Category Archives: Detroit

“Bing will not seek re-election as mayor, eyes Wayne County executive position”

Since he has proven himself such an effective leader since he was elected mayor.

As with so much of Michigan political news in recent years:  You really can’t make this stuff up.

Back from the dead (The ghost of Christmas present)


It’s been since April 26, the datestamp tells me, that I last blogged here.

There’s been so much change, both in my life and in the communities I live, over those 8 months, too much to really cover here.  Some of the change has been really awesome (though it appears many of my fellow Ann Arborites would dispute that).  Some of it has been really, really awesome.  I got most of what I wanted this year, politically speaking — more than I could have hoped for.  Even the skyline of Ann Arbor has morphed rapidly this year, as a sequence of student high-rises sprouted from the southeast at Forest & South U north and west to William and Washington streets.  As I type this, a new development is finally going up on a long-abandoned brownfield across from Whole Foods on Washtenaw, one that will spawn perpetual Carmageddon and force UM workers to begin to re-evaluate their commutes.

In my own personal life, I went through a short but shattering break up, followed by a series of at least 3 minor nervous breakdowns.  Cumulatively they made me start to re-evaluate the status quo I’d built for myself since I came to Ann Arbor in 2008.  I still really love in Ann Arbor in some ways.  You don’t need me to tell you it’s a special place.  I think I could be happy here if circumstances were different.  But the closest thing I have to family in Southeast Michigan is in Detroit.  I hate living alone and, as my boo the incomparable Luther Vandross noted, a house is not a home.

I’m in the process of maybe/possibly/probably moving back to Detroit, in the process divesting myself of my cosy and charming condo* in Pittsfield Village (a delightful and welcoming community I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone).  So the focus of this blog, insofar as I bother to update it, might start to shift a bit to reflect that.

For those of you who left me in your Google Reader during the long hibernation of this blog, I hope you continue to follow along, give me a piece of your mind, and direct me toward worthy objects of commentary.

*PS it’s an end unit AND updated with 2 bedrooms less than a 10-minute walk from the #22 or #4, so you really ought to just hurry up and make me an offer already.

Apocalypse temporarily averted

It wouldn’t be Detroit if they didn’t all wait til the last possible minute to  do what had to be done.  A new era dawns?

In which I propose a moratorium

… on the use of the word ‘disingenuous’ by elected officials.

In particular, by Detroit elected officials (although it has been wildly and increasingly popular among members of Congress for the past several years).

The mayor used it last week to refer to the Governor’s proposed consent agreement.

Now Councilman/former acting mayor Ken Cockrel used it in the following context:

City Councilman Ken Cockrel said the administration has not presented Council with a decertification resolution because, Cockrel said, he believes the mayor is hoping Council with move forward with a resolution on their own.

Cockrel, who believes reforming the troubled agency doesn’t require decertification, called that move “disingenuous.”

In neither case was it used in a remotely appropriate context.

Enough already.  If you use this word, you are lazy and need to re-acquaint yourself with the richness of the English language.  Find another adjective, which is probably more suited to your intended meaning (which usually is ‘something I don’t like’).

The Detroit consent agreement

While your blogger has been quite busy with his non-blogging pursuits, you may have found yourself wondering when he was going to post on the governor’s proposed consent agreement for Detroit, which hit the Coleman Young Municipal Building earlier this week.

The latest news is that

under a new proposed consent agreement that he and city council staffers privately are hammering out this week… (Mayor) Bing proposes taking over many of the responsibilities of a nine-member financial advisory board that Gov. Rick Snyder wanted to assume control of most of the city’s finances.

I don’t see how concentrating power in the hands of this particular mayor would necessarily constitute an improvement, however.

Consider the response from the Free Press’ editorial board chief Stephen Henderson, who has served as the mayor’s most loyal apologist in local media ever since Bing was elected.  It appears he & the rest of the editorial board have finally had enough:

Council, for its part, seems ready to roll up its sleeves. Several members said Wednesday that they intend to take the governor’s plan seriously but would like to reframe some of the structure. The mayor, however, has responded with surprising pugnacity and a bizarre preening about democracy…

The point is that council has an opportunity to help improve the governor’s proposal if it responds realistically. Certainly, the legislative branch is far ahead of Bing in that regard…

Bing inherited a broken city, campaigned on radical change and has failed to deliver on just about every front. Buses, public lighting, police, EMS — all the city’s basic services fall shorter of effective delivery today than when Bing took office, and he’s still talking about “when” he’ll restructure…

His credibility on this subject is now shot, and his sniping at the governor, who has only been drawn into this controversy because of local inability to solve it, is a cynical and dangerous distraction.

