Detroit’s Liabilities

In a previous post I wrote how we are so obsessed with what is wrong with Detroit that we forget it has assets to build from. But then comes a terrific Wall Street Journal article on black flight from Detroit and you understand again that all the assets that Detroit has gets trumped by its liabilities.

The article is worth reading. It’s largely about a middle class African American women who lived in Detroit for years because of her loyalty to the city, despite the urging of her friends to leave as they had. But ultimately she too left, driven out by repeated crime and the absence of police to do anything about it. Police that claim to have enough staff only to deal with violent crime, not the repeated break ins and ultimately arson that drove her out. Pretty depressing!

As we wrote in our Revitalizing Michigan’s Central Cities report there are some basics that cities must do if they are to grow. Particularly retain and attract residents which in our view is the key to city revitalization. Quality basic services – starting with public safety – is one of those basics. Without it nothing else will work. Middle class residents –which are the foundation of successful cities – will not live in neighborhoods/cities that are not safe. Nor should they.

Once again, it’s not hopeless. Crime rates in cities across the country have plunged over the past decade. New ways of policing, use of code enforcement as a public safety tool (as was pioneered here by Mike Duggan when he was Wayne County prosecutor) and new ways of organizing prosecutor offices and probation are making a real difference. If others can do it, so can Detroit.

Detroit desperately needs a growth agenda. Without it, shrinking will not be a one time priority, but a permanent feature of the city. That growth agenda needs to start with the basics. Public safety – more of it, but also delivered differently – needs to be at, or near, the top of that agenda.

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