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"Before we let you take over our city we will burn it down first,"
March 27, 2012 1:53 AM   Subscribe

Emotions ran high (video) as city and state leaders met to work out a deal to address Detroit's looming budget crisis. The threat of state imposition of an emergency financial manager has some residents fearful of the ulterior motives of state officials:

Activist minister Malik Shabazz said black cities are under attack all over the state.

"We understand we have financial difficulties," Shabazz said. "Give us the help we want, need and deserve, not the help you want to impose on us. We don't want an emergency manager or a consent decree. This is white supremacy and we will fight you.

"Before we let you take over our city we will burn it down first," Shabazz said.

Ed McNeil, chief negotiator for AFSCME Council 25, said people have sacrificed and fought hard to bring the city back.

"There's no kind of way in this world you should be taking anything from Detroit and its residents," McNeil said. "We intend to keep it our city. We intend to work in our city and progressing for our city."
posted by ferdinand.bardamu (26 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Believing that the residents and leadership of Detroit have the means and the wherewithal to yank Detroit back from its current death spiral is a fool's dream.

That's not to say that I trust Snyder to do what's right for the state or the residents, he's already proven that he's not interested in doing so.

If there were hospice facilities for cities, Detroit would be admitted.
posted by HuronBob at 3:05 AM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Shabazz is not helping the city.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:53 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


'We've found a suitable emergency manager. Mr Smith is a highly qualified civic administrator with extensive experience handing local government financial crises...'

'Nah. We're gonna give the crazy-assed pyromaniac minister all the money and let him do what he wants, needs and deserves with it.'

'Burn it?'

'Now, now. Let's not impose any solutions here.'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:57 AM on March 27, 2012


"Before we let you take over our city we will burn it down first," Shabazz said.

Oddly, that might be exactly the right thing to do, at least for parts of it. I gather that Detroit's biggest problem is that it's simply too large for the population and tax base to support.

Of course, if you just run around throwing Molotov cocktails, that's not exactly helpful.

I don't think we've ever, as a country, seriously tried to downscale a city before. This is an extremely difficult problem, and the last thing we should be doing is scorning that city for its problems.
posted by Malor at 4:20 AM on March 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't think we've ever, as a country, seriously tried to downscale a city before.

Flint might not be considered a "city" but for a few years now they have been carrying out a planning directive to systematically target and remove housing.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:27 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, here it is: planned shrinkage.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:31 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Before we let you take over our city we will burn it down first," Shabazz said.

Considering that this is basically what you've been doing with it thus far, this may be exactly why you do need someone to "take over your city."

Geez.
posted by valkyryn at 4:56 AM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


A "black city". Is that a thing now?
posted by norabarnacl3 at 5:06 AM on March 27, 2012


A "black city". Is that a thing now?

Demographically, sure, and even more so if you remember the racial history of Detroit and the connection between racism and Detroit's ongoing crisis.

I've been to Detroit a few times. The thing that stood out to me the most (well, aside from thinking that sections of the city reminded me of photos of Beirut after the war) was the staggeringly huge investment in infrastructure that we are somehow willing to walk away from. You drive down almost any road, and you pass huge, beautiful buildings that would cost millions and millions to build anew, and they are just being left to decay. There's some kind of voodoo economics that allows people to walk away from that kind of enormous public and private investment and have it make some kind of sense, but I don't get it.

It's not just a US thing -- European countries have struggled to find good solutions for abandoned "post-industrial" landscapes for decades, too, with mixed results. But still, our resources aren't unlimited, and I can't visit Detroit without wondering about how we could be doing so much more with what we have.
posted by Forktine at 5:14 AM on March 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Black cities have been a thing pretty much ever since the "white flights" decades ago, when whites left the cities for the suburbs. Detroit is surrounded by suburbs - nice places, mostly, far better than parts of the city proper - and the remaining residents of city itself are largely non-white. People from the suburbs might work downtown, they might catch a game at the Joe or head to Greektown for the evening, but they don't live there. It's part of the problem: money generated in the city doesn't stay there, it goes back to the suburbs at night. Taxes earned from workers go to the suburbs where they live.

