The New York Times offered up one of its Room for Debate conversations to the hot topic of how Detroit and other shrinking cities should deal with their population loss. Harvard professor and Detroit Works Project consultant Toni Griffin’s held the most interest to me, since she is the one actually having to deal with it on the ground.
Unfortunately, to me her prescriptions and analysis were
vague general to the point of uselessness. Detroit’s specific circumstances demand specific prescriptions. Griffin’s were anything but specific, and were particularly disconnected from the actual political and socioeconomic circumstances of the Detroit region. If you want clear, detailed insight on how Detroit should deal with its shrinkage, you’re not going to find it here.
My guess is that this was deliberate; she is intimately involved in the Bing administration’s plans, and while she may have her own ideas about what the city can and should be doing, she has to keep her mouth shut until the mayor decides it is time to announce the specifics of the plan. In fact, I would bet she sat down and drafted this with the mayor’s office as a set of talking points with Detroit voters in mind.
If anything, it’s in keeping with the spirit of the whole Works Project to date, which has been citizen-engagement-as-kabuki. I am OK with that — if a Detroit resident doesn’t like what the Project prescribes for her neighborhood, she has a number of options ranging from taking the city to court, organizing a recall effort, or just the well-trodden path of moving somewhere else. I suspect the final details of the Project will inspire at least a little bit of each of these reactions. The mayor’s job is to come up with a specific action plan that is both realistic and substantive; it is most emphatically not to make everyone happy.