Posts Tagged ‘urban decay’

Dave Bing, former NBA player and founder of Bing Steel, was elected mayor of Detroit in November 2009; since then he has been re-imagining the city. After the former mayor of the city, Kwame Kilpatrick, was convicted of misuse of public funds Detroit voters put their trust into Bing, an established businessman who plans to manage the city as any businessman would: like a business.

When interviewed by the Wall Street Journal he says

“A city is a business,…it’s a $3 billion plus business. The past administrations didn’t understand that, and I think that’s got us where we are.” Voters realize that private “businesses create jobs,” he says. “That’s where wealth come[s] from, and for too long we’ve treated them like enemies.”

He wants to make the city “more business friendly,” but how? “Take the licensing and permitting process that people have to go through,” he explains. “I’ve heard nothing but war stories. So I’m focusing on how we can help businesses cut through the red tape in city government. As an entrepreneur, if you have to spend all of your time trying to get licensing and permits . . . guess what you do? You’re going somewhere else. We’ve got to make Detroit a place where businesses can make a profit again,” he says hopefully.

I appreciate Mr. Bing’s business-minded attitude towards rebuilding Detroit. He is correct about licensing and permitting being a major obstacle to entrepreneurship yet I am somewhat wary. Rebuilding a city from the depths that Detroit is in will take much more than knocking down obstacles for business development. One of the major obstacles that is unrelated to written code is the ability of those businesses to draw customers. Much like how companies want to see favorable (ie. high income, educated, etc) demographics before spending on advertising, businesses need to see a possible return on investment before setting up shop. To achieve a level of patronage favorable to business Detroit should focus on creating a culture that educates its own citizenry, draws educated people from elsewhere, and ultimately retains those who were educated in the area.

Bing also recognizes this need when he says, “We’re losing a lot of our young talent who graduate from our top universities, because they don’t see the opportunity for jobs in the future here. That’s got to change.”

Apart from education and business development, redevelopment with livability in mind is also imperative. Population flight from the city to the suburbs has left Detroit desolated. The depletion of the tax base has left Detroit in a precarious situation fiscally and also with an excess of decaying buildings and infrastructure.

Bing “wants to tear down buildings and dilapidated homes and convert thousands of acres to ‘parks and greenspace.’ He also wants to privatize public services to save money and create a new cosmopolitan environment that will attract middle-class and affluent families that have fled to the suburbs.”

The demolition is feasible because of federal funding that was allocated specifically for this purpose. The money is needed because

it can take years to transfer title to a property from an owner or lender who abandoned it to the government, during which time the property becomes run down and helps drive down the value of the whole neighborhood. Once the government takes over that land, it can make decisions on whether to tear down the building or sell it to a developer either as an individual property or part of a larger bundle of properties. That can help maintain property values in the area by preventing blight. It can even be profitable for the city if administered well. But it requires a fair amount of money to get the process started, which these funds can help provide.

With all of these proposals and the clear-thinking going on in Mayor Bing’s office it’s hard not to be hopeful. These are ambitious but realistic goals; much needs to be done to get them off the ground but concessions from Detroit stakeholders, public engagement and a committed group of people will certainly help.


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News of out of NYC today: 7 acres of land in Coney Island has been purchased by the City of New York. Back in 2005 Sitt Development bought the land and threatened to develop it into a Las Vegas-style amusement park. This idea terrified me, mainly because it was so antithetical to the character of Coney Island. Coney Island is the “people’s playground” and if a developer were to turn it into a Las Vegas-style mall/housing complex/amusement park it would have driven everyone but the rich out. Now, thankfully, the City has bought the land and, while they have no concrete plans yet as to redevelopment, we can at least be assured that Coney Island will not turn into a playground only for the rich. Hopefully, the Bloomberg administration takes it’s slim electoral victory to heart and starts listening to what ALL citizens of New York City want.

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I was forwarded this story from the Wall Street Journal the other day. It’s specifically about a few guys who find a dump truck on the fourth floor of a warehouse in Detroit and decide to push it out. On a larger scale though, it touches on the myriad of urban decay issues facing Detroit.

I won’t declaim on those issues because 2009 has apparently been the year of Detroit. Vice Magazine has a great piece about the over-saturation of coverage on the “urban ruins” of Detroit and the ubiquity of journalists who are there for nothing other than the iconic photo-ops. However, this Wall Street Journal piece was interesting because, while it shines it’s light on the very obvious issues that Detroit faces, it also goes into micro-mode and finds something illustrative of those issues. Way to go WSJ!

After reading this piece though I couldn’t help but think of Escape from New York, the futuristic, dystopian 1980’s movie starring Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, ex-military man-turned-convict who is commissioned to rescue the President from Manhattan, which has been converted into a maximum security prison island (much like the Australia of old!)

This particular quote from the WSJ article is what made me draw the parallel: “Mayhem. That’s what they should call the place…If you decide you want to push a dump truck out of a window, this is the place to do it.”

Decide for yourself.


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