers. It’s way too much information for one session. The part we’re going to focus on are the restructuring initiatives,” Cockrel says. “because that’s the place where, I think, are the things citizens really care about.”
Rhodes chose Kopacz as his expert witness after issuing an order that he was seeking an “expert witness” to assist him in assessing the feasibility of any bankruptcy settlement for the city. In late April, he selected Kopacz, of the Boston-based Phoenix Management Services (a business consulting firm,)
She reviewed the city of Detroit’s legal filings, budget audits and financial projections, and interviewed city officials to determine the feasibility of Detroit implementing its Plan of Adjustment.
In October, Rhodes questioned Kopacz in court about the bankruptcy exit and any suggestions Kopacz may have had. In short, she held a positive outlook on the city’s restructuring as it moved forward, saying the Financial Review Commission (established by Gov. RickSnyder to oversee the city’s finances as Detroit rebuilds) was a step in the right direction and that along with Mayor Mike Duggan should keep the city on track financially.
Following the bankruptcy trial, WDET headed into Detroit’s neighborhoods with panels of city officials and neighborhood advocates. We met with residents, heard their questions, asked our own and got some answers. Here are those meetings, recorded, as they aired on WDET’s Detroit Today program. Topics: City services, public safety, blight, lighting and (inclusive) development.
The next one: 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 20 at Always Brewing Detroit, 19180 Grand River in the Grandmont Rosedale area.
WDET’s bankruptcy reporter Sandra Svoboda will give an update of the case and answer questions from residents. We also want to hear from the audience about what’s happening in the neighborhoods, and there will be a chance to make suggestions and share ideas about how the city can recover.
In advance of the conversation there, Sandra talked with the owner of Always Brewing Detroit, Amanda Brewington. They started their discussion with Amanda’s story about opening her business.
Amanda Brewington: I actually just wanted to open a coffee shop in the city of Detroit so I started driving around, looking at places and I was, you know, finding a few but never the right, no parking, no roof, that actually happened. Things like that. We ended up in Grandmont Rosedale. I actually had a mentor at Techtown that I still see regularly. He had a meeting with Tom Goddeeris, the executive director of the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, and Tom was like, yeah, I wish we had a coffee shop over here and Darren, that’s my mentor, he was like I know a girl. She’s trying to find a coffee shop. So that’s how we ended up in Grandmont Rosedale. I had a meeting with Tom after that meeting and he kind of drove me around the neighborhood, showed me the different things going on, told me about the long-standing commitment they have, they’ve been there 25 years, Grandmont Rosedale to kind of get the neighborhood organized and working together. They already were but it helps and so it’s just a really great, stable community. Everybody looks out for each other.
Sandra Svoboda: Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, of course, is a community partner helping to host the meeting. But after you opened the coffee shop, you ended up moving to the neighborhood too. What drew you there?
AB: The idea was to open a coffee shop where I could live near it. I’m totally in. I opened the shop there. I live there. I’m part of it. So we opened the shop about a year ago, and we moved on the Fourth of July. So now I’m a neighbor too.
SS: So this will be the first of our community meetings that we’ve done in a coffee shop. We’ve been in churches, parks, community centers. What can we expect the conversation to be like at Always Brewing Detroit? What are the issues, challenges and really the benefits of living in the neighborhood?
AB: In Grandmont Rosedale, people there they don’t just talk about it, you know. They’re the kind of people that if something needs to be done, they do it. If trash needs to be picked up, I have several regular customers that come in with like a bag of trash they picked up on their walk from their house to the coffee shop. These people, they just do it. That’s why I’m there, that’s why I love Grandmont Rosedale. It’s not the kind of community where people have meetings to discuss what to do. They have one meeting, and then the next meeting they go and do it. We actually have a group they call themselves “Trash Talking” that comes every fourth Saturday and they pick up trash. They come in, have coffee, talk and then go pick up trash. That’s just like a neighborhood initiative that they started.
SS: So maybe our community meeting up there is going to be some ideas, programs, initiatives that could be expanded to other neighborhoods of the city. Can you tell me a little bit how you might see that working, what recommendations your community might have for other areas in getting these kinds of things going?
AB: Definitely. I think communication is key. You’ve got to have leaders and you’ve got to have people who talk to each other. They have block captains, they have a neighborhood Vacant Property Task Force that meets once a month and check on all the houses that are vacant and makes sure they are stable, safe, all that good stuff, and so I really think having leaders established in a community and then having those people talk to the others, and it just spreads that way.
SS: I don’t mean to put you on the spot about spying on your customers, but when they do come into the coffee shop, do you hear them talking them about the bankruptcy? What questions do they have about it, or what’s really striking them about it enough to be talking about it?
