63 results for blight

  • BIKE-ruptcy: The judge’s bus tour, done by bicycle

    We dubbed it the “BIKE-ruptcy” tour.

    (Here we discuss it on WDET’s Detroit Today.)

    Following the route as best we could that was taken by Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes on his bus tour last week, Todd Scott and I rode more than 50 miles through Detroit on Saturday. Todd, the executive director of the Detroit Greenways Coalition, has probably logged more miles on the city’s streets than anyone and has a keen understanding of how non-motorized transportation can help connect people and neighborhoods.

    From the perspective of our bike seats, we wanted to see what the judge saw and we wanted to be closer to it than he was to see if it changed how we thought about it. We wanted to take a slower roll through the city and better experience the neighborhoods than we do from our cars. We wanted to see what opportunities there are to meet people when you’re not caged behind the glass windshield of a car (or bus, of course…), and we wanted to see just what understanding about the city the judge’s entire route may have given him, the city attorneys, the creditors’ lawyers and the others on board.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUsing the map handed out to media by the city attorneys, the tour was heavy on residential neighborhoods, mainly areas with single-family homes. We thought the blocks the tour organizers picked were extreme: some middle-class areas more densely populated than other comparable places in the city; some more decimated or vacant as well. Palmer Woods is clearly the best of the best in the city.

    The route was light on commercial areas, with virtually no industrial sites. Little urban agriculture was in view, and few parks or gardens appeared. We didn’t ever see the Detroit River or witness the potential of some of its adjacent neighborhoods.

    The bus traveled dozens of miles on freeways – we had to ride alternative routes, of course. Judge Rhodes was extremely concerned about secrecy and security, keeping the day, time and location of his route a secret from media until after it happened. We had little fear of a competing Detroit media cycling tour, and the most danger we faced was traffic on Eight Mile Road. That is NOT a street designed for anything but high-speed car and truck traffic so it was a little hairy at times pedaling next to high-speed cars. Why not ride the sidewalk? Well, first of all, in Michigan cyclists have a right to share the road. Second, the condition of the sidewalk pavement is often much worse than the roadways.

    (Todd points out Eight Mile and Gratiot Avenue, our other most dangerous road, are both state roads and not the responsibility of the city…)

    Along our 50-plus-mile route, we met some nice people, got invited to church, posed with a horse from the Detroit Police OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADepartment mounted unit, and wrapped up our tour with the most creative, exciting, historical and cultural site we’ve ever ridden.

    We rolled into Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts, bikes and all.

    Here’s a transcript of a conversation we had about what we saw. It’s airing on WDET 101.9FM today.

    Todd Scott: So the route began in Brightmoor. We went through the west side. Then we came back north up through the University District and through Palmer Woods.

    Sandra Svoboda: That part was really nice and residential. Then we went through the parking lot of the new Meijer’s at Woodward and Eight Mile and we had that long eight miles into the wind along Eight Mile and then we took Gratiot back into the city. A little job through the Heidelberg Project, through the downtown and by the Detroit Institute of Arts.

    TS: I feel the judge saw a pretty accurate view of the city in terms of the positive and the negatives and how it rapidly changes between both of them.

    SS: Let’s remember the tour was not designed as a bike tour. This was really for the judge, of course, to give him context for what he’s going to be hearing in the city’s bankruptcy trial on the Plan of Adjustment that restructures the debt and the city services. So the attorneys had asked him to go along and really get some kind of idea of what’s out in the city. I kept thinking as we were going along that really, again, we had time to think about it because we were on bicycles and not zooming through on the bus. But I feel like there were some really positive signs about city services. We saw some police out on patrol, the fire stations were well taken care of. We couldn’t judge the lights because we were there in daylight.

    TS: That’s correct. The residential garbage collection seemed to be working. We did see some dumping in some areas and there were some road conditions that could have been improved especially some that needed some street sweeping.

    SS: Again, I think the focus of the judge seemed to be on residential and we saw some extremes in that regard. We saw some beautiful houses, well-maintained in Palmer Woods. We saw some middle class neighborhoods that seemed to be occupied. But we also saw some really blighted areas that were probably more extreme than the norm in the city where there’s one house missing or a couple burned out. Some of those blocks were really, really vacated I’m sure that made an impression for the judge.

    TS: I’m sure it did. We also saw a few business districts. Some that were operating really well and some that needed a little love. We really didn’t go through any industrial areas though. That was an oversight.

    SS: Yeah, that was missing. I feel like the judge, he was in a bus, and they made a couple of stops abut they didn’t have a chance to interact with residents like we did. When you’re in a bike seat and people are saying hello, and you can hear their dogs barking and you can hear the lawn mowers going, it certainly gives you a different impression about the vibrancy of the city.