(This is an oversimplification, sure, and may be a completely superficial outsider's view of Detroit. But it paints the general picture as I saw it from my time in Michigan.)
posted by caution live frogs at 5:17 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"huge, beautiful buildings" indeed, Forktine - the blocks of empty, decaying old brownstones just depressed the hell out of me every trip through the city. And that's just the residential areas...
posted by caution live frogs at 5:19 AM on March 27, 2012


The financial review team was pretty much asking for this. They had closed their meetings to the public in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

The only other thing I have to say is, everything 'official' that goes on in this city is a god damn farce.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 5:50 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


We need either a consent agreement or an EFM quick. The government and bureaucratic infrastructure are what needs to change in Detroit. It's too large for the population, cumbersome and redundant in many areas. You need 3 permits or more for doing things that require 1 permit in other cities because everyone wants a financial piece of your pie. But things are getting better. Just google Midtown Detroit and see where the renaissance center really is. The Mayor and his useless city council just needs to get out of the way. The Black thing is a red herring and Shabazz is famous for throwing it around...but doing little to actually help the city and its people.
posted by Kokopuff at 6:47 AM on March 27, 2012


"We understand we have financial difficulties," Shabazz said. "Give us the help we want, need and deserve, not the help you want to impose on us. We don't want an emergency manager or a consent decree. This is white supremacy and we will fight you."

Just give us the money and STFU.

Which is not actually such a crazy concept. I mean sure they'll waste it. Sure it'll go to support corrupt politicians, sure it will be a waste of money, sure it will never accomplish anything, but that never stopped any foreign aid program. The United States hands over billions in direct cash assistance every year to Egypt and Israel and all the American taxpayer gets in return is "don't interfere in our internal politics " and "send more unless you want us to burn it down." Why should Detroit be treated any differently by the U.S. Federal government.
posted by three blind mice at 7:50 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a theory about how Detroit might be revitalized. I think the city (possibly defined as a core area smaller than its city limits) should be declared a special economic zone. People who live and work in the zone would not have to pay any federal income tax on income earned within the zone. The zone would be guaranteed for, say, 10 years and then phase out over perhaps another 5 years.

I think the result would be significant investment in the city, as well as a very strong incentive for people in the suburbs and exurbs to return to the city. Initially the cost to the federal government would be very low: the population is relatively low and many people living there already pay little or no federal income tax. By requiring the beneficiaries to live and work in the zone and only applying the benefit to income earned in the city, it avoids a lot of ways in which the system might be gamed. Obviously heightened tax auditing would be necessary, particularly for people claiming significant income tax reductions as a result.

With the right spin I think it might even have traction with Republicans. Sell it as a natural experiment in how lowering taxes can lead to economic growth. Call it a "market-based solution" to urban decline, where we trust the market to revitalize the city rather than having the government do a lot of direct investment and regulation.
posted by jedicus at 7:52 AM on March 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


This stirs up a number of unrelated thoughts.

Are most cities like Detroit in the sense that there's "downtown proper" then various "other" munis around it ? It reminds me of Pittsburgh, or Philly, where there are a zillion little townships, all doing their own thing and a semi-rotten core in the downtown proper.

A different thought (if we ignore the probability of it ever happening) is how would the current residents feel if downtown became hip and started to gentrify ? That would save the city, but if past experience is any indicator, it comes with its own set of heavy costs.
posted by k5.user at 7:55 AM on March 27, 2012


jedicus: Newt Gingrich and Hansen Clarke are thinking along those same lines. Although any special economic zone would pretty much have to be city wide, as one of the core criticisms of city government over the last 20-some odd years is that it has focused far too much on 'downtown' at the expense of the 'neighborhoods'. Unfortunately, most suburban/exurban residents would never, never, never consider moving back into the city. Firstly, their own homes in suburbia are probably too far underwater to move, and secondly, the educational system in Detroit is terrible enough that for most folks, living in the city with kids is pretty much out of the question. It probably would attract young folks from other, more expensive cities though. I meet plenty of people daily who've moved here from NY or even Chicago because it's so cheap to live here.