AB: When it first happened, a lot of the customers were coming in talking about it, in the sense of “Yeah well, that happened.” It’s not like a thing day to day concerns us or affects us, but it’s definitely something we’re aware of because you know, what happens after that? What about pensions? Pensions is a huge conversation. There are a lot of people in my neighborhood who have lived there 30-plus years and they have pensions from the city and they’re like OK, is that still going to happen?” There was a lot of talk about that going on for sure.
SS: What are the challenges remaining for GR, It’s in the city of Detroit, the city is in bankruptcy, not immune from fiscal challenges and other issues. What remains to be done in your area?
AB: Definitely, I think in our area there’s theft, three’s crime, there’s things going on. We just keep expanding radio patrol and things like that. There are definitely things that need to be done, more precautions put into place. Lighting is coming. We have lights there now so that’s really exciting. Things are coming along There is always more to be done. It’s still Detroit. Even though it looks really nice, late at night people want to make sure their car is in a well-lit area and all that good stuff.
In advance of WDET’s Community Meeting tonight from 6-8 p.m. at Matrix Human Services at 13560 E. McNichols, Detroit, MI 48205, WDET Bankruptcy Reporter and Next Chapter Detroit Blogger Sandra Svoboda interviewed Wayne Ramocan of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance about how neighborhood groups are working hard to address the issues of blight, park maintenance, and creating sense of community. More details about meeting which is open to the public, can be found here.
Sandra Svoboda: Tell me about the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance.
Wayne Ramocan: The Osborn Neighborhood Alliance is a community organization that has been in existence since 2010, but we’ve been in the Osborn neighborhood since 2006 just building the foundations for the organization, and we work a lot with block clubs, a lot of small organizations that have been in the neighborhood for a long time. Our main goal is to support them when it comes to any type of planning, advocacy, even some small funding. We help them to try and find the resources that they need for their programs and initiatives and other representatives of the neighborhood.
SS: For who aren’t familiar with the Osborn Neighborhood up there in north, northeast Detroit, can you tell me about some of the challenges the area is facing?
WR: One of the challenges that we face of course is blight. The east side in general is pretty notorious for blight or at least it has been traditionally. Now the thing is, it is also a citywide problem but that’s something we’ve been tackling since we got here but as we’ve started to focus on blight we’re obviously seeing a lot of other issues in the neighborhood, population loss is another one but these things aren’t anything that aren’t going on anywhere else in the city and also across the nation, not just Detroit.
SS: And what are some of the strategies that you’ve seen work in the Osborn area related to improving the blight situation?
WR: As far as how we’ve been addressing blight, one of the main things we’ve been trying to do is look at small wins. So how we started with it was the small clean ups and boards up. But we’ve also started to address some of the blight in our neighborhood parks. Now we know that the city has not been able to take care of some of the parks around these neighborhoods and for whatever reason, we’re not going to go into all the reason but the fact is they haven’t been taking care of what they should have been so in the past we’ve been working in the parks helping to maintain the grass and things like that. We’ve been looking at different ways we can do little things to show physical improvement in the neighborhoods. We’ve been fortunate now that the city is starting with the Adopt a Park program, at least they’ve rejuvenated it. So we’re seeing a lot of improvement in a lot of the parks we’ve been maintaining over these past several years. The city is doing a better job of working with their partners. We’ve been working on things like that and building on those successes. Like I said those small wins. We’ve been building on those small wins and now we’re looking at actual development of buildings, single-family homes, multi-family homes and even apartment building that we’re starting to address in the Osborn Neighborhood.
SS: So is this almost the reverse of the Broken Window theory. That’s the idea that once one window is broken in a neighborhood, everything goes down quickly. It sound like you’re almost having that effect in reverse. One park is improved and there’s some momentum?
WR: That’s what we’re hoping for and it’s starting to work. You have two sides of it. So one side is like the people who live here. That’s what I would argue is the most important. Folks who live in the Osborn neighborhood want to see something because you can have some of these other issues being addressed behind the scenes but if residents aren’t seeing it, it doesn’t really exist. You know, because sometimes those things take a little while to actually be visible or manifest itself where residents can actually touch it. That’s on one side. We’re trying to show results to the residents who live here to say, OK things are happening. It’s slower than a lot of us would like but things are happening. So that’s one. The other side is for the funding. The reason why we start small is because when it comes to funding you want to show that something small, you know, a pilot project or whatever you want to call it, it’s can work so you build on those successes. Like I said, we’ve been working in many different ways throughout the neighborhood on these small projects over the years and now these things are being compounded and we’re actually finding funding for these larger projects that residents are asking for and saying there is a need for, we’re able to show that hey, we’ve shown success and now we’re asking for larger funding for so and so project.