    TS: Absolutely we got to wave to people and get out and stop and talk to folks and find out what’s really going on.

    SS: We had a similar conclusion as the judge. We did not finish going up the Lodge Freeway. I should point out that we skipped I-96 of course because we can’t take bicycles on that. It was dangerous enough on Eight Mile. But we finished at the Detroit Institute of Arts. This has been a huge part of this bankruptcy case that I’ve written about and covered in terms of the creditors asking that the art get sold to pay debt. I thought it was a good finale for our tour.

    TS: It was great.

    SS: Thanks to the DIA for letting us in there.

    TS: I’ve ridden in many different places but that was quite unique. We were both staking claims to being the first people to ride in the DIA which is something we’ll check off on our bucket

    SS: Nothing I’ve done in my reporting career before.

  • Join Us: Here’s more information about tonight’s community meeting

    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.

  • One Year In: Today marks one year since Detroit bankruptcy petition was filed

    At exactly 4:06:22 p.m. today, Detroit’s bankruptcy hits the one-year mark. Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes said it well:

    “There will be no celebrations at 4:06 p.m. Friday, only quiet acknowledgment that the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history is marking its first year.”

    The Detroit Free Press marked the anniversary with a package of stories last weekend that explored the year in court, the effect in the communities and the new political structure at city hall. Later this week, the Freep published a report predicting a population decline that will make the future even more challenging.

    The costs of this municipal bankruptcy itself are high, to be sure, the highest in history. As of June, the city had been billed $75 million by 19 law firms and financial consultants involved in the case, Crain’s Detroit Business reported.

    While not everyone likes the negotiated terms that are emerging in the settlement, there is no doubt Detroit’s bankruptcy is moving toward resolution faster than anyone could have expected a year ago. It still faces a confirmation hearing, scheduled to begin Aug. 14, and Judge Steven Rhodes will undoubtedly see in the mirror the proverbial King Solomon as he tries to find the fairness and reasonableness to creditors, including city retirees, in the plan. He also knows he’ll be setting legal precedent as he crafts the settlements and restructuring plans, which will be used in future municipal bankruptcy cases across the country.

    We can describe with relative certainty a few elements of the next stage of this case: The pensioners will take cuts to their monthly checks and pay hundreds of dollars more out of pocket for health care. International media will print, broadcast and post more photos of blight juxtaposed against the RenCen as they try to chronicle the decline and possible resurgence thanks to bankruptcy of this city. Courts will decide the legality of the state’s emergency manager law, the remaining pre-trial issues in the Chapter 9 case and future appeals. Lawyers will make more money. Mayor Mike Duggan and the city council will eventually assume control of the city’s departments with “clean” balance sheets and a responsibility to all the city’s neighborhoods, residents, business owners, investors and oversight committees created by the state in the terms of the $195 million pension contributions.

    Whether we see real improvements in access to jobs, quality education for children and adequate public safety for everyone remains to be seen. Lansing, quick to congratulate itself for the package of bills providing money and oversight, could do more and should be pressured to do so. What could possibly be on that agenda? How about statewide reform to municipal finance and a re-examination of revenue sharing, regional transit to help Detroiters get to jobs in the suburbs and help with collecting income tax from Detroiters who work outside of the city. Those three elements would be a start but the governor and the Legislature have been silent on those issues.

    Many of us will continue to frame the city’s bankruptcy with the competing if extreme truths that “there will be a course change to reroute Detroit’s economic decline, failure of public institutions and creating protections against corruption” and “the bankruptcy is undermining unions, codifying the legality of slashing public benefits and creating huge billing tallies for silk-stocking law firms.” Hopefully how we define the bankruptcy’s causes will not limit our ability to emerge from it and restore city services, improve life for residents, ensure fiscal stability and make countless other improvements.

    As for the Emergency Manager’s future plans when his term expires later this year? He told WWJ radio’s City Beat Reporter Vickie Thomas that he’ll “leave quietly,” saying he was surprised by the level of public scrutiny the case brought to him and the city.

    “I think it’s appropriate for me, when this does come to an end, to exit quietly — I’m off the stage — and let the regular order return and let the city’s sort of healing process take; and let the patient recover on their own,” Orr told Thomas.

    7.18.13Bankruptcy Petition by WDET 101.9 FM

  • Bankruptcy Judge hears from pensioners, employees

    It’s a day of anger, emotion and personal stories in bankruptcy court. Judge Steven Rhodes invited 80 people to testify from among the roughly 600 objections, saying they represented a cross sample of the complaints.

