Detroit Future City Plan…Grim ‘Future City’ for poor neighborhoods

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DETROIT — Don’t wait for the street lights to come on because they will not — in certain neighborhoods. Nor will there be any kind of infrastructure investment in the neighborhoods written off by Detroit Future City planners.

Instead, there will be forests and storm water retention ponds, limited public transportation, and only those residents who brave it out.

So residents don’t have to worry about being relocated, they can move if they choose, but staying may not be a viable option.

FUTURE-PROF

Peter Hammer

Peter Hammer, a Wayne State University professor and director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University, presented his analysis of the Detroit Future City Plan to 300 residents at a Michigan Coalition for Human Rights forum at Marygrove College, Feb. 25. It was a grim picture for the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Race, regionalism and reconciliation are the three Rs that, Hammer said, guided him in his analysis of the plan.

Race in Detroit is historical, it is the context to explain what has happened not only in the city, but the region over the last six decades, Hammer said. The plan ignores race.

Regionalism puts the city in a regional perspective. However, examine the maps in the 347-page plan and Detroit is shown in isolation, with nothing but white space surrounding the city, he said. “You don’t know Dearborn, Southfield are out there… It portrays Detroit as an island in violation of regionalism. Only the watershed is not portrayed in isolation.”

Reconciliation is how the region could bridge the historic divides that have contributed to the city’s decline and the region’s fractures. Since the plan ignores the divide, it offers no reconciliation, Hammer said. However, divides will not only mark relationships between suburbs and Detroit, but within the city as well.

The plan’s maps depict the current viability of neighborhoods from high occupancy to low. Hammer said the population densities on current maps will determine which of five types of neighborhoods will dot the city 50 years from now. They range from traditional neighborhoods to “innovation ecological.”

Certain neighborhoods deemed viable now will be sustained, maintained and saved for traditional residential purposes: Palmer Woods, East English Village, Boston-Edison, Rosedale and Grandmont. These neighborhoods are colored yellow on the 50 years from now map.

The medium density, moderate vacancy areas will morph into “productive landscapes,” colored in green on the future maps. Areas colored in blue on the future maps will be the land converted from residential now and developed to manage water in the future.

Neighborhoods with high vacancies like Brightmoor, North Corktown, Petosky and Chandler Park will have been replaced with forests and are the areas marked on the maps as green and blue. There will be 550 feet — the length of two football fields — on either side of the freeways planted with trees, or accommodating storm water retention ponds, “further fracturing communities,” Hammer said.

“The logic of the report is of social triage,” Hammer said. “It is based on the idea that we are isolated and there will be no more revenue. They are going to spread money away from less viable to more viable neighborhoods.”

Although these are historic Detroit neighborhoods, nowhere in the DFC plan are any neighborhoods identified.

Hammer notes neighborhoods will be cleared out by attrition, through lack of investment. “It is not a rational assumption of value. The virtue of the blue-green plan is it’s cheap.”

Such thinking, he said, is a failure to think “regionally or out of the box. It is a failure to recognize the historical context of Detroit — race.”

That same failure appeared in Gov. Rick Snyder’s announcements of population loss in the city. “How can the governor not say anything about race” to explain the city’s condition?

A search of the DFC for the word race was unsuccessful; it doesn’t appear, Hammer said. “There is no meaningful look at where we were, how we got here.”

Hammer said the Ossian Sweet trial is an early example of what happened to Detroit. Sweet, a Black doctor moved into a white neighborhood in 1925 and was attacked in his home by a white mob. Those mobs evolved into neighborhood associations in the 1940s and 50s and when the mobs couldn’t control the racial makeup of their block they moved, they left the neighborhood and the city.

State law aided the segregation. “Michigan has inelastic boundaries,” Hammer said. Unlike other areas of the country, annexation is difficult if not impossible. “This permits re-segregation.”

Omitting race and regionalism from the plan leaves neighborhoods open to more isolation. “If you don’t know the nature of the causes, you can’t find the nature of the solution,” he said.

Not spending money in the neighborhoods currently under-populated means you can spend money in other places, Hammer said. Another map, shows in dark colors the areas to be upgraded and maintained. Those areas include downtown, Midtown, New Center.

All the areas on the DFC maps showing current neighborhoods that are colored peach will be “replaced, repurposed, decommissioned. It is a successional road that equals, back to nature,” Hammer said. “What drives this is us in isolation.”

A major element of the plan is storm water run-off.  “You would think it is the biggest challenge facing Detroit,” Hammer said. Engineering of the run off is a dominant theme driving investment. Retention ponds are cheap, saving money. But they displace people and neighborhoods. If you flip in the plan to the residential section, you will find an eerie correlation between channeling water and channeling people. …You can control people out of where you don’t want them to be.”

Between the retention ponds to be built and the forests on each side of the freeways, “suburbanites will have a wonderful scenic view” driving into Detroit, he said. Again he referred to the history of those same highways. When they were built, which people got displaced from Black Bottom and which neighborhoods were severed?

“More isolation, more fracturing,” Hammer said. “Look at who’s winning and who is losing.”

One of the starkest parts of the DFC plan is the section on public transportation. There is a map of current D-DOT bus routes that cover the neighborhoods across the city. The map depicting public transit routes 50 years from now show only public transit will only follow the freeways, Gratiot, Grand River, Michigan Avenue, West Six Mile, Jefferson and Woodward. The same map reveals planners expect no more than zero to two people in great swaths of the city.

“If you need public transportation, you’ll have to have someone come get you,” Hammer said.

Mayor Mike Duggan and the DECG are pushing implementation of the plan. Duggan’s development chief Tom Lewand called the plan his Bible.

Former Mayor Dave Bing said there would be winners and losers when he unveiled the plan a year ago after two years of development. The plan sparked much controversy for chaotic public meetings and Bing’s threats to clear out sparsely populated neighborhoods.

Hired by Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, former Councilman Kenneth Cockrel, Jr. started Jan. 1 as executive director of the Future City Implementation Office which opened an office last month at 2920 W. Grand Blvd. Suite 2. Speaking at opening ceremonies was the CEO of the Kresge Foundation, Rip Rapson. Kresge is a large funding source for the plan’s development and implementation.

Cockrel said at the time that his office will begin work on getting the city’s master plan and zones codes changed to accommodate development of the DFC.

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