SS: I’m speaking with Wayne Ramocan, he’s the program manager at the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, our community partner at tonight’s bankruptcy meeting. What strategies have you used in these project to really get residents involved and really feel like they’re making a difference in their neighborhood?
WR: It’s showing those results as much as possible even if they are small because in order to get any kind of buy in for anything that is happening, whether it’s our type or work or anything you could even apply this to business. If you want people to get on board, you have to show some type of result. People don’t want to be a part of something they feel is going to fail. And a lot of times in the past we’ve seen some examples of how residents have been failed by institutions or the city I don’t know, people, things that are here in Detroit. So what we want to show is that we will be successful or at least we’re more likely to be successful than things that have seen here in the past. That’s what we’re still working on, building that trust. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it is: building that trust and building these relationships in neighborhoods. That’s the strategy that we’ve been taking and it really does end up like being a one or one type of thing where you have to build relationships one by one. We find ourselves visiting the homes of some of the resident here, some of the block club leaders. That’s what it takes. You have to sit down and have conversations, get feedback and have conversations. You have to respect the people, the voices of the people who do actually live in these neighborhoods.
SS: What are you hearing from people there about the bankruptcy? Are they feeling any specifics effects or do they have particular questions about the process?
WR: You know, I haven’t heard too much about the bankruptcy. A lot of times when we’re talking about any type of issue in the neighborhood it’s usually just about the neighborhood. A lot of times when I hear about the bankruptcy is when somebody is say a former city employee or has some type of interest in the bankruptcy itself but other side, the average resident at least the response that I’ve been getting form the average resident, the bankruptcy doesn’t come up as often as you think though it is such a big deal and it affects a lot of, just everybody’s lives.
SS: Why do you think that is?
WR: Because I think it’s so big and now this is just me speaking, right, this is what I believe is that it’s so big, it’s so hard to grasp and it’s moving so quickly it’s hard to catch up. You usually just hear about the larger developments that are happening with the pension or whatever is happening at the moment. Usually that’s just the talk but other than that, there’s not too much to grab onto unless you have a personal interest.
SS: Why should residents come to these kind of community meetings?
WR:Usually with these community meetings, now I guess I should start with our organizations, that’s one of the things we’ve done over the few years we’ve been here is host community meetings and we’ve also invited partners and other folks to come and speak about whatever important issue is important at the moment, right? So we’ve always made sure to have a variety of information so in this case, the primary thing we’ll be talking about is the bankruptcy but we are always including other information that is relevant to the resident of Osborn. So in this case, you know, the bankruptcy being distilled would be great beaus like I said it’s a huge topic that is hard to wrap your mind around so that’s what I think the benefit will be for the residents but also general information that we have about the neighborhoods, about the city about the things that are happening that pertain to the residents of Osborn.
Court hearings, Mayor Mike Duggan’s initiatives and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s financial restructuring plans are integral to the city’s eventual emergence from bankruptcy. But so are residents’ ideas about how the city can more forward and meet neighborhood needs.
WDET and Next Chapter Detroit are hosting two community gatherings on the east side where you can not only get answers to your bankruptcy questions but also connect with your district and discuss ways to move your neighborhood forward in the city’s post-bankruptcy era.
Join us any time from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, July 17 at the Northeast Guidance Center, 2900 Conner St., and Wednesday, July 23 at The Matrix Center, 13560 E. McNichols.
Light refreshments will be served. The event is free.
When a group of teens turned out to the WDET/Next Chapter community meeting, hosted in conjunction with Urban Neighborhoods Initiative on June 25, we couldn’t pass up asking them about their neighborhoods and how they envision the city’s future.
“I actually do see that bankruptcy has affected my neighborhood because even across the street from me, there’s houses that need to be taken down or even are on the list of being taken down,” says Anthony Keeth, 18. “I’ve heard stories about this great city. The houses used to be full. The neighbors knew each other. You might as well say they were family, but now it’s like, I don’t see where that’s ever happened.
The meeting one was of 12 we plan throughout the city this year, where we’ll answer questions about the bankruptcy process and hear about what it means to city residents. These community meetings will help shape our coverage of the bankruptcy on WDET and at Next Chapter Detroit.
The five youth in this video range from 15 to 18 and are part of the youth development programs developed and coordinated by Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, also located in District 6 in Southwest Detroit.
We asked the teens about their neighborhoods, what they think bankruptcy means and what how they envision the Detroit’s future. Their common themes and issues for them? Abandoned lots, blight and violence. They also say that even though there is litter and blight, not everyone in the neighborhoods treats their property and their city that way.