“Cynical and dangerous distraction” aptly describes, as well, the reaction of most of Detroit’s belligerent contingent of full-time obstructionists, led by JoAnn Watson and the heads of the city employees’ unions.  Expect plenty more howling from this highly vocal group and the many residents who take their cues from them.  For this class of Detroiters, victimhood and paranoia is a core part of their identity, an end to itself.  It will remain so up to the minute a final consent agreement is signed,  and beyond.

I highly recommend Jeff Wattrick‘s coverage of the evolving soap opera.  I prefer Wattrick’s witty, gimlet-eyed reporting and commentary to the generally flavorless haiku the Free Press tends to churn out.  Here are a few posts to get you started:

Detroit politics is fun, as long as you don’t draw your paycheck from the city.  Pop some popcorn, sit down, & enjoy the show.

Why Michigan’s roads suck

According to a Free Press/WXYZ-TV poll last week, 58% of Michiganders would rather continue whining about their roads than fixing them.  I don’t find this terribly surprising.

It is conventional wisdom in Michigan that the condition of our roads is among the country’s worst.   I’ve read a number of different theories for why this may be.  One is that we have unusually high weight limits for trucks.  Another is the freeze-thaw cycle that results from our harsh winters.  Another is American road construction standards, which generate cheaper bills but demand more frequent repairs.  Presumably each of these factors contributes to our bumpy rides, to some extent.

What I almost never hear cited as a factor is how incredibly overbuilt Michigan is.  (Credit due to Urbanophile, who has written at length about this phenomenon elsewhere in the country, and Charles Marohn, whose theory of the “growth Ponzi scheme” I’ve praised.)  And by Michigan I primarily mean metro Detroit,  with Genesee and Saginaw counties also shouldering significant amounts of blame.  Is it any coincidence that these areas also have some of the most segregated populations, auto-centric layouts, depressed home values, and dysfunctional inner cities in the entire country? The Detroit, Flint and Saginaw metropolitan areas are the poster children for autocentric sprawl, and have reaped their just desserts for it. Among the consequences of the sprawl is that, of course, we can’t afford to pay to maintain the countless miles of asphalt laid to service it.  And MDOT, unbelievably, responds to this situation by proposing expansion projects like adding lanes to I-94 in the city of Detroit.  You can’t blame respondents to the Free Press poll for thinking that the last thing we need to do is throw more money at the imbeciles running our state’s transportation policy.

In the spirit of problem-solving, here’s my proposal to help solve two problems at once:  our threadbare roads and our decimated industrial inner cities.   Restrict all state dollars allocated toward road construction and maintenance to the oldest paved segments.  Earmark the majority of road dollars toward the core streets that serviced central cities and inner suburbs before, say, World War II, giving an edge to fiscally struggling older communities across the state like Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ypsilanti, Pontiac, and Saginaw, as well as dense and walkable older communities like Plymouth, Rochester or Brighton.

This will never happen, of course, because Michiganders continue to overwhelmingly choose exurban isolation over city life, and dependency on car travel to the exclusion of any other form of transit.  They will continue to do so, even as the roads they travel disintegrate to rubble and eventually, one by one, revert to gravel.  They will continue to lament the potholes and the flat tires because they’d rather complain than pay a nickel more in gas taxes.   Their leaders will continue to subsidize greenfield development over infill, convinced that for their particular community at least the bill will never come due.

It’s the Michigan way.

PS 2-8-12:  I also want to make it clear that I think the proposal, introduced by State Sen. Howard Walker, to scrap the state’s gas tax in favor of paying for roads with a sales tax increase is insane.  The gas tax should be increased, not scrapped, and we should not be shifting the burden of paying for roads from heavy users (people who drive a lot) to light users (people who bike, walk, carpool or ride the bus).   This bill idea deserves to die.

Results from WDET’s “Detroit Move” Survey

WDET conducted a survey last month centered around the question, ‘What would it take you to move to the city of Detroit?’ The station’s analysis of the results of that survey have been out for several weeks now, so I figured it was well past time for me to post on them.

The response far exceeded the expectations of WDET’s staff:

We set a goal of 1,000 responses in seven days. We met that goal in 48 hours, over the course of a weekend. A total of 2,200 respondents were collected at the end of the week, making this the largest known data set of it’s kind.