    Of the 36 invited to the morning session, 16 showed up, and the judge allowed one who wasn’t on the list to speak. The judge listened from the bench, thanking each person for their testimony but not asking questions or offering comments, with a few exceptions.

    Here’s a sample of some of the individuals who appeared and what they had to say:

    City retiree Jo Ann Cooper, 70, has lived on Detroit eastside for 40 years. In court she said, “There’s a lot of decay in that area, there’s a lot of blight. … I have never wanted to leave Detroit. … I should not have to at this time in my life worry about this.  .. We earned out compensation we worked for it and it should not be taken away from us.”

    Judge Rhodes complimented retired police officer Jamie Fields, saying “I have found the paperwork you submitted particularly articulated and well researched.” Fields argued that the judge would need to apply a “best-interest test,” in weighing whether the Plan of Adjustment would be approved at the August confirmation hearings. “The city has an obligation to show that retirees would receive better treatment under the plan than they would receive outside the plan,” Fields said.

    Pensioner Fiorenzo Fabris called for the federal government to contribute more toward the city’s debts. “They were able to assist the American automakers, why can’t they pay to help restore our pensions? … I think if Detroit recovers, and I hope I does, the pensioners should receive something for their forced compensation.”

    Jesse J. Florence Sr. drove a bus for the Detroit Department of Transportation for 36 years. “I can recall many days that I went to work even though I might not have felt like it because I knew I had a pension and would be compensated when I retired. … I never thought I would be struggling to get health care. … This is devastating.“

    Gerald Galazka objected that police and fire retirees were suffering fewer cuts than the general service pensioners. “This plan placed undue hardship on general retirees,” he said. Galazka also urged better oversight in the future of the city’s finances. “The city and the trustees of the pension funds have fiduciary responsibility to make sure pension funds are properly managed and funded. “There needs to be a mechanism that audits the financial condition of public pension to make sure they are financially sound and do not engage in risky investments that put retiree funds in jeopardy.”

    City retiree Deborah Graham said she would like to be recognized as a “working-class citizen” who “provided an economic backbone to the city,” and she raised the issue that the bankruptcy results in age discrimination against city retirees. “I hope that you restore our benefits,” she told the judge.

    City employee Andrea Hackett said she objects to the plan because it violates state and federal constitutional guarantees of due process and pensions. She told the judge the bankruptcy amounted to a “corporate hostile takeover of the Detroit” and she had harsh words for Gov. Rick Snyder. “I object to the plan because the governor has breached the oath when he swore to uphold the state constitution. … He appointed the EM against the will of the people.” Like other objectors, Hackett also said the appeal of the bankruptcy should be decided before judge holds the confirmation hearing on the city’s Plan of Adjustment.

    Calling the bankruptcy a “looting frenzy,” by lawyers and financial consultants, Kristen Hamel used her testimony to protest the water shutoffs that have taken place when residential accounts went unpaid. She called the bankruptcy and the water shutoffs part of the “inhuman austerity agenda of Gov. Rick Snyder and Emergency Kevyn Orr,” and reminded the judge “The buck stops with you in these bankruptcy proceedings.” She received applause.

  • Teens Talk Detroit: A video report from our community meeting in southwest Detroit

    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.

  • The DJC and Duggan: A Wrap Up of Coverage

    Detroit Journalism CooperativeAt the beginning of the year, newly elected Mayor Mike Duggan said to watch what happens in six months. The media partners of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative did just that, examining how the city is functioning while in bankruptcy and how the leadership of Mayor Duggan is impacting services and neighborhoods.

    Next Chapter Detroit posted the DJC’s coverage of the mayor’s first six months in office as it was released…and now brings this compilation of all the partners’ work:

    We start with a look at the mayor himself. Here’s a profile by Michigan Radio’s Lester Graham. Also Bridge Magazine’s Mike Wilkinson looked at Mayor Duggan’s penchant for creating his own performance measures, both how they’re defined and reported.

    Benchmarks from Bridge


    After this introductory piece, Bridge magazine published a series of stories looking at how well Mayor Duggan is meeting certain benchmarks, some of which he set for himself, at the beginning of his term. They are:

    City Services, written by Michigan Radio’s Lester Graham   Jobs, written by Rich Haglund   Livability, written by Nancy Derringer   Public Safety, written by Michigan Radio’s Sarah Hulett   Public Transportation, video by Hailey Zureich and John Zyski   Schools, written by Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek

    The Craig Fahle Show

    CFS LogoCraig hosted guests for several segments to talk about aspect of the mayor’s work and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative coverage. He was joined by Bridge Magazine’s Nancy Derringer, Michigan Radio’s Lester Graham and WDET/Next Chapter Detroit’s Sandra Svoboda to discuss what the mayor has — and hasn’t — done.