Bankruptcy reporter and Next Chapter Detroit blogger Sandra Svoboda and Bridge Magazine’s Mike Wilkinson join Craig to talk bankruptcy court proceedings and Mayor Mike Duggan. Sandra also tells Craig about the Next Chapter Detroit community meeting that happened earlier this week in Southwest Detroit. “The bankruptcy process is something that has seemed a little bit distant from the neighborhoods at this point. Nobody’s opinions are right or wrong or more important than anyone else’s,” she says.
As part of our ongoing bankruptcy coverage at NextChapterDetroit.com, WDET is hosting a series of community meetings around the city. They’re sessions where we can answer residents’ questions about the bankruptcy and about how the city can restructure going forward. We also like to hear from the residents about issues in their particular neighborhoods and what they’d like to tell city leaders about getting problems solved.
Our next meeting is Wednesday, June 25 – from 6 to 8 p.m., at Urban Neighborhoods Initiatives’ All Saints Community Center. That’s at 8300 Longworth in southwest Detroit. U-N-I along with Congress of Communities is our hosting partner for this meeting.
And here’s the transcript of it:
Sandra Svoboda: For people who aren’t familiar with U-N-I, tell me about your group.
Dennis Nordmoe: Urban Neighborhood Initiatives started back in 1997 as a way of exploring how we could develop neighborhoods, urban neighborhoods, in a very comprehensive way, to just bring out all the positives and make them the kind of neighborhoods that people want to stay in, neighborhoods where they would think of them as positive places to live, work and play and attractive places to invest further as they prosper rather than to leave as soon as they can afford to go somewhere else.
SS: A lot of people listening probably know about southwest Detroit in terms of Mexicantown, the busy west Vernor area, maybe Clark Park. You’re located a little outside of that, what’s it like in the neighborhood area that UNI is located in?
DN: We’re located about a mile and a half west of Mexican town. It’s a very densely populated, working class neighborhood, nice bungalows and smaller homes, dating from the 10s and 20s of the last century. One of the extraordinary things about it is it has its own little downtown and really functions in many ways like a little village or a small town rather than as a part of mass society, kind of metropolitan experience. SS: What are some of the particular challenges to your area in light of what’s happened in the city of Detroit and the bankruptcy?
DN: Of course we went through some loss of population as the housing crisis emerged but I would say the most troubling thing has been just the decline over the years, and it goes back many years of intensive police activity that roots out the low level kind of crime that kind of eats away at things. We don’t have the serious crimes that people read about in the papers and hear about on television but when you come out to your car and you see broken glass in the street, you know this is not a good thing. We understand that the police have to be active in the parts of the community where there is very serious crimes but they can’t just put us on the back burner until they get everything else in order in the rest of the city. We’re beginning to see more police activity now. We’re very hopeful about where we’re going.
SS: We’re coming out as part of WDET’s Next Chapter Detroit and WDET community meetings this week. We’ll be out there at your All Saint’s Neighborhood Center. What else do you think we’ll hear from residents in addition to the problem you just described?
DN: Well, I know that everybody is concerned about education. We have actually some of the better schools in the city but people will still be concerned about that and express their issues. Young people want jobs. We do a fairly good job of helping young people get jobs through our programs but that’s an issue. Parents want activities for their children and that’s actually an area where we probably rank pretty well citywide but still it’s a concern. Transportation here is poor in terms of connecting to the rest of the city. If we for example had a bus route on West Vernor that would be active every 20 minutes instead of once and hour that would connect people to the downtown hub of transportation, that would be a huge issue. Frankly though there’s a part of the population that has been here for along time but hasn’t done so well economically and they’re struggling with very practical issues like how to get a new roof. How to get a furnace that just doesn’t devour what little income they have.
SS: As the city moves forward and restructures coming out of bankruptcy, what kinds of things do you think the administration should focus on, particularly for your neighborhood there around Urban Neighborhood Initiatives?
DN: The city is apparently making a commitment to do a lot more clean up of derelict properties including a major abandoned school. That’s a very hopeful thing for our area. And also they’re beginning to make the inspections that apparently they were supposed to be making all along that can really improve the quality of the environment that we see in rental homes and commercial properties in this area.
SS: My final question, we’re looking from questions from the community that people have about bankruptcy. Are you hearing those? What do you think we might hear in that regard?
DN: I’m not hearing a lot of questions about that. They’re concerned about whether things are going to get better and they’re pleased with the improvements that they recently witnesses both in police activity and in the handling of the garbage collection and bulk trash pick up. These are really hopeful things that are coming out.