This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

Shrinking cities: Detroit will encourage its residents to move

Once home to nearly two million people, Detroit has become an icon of America’s post-industrial decline, claiming fewer than 750,000 residents. Nearly 80,000 homes sit empty. Tens of thousands of office buildings, factories and store fronts are abandoned. Even though the city’s boundaries are so vast that Boston, Manhattan and San Francisco could all fit inside, one-third of its space – 40 square miles – lies vacant, costing the city about nine million dollars per square mile in emergency services. On many blocks there are now only one or two families, where once there were dozens.

With the city running a huge deficit, Detroit’s Mayor Dave Bing says it’s time for some big changes: He wants to rebuild Detroit by downsizing it. As part of his “Detroit Works” plan, Bing wants to move people still living in blighted areas into the city’s stronger neighborhoods. A newly streamlined city would then be connected by an improved transportation system, and empty spaces could be turned into parks or farms. A pilot program called “Live Midtown,” created in conjunction with three of the city’s large employers, is offering incentives for commuters to move into the city and help redevelop its Midtown district.

Convincing people inside the city to move will be challenging enough. But can the mayor also convince commuters to move in? Desiree Cooper reports from Detroit on these controversial plans.

  • thumb
    Main Street: Findlay, Ohio
    Need to Know travels to Ohio to assess how workers are faring after the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs over the past 35 years.
  • thumb
    Following the money: Tax breaks
    New CBO report echoes the findings of Need to Know's "A tale or four tax returns."
  • thumb
      Certifiably employable
    Rick Karr recently visited Seattle to look at a program designed to give the unemployed the skills they need to find jobs in one of the country’s fastest-growing industries.


  • ejdodson

    For 35 years my profession work was focused on community revitalization, the last 20 years as a market analyst and business manager for Fannie Mae. One of the saddest commentaries of my experience is the extent to which the other professionals, public officials and community activists I worked with failed to appreciate the most fundamental causes of blight.

    There is in almost every community in the United States destructive disconnects between the dynamics of property markets and various public policies, particularly how governments raise revenue. The more diverse the economic base the more able is the community able to withstand the consequences of this disconnect. However, in many communities the loss of just a few key employers sends the community on a downward spiral that lasts decades or even longer. Detroit is just such a community.

    Our cities and towns impose downward pressures on themselves because their systems of taxation tend to penalize job-creation and capital goods creation by heavy taxation of wages, business profits and property improvements. And, at the same time, they reward destructive land speculation by very low effective rates of taxation on community-created land values.

    Every parcel of land in a community has some potential annual rental value, this value a function of locational advantage or disadvantage. Location rental values of land parcels are, naturally, highest in downtown business districts. Here is also where land prices are the highest in the community. The reason land prices are high is because the effective rate of annual taxation is so low. Land economists have been writing about this phenomena for a century, urging communities to impose a 100 percent annual tax on land rental values (exempting property improvement values from the tax base altogether). A 100 percent tax on land rental values means there is no annual income (imputed or actual) to be capitalized into a selling price for land. Thus, land owners find it in their own interest to develop land to its highest, best use — or sell to someone who will. With no taxation of the property improvement, there is a built-in incentive to replace worn out buildings once depreciated; or, if the buildings have good alternative uses, to renovate them accordingly.

    Detroit has an enormous amount of land to offer for development. Right now, there is no demand for the land for what we think of as urban uses. Remediated, much of the vacant land can be leased by the city at competitive bidding for agricultural use. Leasing city-owned land by competitive bidding equates to imposing a 100 percent tax on land rental values.

    Another aspect of the problem is how property is assessed for tax purposes. Almost universally across the United States (with some rare exceptions) property assessments are terrible, rarely consistent as a percentage of current market values, and highly regressive (i.e., higher as a percentage of market value in distressed neighborhoods than in neighborhoods dominated by higher income households). Thus, “gentrification” and “land specualation” feed on one another.

    Will Detroit allow land speculators to reign supreme as has been the case in almost every city in the United States?

    Edward J. Dodson

  • Quee Gardenvale

    As a native Detroiter, I see great opportunity here.

  • Robert Hennecke

    Modernized Craft guilds to revive Detroit and help remote areas produce goods.
    Modernized craft guilds as a means to revive Detroit and also as a means for remote areas to improve their propects for economic progress in the face of pervasive and mean spirited off-shoring mainly to the People’s Republic of China.

