Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is right-sizing the right fix?

On Detroit's near east side, just a stone's throw away from the hulking and abandoned Packard Plant, sits a neighborhood with overgrown fields, dumped trash, toppled trees and collapsed structures.

Three women perch on a porch having Bible study, while another woman chats on the phone from her porch farther down the street. Their homes are two of the few inhabited ones in a five-block radius, and both offer a wretched view. Their neighborhood represents a growing number
of Detroit enclaves that are ripe to be stripped, scrubbed and made over.

Urban planners insist -- and Detroit's political leaders are beginning to acknowledge -- that the city cannot continue to function as if nearly 2 million people still live there. That tax base is long gone, taking with it the money required to maintain city services and a crumbling infrastructure.

"Detroit once had 1.8 million people, and it's not likely that that number is going to come back in the next two to three decades -- if ever," said Dan Kildee, Genesee County treasurer and a national advocate for downsizing initiatives.

Experts say a downsized Detroit is doable, if these steps are taken:
  • Create a new city master plan, a blueprint for future development and the regreening of the landscape.
  • Identify which parts of the city are most suitable for habitation and development.
  • Develop an execution plan that acknowledges any right-sizing will take 25 to 50 years and should be done in 5-year increments to accommodate budget constraints.
  • Take a full inventory of all city-owned parcels and develop a plan to clear, clean and assemble them into usable shape.
  • Establish state and federal alliances with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Reserve Board to pursue block grants that could be used to relocate residents.
  • Build a partnership with private investors willing to support Detroit's future.
Former Mayor Dennis Archer and other city stakeholders began talking about right-sizing Detroit 15 years ago, when they touted tripling the city's green space and reshaping neighborhoods through demolition and relocation.

That was when the city still had about 1 million people.

Now, three mayors later, in a city with at least 100,000 fewer inhabitants and a budget deficit of $200 million to $300 million, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is scrambling to find creative ways to save money on city services. It's a daunting task.

Bing said he first plans to strengthen some of Detroit's neighborhoods by using part of the $47 million the city received from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program -- funded by HUD -- to demolish vacant structures, especially near schools.

But right-sizing will take time. More here.

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