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Metro Detroit Greens (Wayne, Oakland & Macomb Counties)

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Policy Paper #1

KERMIT Goes MOTOWN! - Number 5 - May 31, 2001
written and edited by Mike Madias
Published and distributed by The Detroit Caucus of Greens
9 Woodland #408, Detroit, Michigan 48202
Voice: (313) 883-4833
E-mail: DetroitHardball@aol.com


Editor's Note:
I am Mike Madias, free lance journalist and a clinical sociologist/community activist, a founder of the Metro Detroit Green Party, and now chair person for the Detroit Caucus of Greens. I am running in the non-partisan race to become the next Mayor of Detroit.

My voice is that of the working poor of Detroit.


Priorities

by Michael Madias, candidate for Mayor

In my life I have lived and worked for a living in Detroit; San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach, New York City, Toronto, Ontario, and Washington, D.C. I have never lived or worked in a suburb for any extended period of time.

As a sociologist I stay awake at night and ponder how public policy went so wrong in Detroit. I used to think that what was wrong was the city had spent disproportionately in developing the central business district at the expense of the neighborhoods. And I left it at that. It was a plausible reason and even common knowledge in the progressive political community of Detroit. But it was also an answer that raised even deeper questions; ones that kept me awake at night and unable to sleep.

The unanswered questions:

1) The decline in the population of Detroit is commonly thought to be the flight of Caucasian-Americans to the emerging Oakland County suburbs after the 12th Street Insurrection that occurred in 1967 and death of Martin Luther King a year later. What if this interpretation is flawed?

2) Might it be more constructive, leading to better policy, to consider the depopulation of Detroit as a general phenomena including the both the departure of African-Americans as well as Caucasian-Americans?

Somehow I felt that if I just thought further, I could find a fundamental flaw in "common knowledge" from which better policies could be developed. I think that I have done this. And so, added substance to my run for mayor.


When a public policy goes sour, it may take decades of floundering before we are willing to admit that something has gone dreadfully wrong. In the case of Detroit, we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a proposition, that money invested in the central core extends and spreads through out into the neighborhoods.

After 30 years of real estate development, we have a world class entertainment venue downtown. It is surrounded by blighted residential and commercial districts. In Detroit, the fire hydrant nearest your home might not work; the street light that leads the way home at night is not lit. That old abandoned house is still there. And the violent "dragnet" tactics of the police department recall the brown shirt toughs of another era.

In 1967, the Detroit Insurrection (some called it a riot) burned significant parts of the city to the ground. A few years later a program was designed that would bring the city back to life. The program: "Detroit Renaissance Partnership."

They built the Renaissance Center, which included the Westin Hotel which was the tallest hotel in the world. There was a shopping mall included that had outlets of the most prestigious retailers, Saks, Gucci, and others. It had a multiplex theaters, restaurants, and all the amenities of a world class hotel. The idea was to build luxuries into downtown, and the city would reawaken, and be prosperous again.

Very little of the new construction was targeted in the old burned out battle zone of the city. "Ground Zero" of the insurrection had the burned rubble cleared so there were few visual reminders of when the citizens took their community and held it in their own hands for a number of days. Some minor building occurred on 12th street, now called "Rosa Parks".

But, contrary to plan, the city emptied out. Population has dropped. There is a net loss of about 150,000 housing units over 30 years.

The Detroit riots took place 34 years ago. It is highly unlikely that the depopulation of Detroit has a significant factor that includes reaction to those riots. Depopulation may have been primarily "white flight" in the late 60's and 70's. But adrenalin induced reactions of flight and fight do not last for decades. Some other factors are at play.

3) If the question of race is taken away, what else might have caused the depopulation of Detroit?

The city has been mismanaged to the point where neighborhoods are dying. It is hard to justify staying and beautifying a block, when the fire hydrants do not work; where abandoned houses pose a health threat or fire threat; where the EMS is slow in coming and Dominoes won't deliver pizza at all. It is hard to justify home improvement when property taxes are at such high rates that the person is punished by significantly higher property taxes for giving their bungalow aluminum siding.

In this environment, the city planning commission continues to favor projects of new commercial construction rather than maintenance of existing construction, including especially maintenance of the infra structure in residential neighborhoods.

Change is the primary activity of nature. Yet we build cities with structures and institutions that are supposed to last, that is resist change. But that is an impossibility. Buildings and institutions need to be maintained. Some require a high degree of maintenance.

Past administrations have been dazzled by new construction and pet projects. From Hart Plaza, looking north into the city it appears to be beautiful and prosperous. Something to brag about.

Move inland a mile or so and you are in areas the convention bureau would like to hide.

Detroit is a city of the working poor. All the amenities made for the rich do not apply to the common citizen. Which is going to be fixed first, the crater that once was Hudson's or Oakland Avenue on the near east side; a new football stadium or a dozen parks throughout the city.

It should be a local policy to maintain an area before we build the new. The reason for this is obvious. Blighted areas do not fix themselves. And an untended area can decay beyond salvage and then must be demolished.

The backlog of demolition work, buildings scheduled to be taken down and cleared away is evidence of decades of no maintenance. Over that same period we have made the downtown area into an Emerald City. Just don't venture too far off the Yellow Brick Road or you will end up on one of the neglected avenues of the real Detroit.

If there are any general rules of city management, the obvious first rule is this: "Maintain what buildings and organization you have before you add to the maintenance burden by building something new".


"Yes, I read your letter yesterday,
About the day the door knob broke,
When you ask me how I'm doing,
Is that some kind of joke?"

Sez Bob Dylan.

I just say Shalom.

Mike Madias, Mayoral Candidate.


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