    Craig also spoke with listeners on June 23 to hear their assessments of Duggan’s performance. Generally they think he’s doing a good job — but say the city needs more.

    In Mayor Mike Duggan’s first six months in office, one of the biggest difference between him and previous mayors has been his relationship with the City Council: Council member Saunteel Jenkins tells Craig it’s a cordial one that works. “It’s different because the mayor has actively pursued a relationship with council,” she says.


    Detroit Public Television

    On the television airwaves, DPTV aired two programs with discussions about Mayor Duggan’s first half year. First, the MiWeek team evaluated some of the mayor’s biggest successes and remaining challenges. Then American Black Journal dug into the Blight Removal Task Force, one of Mayor Duggan’s signature efforts.

    Michigan Radio

    Every Detroit mayor for decades has talked about blight. One of the biggest problems facing Detroit is the huge number of abandoned houses, buildings, and vacant lots. Here’s a look at what’s changed in how that issue is addressed since Mayor Mike Duggan took office, by Michigan Radio’s Lester Graham. Logo-vertical-B

    Graham also reported that one out of every three Detroit households doesn’t have a car. They rely on the bus system. But it’s broken. People at the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit disagree whether it’s gotten any better since Mayor Mike Duggan took over the Detroit Department of Transportation, but officials at the department say they’re working to get more buses on the roads.

    Michigan Radio’s Stateside program on June 23 featured Detroit Reporter Sarah Cwiek and Investigative Reporter Lester Graham who talked about Mayor Duggan.“He’s showing some real leadership skills for a guy who has been elected to serve a city with no power,” Graham says on the program. Stateside also hosted a conversation about transportation in the city.

    Until recently, almost half the streetlights of Detroit were dark. Thousands of new streetlights are replacing the old broken ones. Michigan Radio’s Lester Graham caught up with one of several crews installing streetlights in neighborhoods around Detroit and discovered fewer, less expensive lights to power and maintain means a big drop in cost.

    When elected, Mayor Duggan took over a city run by someone else: state-appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Still, Michigan Radio reports that doesn’t mean Duggan has been denied all the rites of passage of the job including the schlep to Lansing to ask the state Legislature for something. Every mayor has to do it. And Duggan had to go to Lansing with a really big ‘ask.’ We’re talking about the $195 million dollar rescue package for his city (that’s right, ‘rescue,’ ‘settlement.’ Just don’t call it a ‘bailout.’)


    WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter found some Detroit residents say the initiatives undertaken by the Mayor are producing mixed results as he works to create what he calls a “livable” city – one that attracts new residents and maintains a stable tax base. WDET’s Pat Batcheller looks at efforts to improve the city’s bus system and transportation department.

    TDIB00336_WDET_Green_R01Mayor Mike Duggan acknowledged one of the single biggest hurdles city residents face when it comes to transportation during his State of the City address in January: the high cost of auto insurance. WDET’s J. Carlisle Larsen takes a look at what the situation is for drivers in the city.

    To get a sense of how a candidate plans for success and how they go about implementing such a strategy when elected, WDET’s Travis Wright spoke with former Mayor Dennis Archer. Twenty years ago this week, Archer, a former Michigan Supreme Court Justice was wrapping up his first six months as mayor. When Archer looked back on those crucial first months in 1994, he said it all started when he tapped six University of Michigan professors to help him craft a city improvement plan in 1990.

    -By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda

    @WDETSandra and nextchapter@wdet.org

  • WSJ: Duggan seeks to end “exodus”

    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.”


  • Bankruptcy, The City’s Future and Southwest Detroit: Come tell us about it

    CommMeetings-District6-webMaria Salinas says there is plenty to talk about at Next Chapter Detroit’s upcoming community meeting on Wednesday, June 25 in southwest Detroit.

    As executive director of the Congress of Communities, she recently attended a monthly gathering aimed at addressing education issues. During that meeting, she was part of a conversation about what’s changing in Detroit since Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr arrived and declared bankruptcy and Mayor Mike Duggan began focusing on blight removal, lighting installation and garbage collection.

    “It seems like since Mayor Duggan has come in, a lot has been happening: garbage is being picked up, lights are being turned on,” Salinas says. “People have this perception that the man came in and all of sudden everything changed. It’s kind of a misperception.”

    Salinas says the city’s bankruptcy isn’t something that residents necessarily experience or address in their daily lives beyond living in the conditions that reflect why it was declared. They don’t see how the court machinations, implications of the judge’s ruling or the landmark nature of the “grand bargain” really impact their lives in the city.