It’s so rare to see quantitative data on people’s attitudes about moving to Detroit, which up til now have mostly been captured in a jumble of conflicting anecdote.  As the introduction to the summary notes,

The latest iteration of the persistent “Detroit authenticity/Detroit love”  battle shows little evidence of the participants actually engaging with the arguments/ ideas of  the other side. Instead, there is a lot of interaction with existing beliefs, misremembered history,  convenient reformulations of the past and a willful disregard for “live and let live” acceptance.

WDET wisely engaged the services of a social scientist, a PhD candidate at Brandeis named  Sara Elliott, to help design the survey.  The survey questions they developed were concrete and specific, and admirably, Elliott and her collaborators at the station steered clear of extrapolating too much from the results.

Still, when ’84% of city residents said they would be unlikely to move to the suburbs in the future,’ I suggest we’re a bit closer to guessing why, in spite of the conventional wisdom that Detroit is a dying city, over 700,000 residents remain.  Those who survived the exodus of the 2000s are a resilient bunch and have compelling reasons to stay.

Another interesting data point pertains to how Tree Towners and other Washtenaw residents view the city:

Paradoxically, a smaller percentage of survey takers were from Washtenaw County and this group comes to Detroit less frequently than those living in Wayne or Macomb counties, yet this group was the most likely to say they would be likely or very likely to move to the city in the future (50%). The next largest group of respondents who said they would be likely or very likely to move to the city in the future lived in a county other than Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne (outside Metro Detroit) (42%). Smaller percentages of survey takers from Wayne (35%) or Macomb (34%) counties and Oakland County (31%) said they would be likely or very likely to move to Detroit. The largest group of survey takers was from Oakland County, but they were least likely to say they would move to the city in the future.

Responses to the statement ‘I would support a friend or family member’s decision to move to the city of Detroit’ were more positive than I’d have expected:

There is data to back up an observation that I’ve seen made frequently (and have made myself), which is that younger people view the city in a more positive light than older generations:

Over half (55%) of those under 25 years of age said they would be “likely or very likely” to move to the city in the future, compared to one third (36%) of those 26-45 and one-quarter (24%) of those 45 and above. As age increases, likelihood of moving to the city decreases significantly.

And there are some clues for whoever ends up in charge of the city as to what priorities they should focus on:

A few factors stood out as mattering to more of the respondents who said they were likely or very likely to move to the city in the future…

  • Better city services (57% of likely movers compared to 51% of unlikely movers)
  • Better public transportation (60% of likely movers compared to 36% of unlikely movers; this factor rises past lower crime to the #1 issue among the very likely subset respondents) 
  • Increase walkability (53% of likely movers compared to 41% of unlikely movers)

Note the walkability figure;  in spite of pockets like Greektown, Midtown, Corktown and Mexicantown (basically any neighborhood ending in ‘-town’), Detroit lags many of its suburbs in that respect.  Also, the most likely recruits appear to be swayed more by service provision (including both schools and transit) than by “lower taxes” or “better jobs” which are way down the list.

Surprisingly, I haven’t seen reaction to the survey from Detroit’s other media outlets such as the Free Press or the Metro Times.  Perhaps they were embarassed they didn’t think of it first.

For more, check out the summary of the survey results (PDF).

Motown v. TreeTown II

So I might have been a bit hasty with my last post.  To paraphrase Kate Bush, maybe I have a little life in me yet.

I just finished a long-postponed entry on WDET’s ‘Move to Detroit’ survey.  I’m mulling over a post on my thoughts on the 2012 Apocalypse, aka what exactly is going to happen to Detroit when the city runs out of money in a few months.  Perhaps I should change the title of this blog to “On Motown From TreeTown” since I never really say anything about Ann Arbor anymore.  Part of the malaise about this blog that motivated my last post stems from my own sense of inadequacy compared to my fellow Ann Arbor bloggers.  Damn Arbor pretty much has the cultural, foodie, & bike porn beats covered;  TeacherPatti has cornered the market on beer; I can’t match Local in Ann Arbor‘s wonkiness and budget expertise;  and I wouldn’t even dare to compare my armchair bloviating to the heroic investments by the team of the Chronicle.  It astounds me how much intellectual firepower and civic passion there is in Ann Arbor.  It makes for contentious local politics, and a level of hair-splitting that I sometimes find tedious.  But it reflects a populace that is unusually engaged in its own affairs, with a corresponding degree of self-empowerment.  It gives me confidence that our community will continue to hold its leaders accountable in a way that Detroiters haven’t for decades, thereby ensuring competent management.