Other commentators (Jack Lessenberry) have advocated the idea of a merger with Wayne County. The county leadership is probably more corrupt than the city leadership right now, and there are way too many local governments in SE Mich. I support that idea but it's pretty much anathema to the black residents of Detroit and the largely white residents of the rest of Wayne County.

k5.user: I can't speak to other cities but the structure you describe for Detroit is basically true. Part of the problem is that there are virtually no services in SE Mich (not even transportation) that operate on a region-wide basis that are also regionally governed, transit being the most dysfunctional. That's partially why I support consolidation or annexation as some type of solution for the city's problems (which, let's face it, are also big problems for the region and the state, no matter how myopic suburban citizens want to be about it.)

The gentrification process of which you speak is basically under way. The mathematics of the process are currently such that 'gentrifiers' moving in are but a drop in the bucket, but the midtown and downtown neighborhoods are slowly growing and becoming more racially diverse. I have a sense that the rental price increases are right around the corner (Midtown is currently at something like 95 percent rental occupancy). It's not currently proceeding at a quick enough pace to save the city from its short term problems, though. However I can already sense the beginnings of racially-tinged tensions around gentrification, even though a fair number of black leaders openly welcome gentrification. They understand that the 'heavy costs' are quite light to continuing down the disastrous current financial path.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 8:09 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's an interesting plan jedicus though I'd be afraid if it didn't bring out of state investment then all you'd be doing is shifting the problem from the city out to the suburbs. Not nessicarilly a bad thing though in the grand scheme of things however the disruptive nature of the shift would mean lots of opposition.
posted by Mitheral at 8:15 AM on March 27, 2012


Given Detroit's location and swathes of cheap land I was thinking it would be a great location for datacenters, but research shows that their power grid has major issues. Pity.
posted by Blue Meanie at 8:55 AM on March 27, 2012


I was thinking of something vaguely along the lines of jedicus's suggestion, but more like this: "Yes, you can move to the US, but only if you live in Detroit, work in Detroit, pay taxes in Detroit, and send your kids to school in Detroit, all for at least the next five years." There are millions of hardworking people would gladly take you up on this offer, so you could pick and choose, and plenty of them would stay there after five years.
posted by pracowity at 9:46 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Newt Gingrich and Hansen Clarke are thinking along those same lines

Gingrich, at least, seems to be focused on business taxes, whereas I think it should apply to individuals and only possibly also businesses. Eliminating the business tax is no good if the businesses can't get workers and customers to come to the area, so the focus should be on bringing in people first.

The other problem is that you might see a lot of shell companies popping up in Detroit to act as tax shelters for large corporations, which wouldn't actually help bring in money, jobs, or people to Detroit. Which makes me think that's Gingrich's real motivation. That or simply tossing out the "tax cuts are the universal solution to everything" idea.
posted by jedicus at 9:52 AM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


norabarnacl3: "A "black city". Is that a thing now?"

Now? How about since the 70s?

Gainin' on ya!
posted by symbioid at 10:41 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


David Simon needs create a new crime drama set in Detriot. That would be awesome.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:58 AM on March 27, 2012


Strangely enough, I haven't been able to find any nonfiction books written about Detroit homicide cops. I'd love the opportunity to spend a year in Detroit homicide, like Simon did in Baltimore.
posted by klangklangston at 11:30 AM on March 27, 2012


People who live and work in the zone would not have to pay any federal income tax on income earned within the zone. The zone would be guaranteed for, say, 10 years and then phase out over perhaps another 5 years.

Sorry, won't work. Why? Because i've known plenty of wealthier people who 'live' in a state or area to cut down taxes, yet are rarely ever there. Heck, the Bushes did it too, had an apartment just to cut taxes. If the benefits of the cut taxes outweigh the cheap apartment, they will do this in a second and not one cent will actually be spent on anything other than the rent, which will also most likely move out of the city.

I forget when it was last taken, but i read a study that said Detroit has a 50% adult illiteracy rate, and that is just shameful, and a good place to start.
posted by usagizero at 10:57 PM on March 27, 2012


usagizero, that's why the beneficiaries of the tax break would also be required to work in the city as well. Perhaps income up to $200,000 could be considered tax-free to avoid that.

Also, I'm sick of the 50 percent illiteracy rate thing. Yes, Detroit has more than its share of poorly-educated poor people. However, the statistic you're referencing refers to 'functional illiteracy', not 'unable to read English' illiteracy. By that measure, Detroit has the same functional illiteracy rate as Italy, and the rate for the USA as a whole is 20 percent.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 8:55 AM on March 28, 2012


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