    “I don’t know that residents really understand what bankruptcy is,” she says. “Their issues are bigger. They’re not thinking about the bankruptcy. Maybe they don’t know what it means, what happened.”

    The Next Chapter Detroit meeting – from 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, June 25 at Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, 8300 Longworth – will help residents understand what’s possible in Detroit’s future and give them ideas about how they can be a part of designing it.

    “The bankruptcy has a lot to do with wiping the slate clean and being able to start fresh and new and get new contracts and get rid of contracts or infrastructure in a broken system,” Salinas says. “We’re actually able to take a look and incorporate a new system because basically, through bankruptcy, you can start over.”


  • NYTimes Blog: Free range goats in Brightmoor

    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.”


  • From the Mackinac Policy Conference and Michigan Radio: Gov. Snyder on Detroit issues

    Michigan Radio’s Stateside program host Cynthia Canty interviewed Gov. Rick Snyder about several issues on people’s minds at the Mackinac Policy Conference including the bankruptcy. Here’s a transcript of the Detroit-related section of the discussion:

    Cynthia Canty: Let’s go to Detroit. What are you hearing now as you’re on Mackinac, you’re working through the crowds, you’re talking to a lot of people. How much support are you sensing there is for the Grand Bargain and how much resistance?

    Gov. Rick Snyder: With the people up her at Mackinac, there’s tremendous support for the Grand Bargain. And I’ve found that in many cases across the state. This is a case where we have to do something really special. If you stop and think about it, the situation I often give people, for many Michiganders, when you talk to somebody out of state, how much of that discussion, the first five or ten minutes, was about people out of state bringing up problems in Detroit before you could talk about what you wanted to talk about? If you think about it, that’s been true most of our lives for many of us. We have a situation by his fall where that part of that discussion could go away. The discussion then can be one about people talking about Detroit’s comeback and about growing Detroit and that’s something that I think has powerful positive impact to every Michigander because I think very often we have lived through that old discussion for far too long.

    CC: What kind of impression do you think Mike Duggan made, the mayor Detroit? He was there before the conference, do you think he said what was needed?

    RS: I think he gave a good presentation. It was a very pragmatic one with measurements and metrics. I’m a big measurement, metrics person. There were important issue like blight, jobs for young people, emergency response time a number of topics that when you look at the issues in Detroit, a lot of these are the fundamental things. Let’s get the lights on. Let’s get the trash picked up. Let’s get better public safety. Let’s be a safe better city. He addressed those in many way. That’s why, in fact, I made sure I made the point of being in his presentation to listen to it?

    CC: Do you think this bankruptcy can be wrapped up before the clock runs out on Kevyn Orr’s term as emergency manager?

    RS: I hope so. Again, that’s always been the goal. It’s been a very aggressive timetable but we’ve done well. If you go back and look at over a year ago when the first timetable was set we’re within a couple weeks of that, which I don’t think anybody really expected that. Most people were highly skeptical of that. We’ve gotten a lot of great thing done. We’ll work through this process. The important thing is that we get it resolved because again, I want to see the mayor and City Council running the city of Detroit on their own as soon as possible with some good oversight.

    CC: One of the big problems that’s kind of hanging out there is what to do with Detroit’s Water and Sewer Department. What are you thoughts as to the best answer to that problem?

    RS: I’ve always contended that I thought it would be good to look a regional authority of some fashion because it’s providing services to the region. I think there was a lot of effort made by Kevyn Orr to get that worked out early on. Those talks were not successful, and I think it’s good that mediators have now been appointed to continue the dialogue. What I would say is all the discussion on water and sewer should not interfere with the Grand Bargain in terms of what the Senate’s looking at We should get the grand bargain done through the Senate and then have ongoing discussion about the best way to do the water system.

    CC: You know Brooks Patterson, Oakland county exec, he’s a tough old politician who has seen it all. We also have Macomb County exec Mack Hackel. They both are worried people in their counties are really going to carry the costs of Detroit’s rescue in terms of much higher water rates. Can they be won over?

    RS: We’ve been providing them additional information because those aren’t the facts. The facts are that if you look at it, it’s nearly a half billion dollars of savings for rate payers with the current Plan of Adjustment. In fact all that they’re talking about is an acceleration of payments that would already be required by rate payers. So it’s the simple case of if you have a 30-year mortgage or a 10-year mortgage, aren’t you better off with the 10-year mortgage. It might cost you a little bit more in those years but you actually save money so in addition to the half billion dollars it’s actually a better deal for rate payers.