Monday, March 05, 2012

Saving Detroit by Siphoning Money From the Suburbs

That appears to be the best idea David Firestone could produce:
The solution may be in the suburbs that have siphoned off Detroit’s money and jobs and talent for decades. A true emergency manager, as many people here have suggested, would have the power to begin merging the tax base of the city with that of suburban counties in hopes of saving the region. Bailouts can come in many different forms.
Not going to happen. The suggestion betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of both the political power structure of the state and how the suggestion that Wayne County's more successful cities, let alone cities in neighboring counties, would respond to the idea that they should either cut local services so as to send money to Detroit without a tax increase, or increase their taxes to send money to Detroit without cutting local services. The author is apparently also unfamiliar with the Headlee amendment. Also, if you drive through some of the suburbs that he's talking about, you'll see the effects of Michigan's extraordinarily long recession. They may be doing better than Detroit, but they're certainly not rolling in money as the author implies.

Nor is it fair or particularly accurate to say that the suburbs "have siphoned off Detroit’s money and jobs and talent". Detroit is not the only former factory town that is suffering, nor the only one that has lost most or all of its auto plants. There used to be, for example, both a city called Pontiac and a car brand called Pontiac. The city is under emergency fiscal management and the car brand is gone. And need I mention Flint? The factories didn't migrate to Bloomfield Hills or Grosse Point. They went to "right to work" states, then to Mexico, and now to the world.

This type of editorial also raises a significant question: Why should we invest ourselves in the idea that a once great city must remain a great city, and not be permitted to shrink or even die? If you go to Detroit, it doesn't take long to recognize the sheer scale of the task of transforming it into a modern, vibrant city - and real life isn't "Field of Dreams". Even if you somehow get the vast investment necessary to clear out the old and bring in the new, what does Detroit have to offer that will entice businesses to locate in Detroit, or even the suburbs, as opposed to one of the nation's more successful cities? There are plenty of crumbling small towns that were once wealthy, but the industries that supported them died or changed, or the need for their services in that location became unnecessary due to changes in industry and infrastructure.

The author's explanation for why we cannot count on business to rebuilt Detroit is that "it will take too long".
There are glimmers of hope on the city’s southwest side, where newcomers from Mexico and other countries have revived several avenues with restaurants, groceries and other stores. “More diversity, more immigrants — that’s the key for the future,” said Jordi Carbonell, born in Barcelona, who runs CafĂ© con Leche, a coffeehouse crowded with young patrons and laptops.

But rebuilding the city with coffee cups will take too long, and Detroit is running out of time.
More accurately, it won't work. A city needs patrons for its restaurants and coffee shops and, without that, building more merely means that the same number of consumer dollars will be divided among a greater number of businesses. Why are we pretending that a surtax on neighboring cities will have a significant impact either on Detroit's chronic condition, or that it will have any significant effect on where businesses choose to open new offices or factories? It won't - but it could make the suburbs less attractive to businesses considering a Michigan location and thereby compound the problem.

1 comment:

  1. Setting aside the obviously racist underpinning of your positoin ; )

    We are left with the question of what to do to speed Detroit on its path, if for no better reason than to lessen the pain and suffering . . .

    I'd suggest burning it all down and starting over, except that was tried in the 80s . . .

    CWD

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