• Bankruptcy and Children: How Detroit’s youngest are faring and what they face

    Everyone is affected by Detroit’s bankruptcy, but the Associated Press examined its specific effects on the youngest citizens: children and teens. The wire services reports:

    (Detroit) is a city in the throes of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, where life places special stresses on young people. Many say Detroit is finally on the rise after hitting bottom. Yet teachers and parents worry about the toll of growing up amid danger, dysfunction, and the blight epitomized by tens of thousands of abandoned homes.

    “This is what we’re ingraining into kids’ psyches — this emptiness, the lack of safety,” said Tonya Allen, chief executive officer of the Skillman Foundation, which backs many child-oriented initiatives. “They’re going into school with a level of fear that something bad is going to happen.”

    Gang violence. Infant mortality. Lack of public parks. Limited public bus services that many teens rely on. Here’s another piece about specific challenges for the younger population of the city…and some of the possible remedies.



    By in Blight, Neighborhoods
  • Downtown Development: An outgoing CEO reflects

    George Jackson joined the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. 12 years, three mayors and a bankruptcy filing ago. He announced his retirement from the president and CEO position earlier this year, and a search is underway for his replacement. During his tenure, the downtown and riverfront enjoyed extensive investment and development. But Jackson and others faced criticism for too much focus on the central business district and not enough on the city’s sprawling neighborhoods.

    As Jackson departs, he talks with the Detroit Free Press’s venerable John Gallagher, development writer. Here’s a sample of the interview:

    Q. And why does re-development take so long? Deals that you think will take one year may take five years. It’s something every mayor has complained about.

    A. Well, a lot of it is the financial markets, particularly in urban areas. It’s a lot more complicated to develop in urban communities than it is on a greenfield site. When you develop in an urban area you’re dealing with the history of the site, what its prior use was. You also have the issue of financing. The financial deals tend to be much more complex because the financial markets see more risk in most urban areas as opposed to outlying suburban areas, so you always have this (financing) gap. I think, too, a lot of these deals end up being highly leveraged without a lot of equity, so when you don’t have equity, that creates delays. You have to be more creative about how you put these deals together.



    By in Neighborhoods
  • Water Shut Offs?

    Thousands of homes, businesses, schools and commercial buildings in Detroit could be without water, as the city plans to shut off service for delinquent accounts, The Detroit News reports.

    Nearly $270 million was overdue from water bills as of March 6, according to the Department of Water and Sewerage.

    With more than half of the city’s customers behind on payments, the department is gearing up for an aggressive campaign to shut off service to 1,500-3,000 delinquent accounts weekly, said Darryl Latimer, the department’s deputy director.

    Of the 323,900 businesses, schools and commercial buildings, 164,938 were overdue (that’s 51 percent), owing $175 million. Of the 296,115 residential accounts, 154,229 were overdue (that’s 52 percent), owing about $92 million.

    So is this revenue collection part of the bankruptcy’s financial sweep in the city? The News’ sources say not necessarily:

    Department officials say the initiative is unrelated to Detroit’s bankruptcy restructuring and is simply a renewed effort to remedy a longstanding problem. The fear of being stuck with Detroit’s delinquencies, however, has kept suburban leaders from embracing a regional water authority proposed by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.


    By in DWSD, Neighborhoods
  • Does graffiti have a role in urban revitalization?

    If you’re a graffiti artist – or writer, or vandal, depending on your point of view – no canvas is as big and appealing as Detroit, writes Nancy Derringer at Bridge Magazine, our Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner. In Detroit and other cities working to revive aging industrial cores, there is growing debate over whether graffiti is a legitimate form of grassroots art that enlivens gray cityscapes, particularly blighted ones, or a plague that slows revival. See how that argument is playing out in a sampling of Michigan cities.


  • Michigan Citizen and Kevyn Orr: Which history will be ultimately be written?

    The Michigan Citizen, one of Detroit’s African-American newspapers, has often had a lonely voice in its sustained criticism of the state’s emergency manager law and Kevyn Orr’s actions authorized by it. In the paper’s most provocative coverage of Orr’s first 12 months, the weekly publication reports on its staff sit-down interview with Orr, who visited the Citizen’s offices last week.

    The Citizen posed and Orr answered an array of questions, including some in ways the mainstream media haven’t or, frankly, wouldn’t: “Do you see yourself intervening in evictions or any of the suffering?” and “Some people can hear (your policies) as wanting a whiter, wealthier city. What do you think about that criticism?”

    Like it or not, those are the uncomfortable questions some Detroit residents and sympathetic observers have as they view the daily poverty, unemployment and disenfranchisement in most of the city. While downtown enjoys unprecedented investment and white hipsters are lauded in the local and national media, for example, where are the solutions for the unemployed, undereducated and poverty-stricken?, they ask. The Citizen is a voice that can steer the collective conversation about Detroit to include policy perspectives and proposals rooted social justice. In the paper’s ongoing coverage and now timely conversation with Orr, the Citizen hopes, in part, to broaden the framework by which the legacy of Michigan’s emergency manager system will be evaluated.

    To his credit, Orr, who has lived in the Miami and Washington D.C. areas, spoke to the Citizen of his ideal vision of Detroit: a widely diverse, safe urban area with balanced books and manageable debt. It’s his job as emergency manager, he says, to focus on the balance sheet and steer the city through a bankruptcy toward a sustainable, healthy financial future. In doing so, he’s proposing up to 80 percent cuts to banks and lenders to free up money for city services. The financial institutions predictably don’t like it:

    “They’re going to try to defeat this plan because their view is they’d rather take that money. And I’ve tried to restore it,” Orr says.

    The Citizen’s Shea Howell, drawing a vastly different conclusion, says this:

    This capacity, to think in a logic that excludes the consequences of your decisions on the lives of others, characterizes much of what we saw in Mr. Orr. This was most evident when he talked of pension cuts. Here he stressed, ‘There are only 20,000 pensioners in a city of 700,000.’ This is just a few people. A sacrifice for the many.

    This kind of numbers game is chilling.

    History will determine what the state law and Orr’s tenure will ultimately mean to the city … and if the Michigan Citizen was among the first to realize the consequences.

    -By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda

    @WDETSandra and

    The Michigan Citizen, as part of New Michigan Media, is a member of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative along with WDET.

  • NPR in Detroit: Here’s what the country heard

    The politics of division. Hangovers from the racial divides. Lack of regionalism. The new, white mayor. And of course how 8 Mile divides the region. Here’s a segment National Public Radio produced for last weekend. If you’re a Detroiter, you’ve heard this story a million times. How can we move this storyline along for the rest of the world?

    NPR also reported about the organization Reclaim Detroit, a group that deconstructs abandoned homes and recycles the materials from them. Isaac Lott helps tell the story. He’s a former drug dealer who works for Reclaim Detroit. He says getting rid of blight and getting kids educated will help improve the city.

    A few years ago, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra was on the brink of bankruptcy and the musicians were on strike. An auditor famously reported the institution had “no business being in business.” But a turnaround took place, and NPR brought it to listeners.