    The problem facing western societies is that the current existence of offshore labur on truly a massive scale is a relatively new phenomenom since the fall of the Berlin wall and the PR China’s entry into the WTO. This has allowed those companies with good contacts overseas or by hiring N. Americans from the PRC knowing the language and who to pay the inevitable kickbacks to the means of crushing their local rivals without the necessary infrastructure and or the indifference to the implications of their decision to offshore. The vast army of eager to please cheaper labour that isn’t overly concerned with the environmental degredation of their country as well as their blatant exploitation effectively doubles as a club to keep those who haven’t already lost their jobs in the west in line and is effectively morally bankrupt.

    It’s in this environment of managerial bliss that the creative individual is increasingly marginalized and his efforts often muted and in the case of Detroit an entire city. The Wal-Martization of the world means that corporations force inventors and artists to sign humiliating contracts resulting in their essentially handing over the rights to their creations for relatively little in return and without even a guarantee of long term employment with the corporations in turn off-shoring the work to China etc…: the old social contract has ceased to apply.

    There is a great deal at stake as those societies which engage wholeheartedly in creative endeavours stand to be in the best position possible to deal with the plague of off-shoring. Western de-industrialization and a falling birth rate have resulted in a surplus of industrial and educational types of buildings in remote areas (not cities as they end up becoming Condos) to be available in some parts of the world and are frequently owned by the state. My solution would be to provide these buildings to a new type of social construct called CRAFT GUILDS that would have temporary non-profit status for 3 to 5 years in order to permit them to acquire the equipment, machinery, educational liasons and the infrastructure necessary to get started and off the ground. The ideal craft guild would be an assemblage of architects, engineers, artists and production technicians who would enter upon mutually beneficial contracts respecting their individual rights and not excessive in their demands and allowing for both horizontal and vertical growth. It would be unwise to limit this idea to merely arts and crafts and furniture etc… as I see this idea being applicable to the full range of economic activities especially high technology activities such as electronic production and pharmaceutical production and could allow western societies to effectively compete against the military dictatorship that is the PR China.

    Patents, copyrights and designs would be owned by the their creators with a 10 % royalty fee for the first invention reverting to the guild in order to enable the continuity of the guild’s existence. Guild types can cover the entire spectrum of creative activities but the special status of the modernized guilds would be dependant upon their being engaged in CREATING goods and or services that are not readily available and not simply being job shops which in reality would have them compete with existing companies and merely be subsidized competition and would in effect be moving work from one entity to another. It should also be an objective of the guilds to disavow any government assistance whatsoever for the building and renovation assistance as donations would be tax deductible and in effect corporations would be helpfull to these entities as they will be eager to gain tax credits that could acrue from the donation to these temporary non-profit entities instead of simply scrapping fully funtional equipment. Donations in the form of machinery and construction materials which typically end up in the scrap yard would finally put to a halt the retardation of fully functional equipment being brought to the scrap yard because the tax code makes it more beneficial to declare fully functional machinery unusable through the depreciation aspect of the tax code and thus scrapping them with the supreme irony of their winding up in the PR China.

    I believe these guild can work within the capitalist system and even creates greater flexibility for it to survive and yet be more equitable with they’re simply being another construct such as the corporation or the permanent non-profit entity. Modernized guilds can offer society the benefits of invention and creative production in order to combat the flood of cheap imports produced by having limited production capabilites as part of the guilds’ structure. Prototypes, proof of concepts and short production runs in the least should be possible and even existing corporations can benefit from the concept as they can farm out their research and development to these entities. The ideal model would be something like Bauhaus type assemblage of creative people creating movements.

    Marketing can be carried out via the internet through Kijiji, cragslist, Ebay etc…. in order to bypass the lowest price is the law of Wal-Mart etc… This would permit a closed loop between the creator and the end consumer thus guaranteeing the integrity of the design and manufacturing process and at least allowing the possibility of options for consumers. A seal of the guilds approval along with details as to how the product or service was created or manufactured could be given providing the consumer that cares the peace of mind that he/she is part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. All members of the potential guilds should have a proven track record of creativity without any financial assistance completely independant of any institution so as to demonstrate the ability to think outside the box and survive with limited or even no resources as anything is possible with government handouts such as what is pervasive in Quebec, but things get far more difficult without easy handouts. This is about creativity and not getting on a gravy train, the soft life is for those hiding out in universities or think tanks pontificating as opposed to being in the front lines trying to repulse the onslaught of unethically and environmentally unsoundly produced items from the PR China, it’s tough love, sink or swim.

