Tag Archives: Detroit

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.

Oh, Sh**: Excretion, the forgotten public services issue?

This weekend, a friend in Pontiac posted to his blog,

While I was getting ready for work this morning, our trusty dog Gus started barking furiously during his morning yard exercises. I took that as a sign that someone was passing by on foot, followed his sounds to the west side of the house and peeked out of the bedroom window.

Lo and behold, there was a gentleman defecating on a tree in the city lot next to our house…

I contacted the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department and put in a complaint, but the scatological scofflaw had already departed on foot by the time they drove through the Union Court area between Union and Mechanic Streets.

It was the second time in the past week this particular issue had crossed my radar.  A subscriber to the (wonderful) Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition Google Group shared a thought-provoking post:

I suspect, that in most of the world’s “walkable cities” you’ll find public toilets at the ready and the way-finding in place to leave little confusion of where they are located…

Here in the U.S… the norm is avoidance of the topic.
We apparently prefer to subsidize the storage of people’s automobiles (MW) over providing for bodily requirements that impact everyone’s ability to be a
fully functioning human.

Here in Ann Arbor you often read of locals’ impassioned lobbying for more “green space” and parkland downtown.  I can’t recall a single instance of any of these well-intentioned citizens suggesting the city invest in what strikes me as a far more urgent investment, a few simple pay toilets.

Details of implementation are crucial, of course.  Recall the scandal a little over a year ago over the horrendous conditions in the bathrooms of the otherwise lovely new Rosa Parks Transit Center in Detroit (a classic example of “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”).   Meanwhile, the unbelievably patient staff at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown branch struggle on a daily basis with downtown’s ample homeless population, which likes to use the library’s bathrooms to wash up and launder their clothes.

In the event that City Council or the DDA decided to extend the right to void with dignity to pedestrians, the Atlantic Cities suggests emulating Portland and its eponymous loo, which “includes a variety of bells and whistles meant to keep in check the most degenerate of bathroom users”:

• No running water inside: “Some people, if they’re homeless, use a sink to wash their laundry,” says (city staffer Anna) DiBenedetto. So there’s no sink, just a spigot on the outside that pours cold water.
• No mirror: People tend to smash mirrors…
• Bars at the top and bottom of the structure... Cops can peep in near the ground to make sure there’s no more than one set of feet inside. The openings also help sound flow freely, letting pedestrians hear the grunts and splashes of the person inside and the person inside hear the footsteps and conversation of pedestrians…
• A graffiti-proof coating…
• Walls and doors made from heavy-gauge stainless steel: “It’s built with the idea that somebody could take a bat to it,” DiBenedetto says. “And if they did damage it, we could replace that part.”…

These PSYOP-worthy features are outlined in U.S. Patent No. D622,408 S, which Leonard received in the summer of 2010. The toilet has the dubious honor of being the city of Portland’s first patent.

I personally don’t think see anything dubious about the honor.

I’ll also note that there’s no reason the Portland Loo or similar such investment need necessarily be undertaken by the local government or DDA.  Could it perhaps prove a lucrative undertaking for a private sector actor, whether an entrepreneur or an established company?

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.

Barlow v. Miller II: ‘I’m a Detroiter, too’

As promised, here’s my follow up to my post on Toby Barlow’s “‘Detroit,” Meet Detroit,’ this time focusing on Rabbi Jason Miller’s response to the Barlow piece.  It’s important to preface that according to Barlow himself, speaking on today’s Craig Fahle Show,* he thinks he & Miller are more or less on the same page.

Miller almost immediately gets off on the wrong foot with me:

Whether Barlow realizes it or not, through his words he has brought the late Mayor Coleman A. Young back to life. Or at least the former mayor’s sentiment. In his twenty years in office, Mayor Young successfully drew a sharp divide between the residents of the City of Detroit and the suburbanites. The race riots of the late 1960s forced middle class whites to flee the city, but it was Mayor Young who kept them away. The polarizing mayor made the Eight Mile border a dividing landmark between the races.

Ahh, yes, the myth of mean old scary Coleman Young who hated Whitey.  White people were scared of Coleman Young, and in retrospect he created a PR disaster for the city, but he was no more responsible for its downward spiral than was Detroit’s white-dominated establishment that picked up and moved en masse.  No mention at all of the executives at all the auto suppliers & ancillary industries who moved their headquarters and factories out of the city, nor of suburban officials like L. Brooks Patterson who race-baited just as gleefully.  There are a lot of older white people who love to perpetuate the myth that it was all Young’s fault because he was a convenient scapegoat and it absolved them of responsibility.  It’s just depressing that well-intentioned people like Rabbi Miller are continuing to buy it and repeat it.

Then there’s the misty-eyed tale of exodus in response to mean old Mayor Young:

Both of my parents grew up in Detroit. They both graduated from Mumford High. Their families left the city, but not because the big homes with big yards in the suburbs were so appealing. They left the city because the city was changing for the worse. They left reluctantly, but who wouldn’t?… I sat with my parents last year as we watched the stage production of Palmer Park, which accurately portrayed the tense race relations in that Detroit neighborhood in 1967. My parents had tears in their eyes (and so did every other native Detroiter of their generation who sat in the theater) because this production brought back the emotionally jarring, difficult times of that period.

My grandparents’ generation didn’t turn their backs on the City of Detroit. They continued to work in the city and support its culture. They were saddened that they had to move out because they didn’t have a choice.