It is certainly a contrast to analysis of Detroit, which is mostly heat with very little light.  I was listening to Craig Fahle’s year-end conversation with Stephen Henderson and Bankole Thompson last week.  While gritting my teeth every time Thompson said “I mean” or “you know” (which happened pretty much every sentence) it occurred to me that neither of these supposed experts on metro Detroit affairs seemed to have any more of an idea what is going on in the region, or what would happen to the city, than I did.  The Metro Times has some pretty great coverage, but it only comes out once per week, and a lot of their staff focus on very specific beats (e.g. Larry Gabriel on weed policy, Detroitblogger John on the lumpenproletariat, the Wonder Twins on partying and local music, Lessenberry on cussing out politicians) leaving me plenty of room to explore.

So my New Year’s resolution for this blog is to set it free and see where it goes.  If it continues to be light on Ann Arbor & heavy on Detroit, well, hopefully that lights a fire under Ann Arbor’s ass to up its game (ouch, mixed metaphor, I know) and make some news.  I also have some pretty hefty reserves of polemic accumulating on the topics of density, zoning, parking, and the car, so stay tuned for some rants on those themes as well.

I also am still struggling with the whole issue of anonymity.  That might be what really kills off this blog.  It just feels shady when Ben, Vivienne & others are posting under their own names, and Maxine Berman lambastes and accuses of cowardice those who comment anonymously.  I’m still trying to figure out what to do about that.  Mainly I just need to settle on a good pen name.  I’ll buy a pony and a drink at the Village Pub for whoever comes up with the winning idea.

Requiem for Woodward rail

Wow.

A sample of early reactions:

Early reaction

I can understand Megan Owens’ reaction, since the ‘six years of work’ she refers to are, in large part, hers.  And I certainly won’t dispute her characterization of the mayor as  ‘a moron,’ since he’s proven it over and over again more or less since his first day in office (but that’s a topic for another post).

But as readers of this blog may recall, I’m not terribly surprised by this news given that Detroit as an independent political and fiscal entity will likely not exist in its current form within six months.  Nor does it necessarily entail a worse long-term outcome for metro Detroit’s transit riders, especially the vast majority that do not live or work along Woodward south of 8 Mile.  The governor has made it clear that his vision for a new regional transit system centers on bus rapid transit, and that vision, along with the loss of control over its own finances the city will shortly face, was the controlling factor here.

If light rail does eventually come to Michigan, it will makes its debut in one of three places:  1) Ann Arbor (between UM’s North & Central Campuses), 2) the Woodward corridor in southeast Oakland County, or 3) Grand Rapids.

A bar is born (& an old one reborn)

The old ball & chain & I headed out to Backstreet this past Saturday night.  Arguably the city of Detroit’s flagship gay bar, it closed a couple of years ago but was recently reopened by the owners/managers of Ice.

The new Backstreet holds a special distinction: According to their website, “no other gay bar in Michigan has a 4am dance permit.”  We were gone by 2, as I’m in bed by 1am most Saturday nights.  But if I were 18 again, I imagine I’d be pretty excited about it.

They redid the interior nicely (although the potted palms are a bit much).    Cocktails were overpriced ($9 for a Sapphire & tonic, no lime) & I’d advise against the $15 pitcher of Long Islands, which tastes like poison.  The DJ played an unusual amount of hip-hop for a gay bar, which, hey, not really my thing. The parking lot appeared to be well-patrolled, which is welcome given the neighborhood.

The place was crowded with guys of a wide range of ages; although skewing slightly to the young & twinky, again, not my bag, there were a lot of good-looking men as well.

They also have a lot of special events lined up in the next couple of months, including lots of top-tier porn actors, which to me suggests it’s being managed well.

***

Meanwhile, just around the corner from my condo in Ann Arbor, a new neighborhood bar just opened.  The Village Pub is, to my knowledge, the only bar in the vast expanse of strip mall that straddles Washtenaw Avenue from Stadium to east of US 23.  (There are restaurants with liquor licenses but it’s not quite the same.)  I haven’t made it over yet, but I want to make it over soon to check it out.  Even if it ends up being mediocre I suspect I’ll be a regular, just to keep the place open as an option within walking distance.

If you’ve visited either the new Backstreet or Village Pub, share your experience in the comments section.