Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Incredible Shrinking City Of Detroit



By GARY BAUMGARTEN
Paltalk News Network


On a recent trip to my native Detroit, I reported on block after block after block in some neighborhoods where virtually all the houses were abandoned, burned down or bulldozed. Some blocks have but one or two houses that are occupied.

Now, newly elected Mayor Dave Bing says he wants to move people out of those neighborhoods completely. In essence, he wants to shrink the city.

It's impossible, the mayor says, to maintain any level of service to the communities that have been effectively abandoned. So he wants to close them down.

The plan, which Bing, a former NBA player and then a successful businessman, says will surely face a legal challenge, means that those neighborhoods will have no schools. No police stations. No fire stations.

No garbage pick up. No street maintenance. No bus service.

In other words, the neighborhoods will be turned into Midwestern ghost towns.

Not that they aren't already.

Lawlessness reigns in these neighborhoods. Arsonists travel through them setting abandoned buildings on fire with impunity.

But, how do you force people who own their homes to move?

What about the few remaining businesses? How do you compensate them for their claimed losses?

Do you, at a certain point, tell your cops to stop patrolling the affected neighborhoods? The Fire Department to stop responding to fires? Wouldn't that open the city up to liability?

And do you unincorporated the areas that you wish to abandon? So that you're no longer responsible for providing services there?

Or is the long-term plan - as some critics are charging - to move residents out and industry in?

It's a perplexing problem. Clearly - as more properties become abandoned - the tax base continues to erode. Making it more difficult to provide services to the neighborhoods Bing is targeting.

There are those who will agree with the mayor that this is the prudent thing to do. If the city continues to try to provide service to all neighborhoods where only a few families are hanging on - it then has fewer resources to other areas of the city where there are more dense populations.

But there are others still hold onto the dream that these plots of abandoned property comprise neighborhoods. They see opportunity to revitalize.

In the end, one thing is painfully clear. The Detroit of today barely resembles the Detroit of my youth - one where the American dream - spurred by a then-vibrant auto industry - was within the grasp of anyone who was willing to work. The fact that conditions are such that Bing is motivated to proposing shrinking the city is an American tragedy.

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Photo: Ted Fines Photography

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