Oh, please.  Your grandparents’ generation — and by that I mean the white people of their generation — left when it was convenient to them to do so.  Mind you, they didn’t owe the city anything and were free to leave when they wanted.   If I’d been a homeowner in, say, Brightmoor, I would have thrown in the towel sooner or later too.  But let’s drop this pretense that “they didn’t have a choice,” that they were hapless victims.

Miller contends,

The people who are paving the way for this renaissance do not live in the city. Yes, these business people are working hard to get young talent to move to Detroit and live affordably in Midtown or Downtown with attractive stipends. But at the end of the day these executives are driving back north to their homes in the suburbs.

Now, this is true.  Metro Detroit’s elites have shelled out tons of money to the city and have for decades;  that’s the only way the DSO, the Michigan Opera Theater, the DIA have stayed afloat.  What they don’t do is live in the city, and there is a simple reason for that:  there is no reputational cachet in a Detroit address for rich people.  There never will be, until there emerges some tiny enclave in Detroit that is prohibitively expensive.  Even the most expensive addresses in Detroit — in Palmer Woods and some of the new developments in downtown and Midtown — are simply not pricy enough yet to provide the necessary cue.  Rich people choose to live in places that signal exclusivity; for that reason, the rich will continue to cluster in a few pockets of central Oakland County, the Grosse Pointes, and, increasingly, Ann Arbor.  Detroiters are never going to get most of these status-conscious capitalists to move to the city, but they’d be imbeciles to turn down the money they are shelling out.

Some of Miller’s talking points make a lot of sense:

Even if the majority of employees who work in Detroit head back home north of Eight Mile at the end of the day, Barlow should be grateful to them. They’re paying income taxes to the City of Detroit where he lives but doesn’t work (a simple Internet search shows that Barlow works for an organization that is based in Dearborn, not within the city limits)…

The City of Detroit is 144 square miles of land that is too big to manage… The old mentality that the City of Detroit doesn’t need or want white suburbanites coming into to “our City” is unfortunately still alive and well (just ask business leaders how difficult it is for them to get city contracts).

Others are such ingrained, oft-repeated conventional wisdom one wonders why Miller bothered to recite them:

For many energetic young people like Barlow Detroit seems like a euphoric metropolis now, but will they continue to reside Downtown when their kids are ready for school? The fact is that Detroit still has a high crime rate. How will that impact these enthusiastic Detroiters’ decision to stay put as their kids get older?

And then there’s the lecture on the great things that have come from the suburban shopping mall:

In his article, Barlow cynically writes that it’s great that suburbanites might know the Faygo song but they probably don’t know about “the College of Creative Studies’ massively incredible new Taubman Center.” Hold on one second. How does Barlow think the CCS got that massively incredible new Taubman Center? Let me explain. From the generosity of Al Taubman. And I wonder if Barlow knows where Mr. Taubman got the money to support such a center that he finds to be massively incredible? He made that money owning malls. Big malls. In suburbs. In fact, since Novi is the first suburban city (of many) Barlow condescendingly mentions in his article, it’s ironic that without Twelve Oaks, the massively incredible mall that Taubman built in Novi, there probably wouldn’t be a Taubman Center at the CCS in Detroit. Barlow writes, “Nothing good ever came out of suburbia.” Perhaps he wants to rethink that one.

I’m thinking, no, he probably doesn’t.  I would not cite enormous shopping malls as one of the key examples of the great things that have come out of suburbia.

And then he concludes by scolding Barlow for his alleged ingratitude:

Rather than criticizing the suburbanites who choose to stay in their suburban homes, Barlow would make more sense if he thanked the suburbanites who work in the City of Detroit and come to the city for sports events, casinos, dining, and entertainment. It’s the money coming from the suburbs that’s going to spur the renaissance for the City of Detroit. No matter how much grocery shopping and dry cleaning Barlow does in the city, suburbanites like Dan Gilbert and Peter Karmanos are the ones turning the city around. And even if they head north on the Lodge Freeway to go home after work each day, they are Detroiters. And so am I.

Well, you are & you aren’t.  As Supergay Detroit explained, you don’t have to put up with the bullshit — the crime, slovenliness, the shitty public services —  from other Detroiters like residential Detroiters do.  And you aren’t shoveling the same amount of tax dollars into the ravenous abyss, never to be seen again, the way (employed) full-time Detroiters do.  (I’m not going to lie, I pay a lot more in property taxes in Ann Arbor, but I feel better about how my money will be spent than I did when I paid City of Detroit income tax.  The buses run on time here.)  So I have to agree with Toby & Supergay that residential Detroiters have a certain earned cachet.  They have certified their ability to put up with the plethora of inconveniences of living in Detroit in a way that people on the outside haven’t, a certification of fortitude (if not necessarily financial savvy).

I have mixed feelings about piling on to this increasingly tired argument.  Innumerable commenters on innumerable posts on Detroityes.com have wasted innumerable hours circling one another, pointing fingers and flinging accusations, and all it does is continue to cement the region’s image as dysfunctional, insular, petty, and racist.  Now metro Detroit’s passion for assigning blame been broadcast nationally via the HuffingtonPost.  There are some nice things about living in Southeast Michigan, but the litigation of Barlow v. Miller (aka Young v. Whitey) has reminded me how this region disgusts me sometimes.

*In which Craig Fahle also, somewhat randomly, flips out on Rabbi Miller at one point, when the latter insinuates that a building he passed was a crack house.  I’m always amused by such outbursts from Craig.  Hot-tempered, that one.