    The original craft guilds didn’t have a steady stream of government handouts to rely on and yet they managed to bring about the basis from which the industrial revolution sprung forth. The impact of creativity should not be underestimated as it has taken a single mother scraping by in England to being a billionaire. How many other J.K. Rowlings have yet to see their creations see light of day due to the narrow limitations of what creatively challenged managers deem will work or not. I believe modernized guilds can be a medium by which society can be enriched and the rights of the creative better promoted and protected. This way the current prevalence of societies begging and bribing corporations to invent things and employ people in the western world when in reality they are merely re-inventing the wheel and buying off the shelf items instead of doing “actual” research and development can be offset by a system that gives little but receives a great deal. Large corporations are getting money from all levels of government on the pretense they are developing with the intent to produce locally but there is enormous off-shoring of even what little research is actually done, how much of this is copied and pasted from utside sources and called Canadian research and then asking for the handouts. The entire structure of how corporations take advantage of government handouts is nothing short of scandalous with the likes of Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney, General Electric, Rolls Royce et-al leading the way. Large corporations talk a good game about free market capitalism but they are so hooked on government steroids that they are very far removed from free market capitalism and there needs to be injected into the system a grass roots people serving system to counter the callous indifference of global capitalism and it’s pathetic junky and mafia (in terms of who they hire) like moralities regarding their crass pitting of one jurisdiction against another for the purposes of extracting the biggest handouts. This is far removed from the capitalism of the 1960′s and beforehand, it’s what I call extortion: give us handouts or we’ll move the plant to China, give us excessive research and development handouts even though there are no noticeable differences in product development of processes etc.. and give us interest free or no interest loans that more likely than not will not be repaid. The system is severely corrupted as to make it a jury rigged assemblage of incoherant and conflicting messages that are sent to people as to how they can be truly effective and constructive citizens. Thanking you in advance for your consideration, Robert Hennecke.

    Posted by robert hennecke at 7:20 PM 4 comments Links to this post
    Labels: china, co-operatives, fairness, global corporations

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

  • Robert Hennecke

    Keep the faith. Ultimately taking matters into the hands of the locals is the way forward. Think back to when Detroit was founded, the original settlers had their own versatility and ingenuity to rely upon and that evolved into the motor city and Motown. GO FOR IT, SEIZE THE DAY AND YOUR CITY !!!

  • Rjbaillie

    This was an interesting story. The part about the kids was inspirational!

    But, people, would you PLEASE pronounce Paul Robeson’s name correctly? It’s two syllables, not three. Paul Robeson said so himself:

  • Sachin Upadhyaya

    Sharing the reasons of such happening would prolong the age of our life in this planet.

  • Khaliph Moto Moto Young

    On the video there are some great comments by Detroiter’s on the Detroit Works Project

  • Khaliph Moto Moto Young

    Karla Henderson talks about the Detroit Works Project

  • Ulysses Newkirk

    We have such a short vision of population. As if it revolves around election cycles and fiscal years.

    Many of us will experience life on a planet with more than 8 billion people.
    If our leaders are wise??? they’ll consider planning the present “rust belt” cities to accommodate some of those people and their needs.

    Downsizing is a nice short term plan for preparing the region, but having a plan that addresses the needs of people in the second have of the 21st Century is a great plan. That can be addressed with equal urgency.

  • CommunityInput

    How interest “creating community” without real community input or voices. Detroit Works Project just offers clickers and skewed facts/information.

  • Kristen

    I live in a suburb of Detroit and would gladly move to the city if it were SAFE – meaning my car wasn’t broken into every other week, the corner store was able to stay in business because it wasn’t getting robbed constantly, the kids could leave their bike outside for an hour without it getting stolen, and the houses for sale weren’t playgrounds for vandals. But no government is going to change those things – only the community itself can make those changes.

  • Kristen

    I live in a suburb of Detroit and would gladly move to the city if it were SAFE – meaning my car wasn’t broken into every other week, the corner store was able to stay in business because it wasn’t getting robbed constantly, the kids could leave their bike outside for an hour without it getting stolen, and the houses for sale weren’t playgrounds for vandals. But no government is going to change those things – only the community itself can make those changes.