Changing Gears is a public media project about the future of the industrial Midwest. Each week, reporters Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland, Niala Boodhoo in Chicago and Kate Davidson in Ann Arbor cover issues of interest to the Great Lakes region. Changing Gears also sponsors public events and conversations.
In the 1950s, more than 1.8 million people resided within the 140 square miles that comprise the city of Detroit. Some sixty years later, the city’s population has tumbled to 713,777, according to 2010 U.S. census figures.
The geography hasn’t changed.
From deploying police officers to demolishing vacant structures, the mechanics of governing a spread-thin population have become a central challenge for the city’s mayor, Dave Bing. He doesn’t sugarcoat the glum news for remaining residents: The city must shrink.
“We cannot continue to support every neighborhood in the city of Detroit,” he said last week while speaking at the Charles H. Wright African American Museum. “We don’t have the funding to support everybody.”
Far from using grandiose rhetoric, Bing has delivered unpopular sound bytes on a regular basis since taking office in May 2009. Halfway through his term, one of his biggest accomplishments just might be tempering expectations.
As part of our ongoing coverage of Detroit’s efforts to transform its image, we have heard from scores of people about city’s problems and about what makes them hopeful for the future. We asked people inside and outside the city to tell us what they see in Detroit’s future. Here is how our readers described the Detroit of 2020:
“If guided by a clear, consistent, mindful vision between now and then, nine years from now Detroit will be thoughtfully developing but not necessarily growing to improve the lives of current and future residents through transportation options.” – Elizabeth Luther, Detroit.
“I couldn’t possibly imagine anything changing for the better.” – Marcus Moore, Jacksonville, Fla.
“More hipsters.” – Molly McMahon, Detroit.
“An imperfect but creative city of energy and momentum.” – Garlin Gilchrist II, Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday morning, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing gave a candid assessment of the Motor City, its struggles and hopes for its future during a press conference with reporters in town for “Transformation Detroit,” a three-day event examining the city’s future. Here’s a glimpse at five interesting statistics and quotes Bing delivered:
1. Asked about the most difficult aspects of luring outside companies into Detroit, the mayor said health care and pension costs prevented the city from offering competitive relocation packages. “If we don’t have health-care reform and pension reform, we’re just blowing in the wind, quite frankly,” Bing said.
2. He said more than 80,000 empty home are located in Detroit, contributing to the blight outsiders often associate with the city. Under Bing, the city demolished approximately 3,200 homes in the past year. His goal is 10,000 by the end of his term. “It’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Changing Gears is wrapping up its first week as part of the Public Insight Network. Through PIN, everyone can sign up to become a source for our coverage. It’s kind of like a citizen news wire.
To put your personal experiences in the spotlight, we’re introducing a new daily feature called Your Story. We’re letting you tell how Midwest’s economic transformation is changing your life.
There’s no better place to start than in Detroit. It is touted as either the poster child of urban decay or a case study of Midwestern promise. This week, we wanted to hear from people about Detroit’s image, drawbacks, and value.
Mohammed Fahad is 19 and has lived in Detroit most of his life. Here are his answers to our questions.
Q: Describe the Detroit of today in one sentence. A: A book that has a battered cover, but pages full of great words.
Q: Now describe the Detroit of 2020 in one sentence. A: Newly revised educational system without debts and financial managers.
Q: What’s the coolest thing about Detroit? A: Great people. People who have lived through a lot and are wise. Those people understand the outside world and the words being said but they do not let it affect them or the type of Detroit citizen that they are or have been. They are people who have heard it all and are not afraid to speak up about their city.
Q: What’s the worst thing about Detroit? A: The empty lots and vacant areas. These only add to the names that outsiders give to the city.
Q: Tell us about anything that’s happened in the last year to change your impression of Detroit. A: Working in Downtown Detroit. I got to see new places and am working with great people!
In just over two years in office, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has grappled with a $330 million budget deficit, watched the Motor City’s signature industry reach rock bottom and demolished more than three thousand vacant houses.
“It’s the toughest job I’ve ever had,” Bing said Tuesday morning. “The only person whose job is tougher than mine is the guy I was meeting with yesterday.”
That would be President Obama, with whom Bing met Monday as part of the United States Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C. During the conference, the mayors took an unusual step of overwhelmingly calling for the president to speed the end of overseas wars and redirect federal savings to their cities.
All week, we’ve been covering Detroit’s attempts to improve its image. We heard about plenty of things to celebrate, but Detroit also has plenty of real problems, ranging from its struggling education system to a huge loss of residents over the last decade.
Along with the city’s positive aspects, we also asked you to tell us: what’s the worst thing about Detroit? Here is a sample of your answers.
Hate. From racism to road rage, it is not a friendly place.– Carly Van Thomme, Guadalajara, Mexico
We’re back with more from our survey about Detroit’s image. Many people think the city is and always was a great place, with a bad reputation. But others think the problems and challenges the city faces are just too big. Before we get to responses about Detroit’s drawbacks, here’s what people say is the coolest thing about Detroit.
Our inspiration is Mayor Dave Bing’s Transform Detroit, a event that is showing examples of Detroit’s revitalization to about 50 reporters. Despite the positive picture the city is trying to present, we know not everyone believes the city is on its way back.
So, we asked people to tell us about Detroit today in one sentence. Here’s what a few of you had to say:
A book that has a battered cover, but pages full of great words.-Mohammed Fahad, Detroit, MI
Stephen Fisher (right) on Hartwell in Detroit in 1962. He’s messing around in his cousin’s 1957 Thunderbird with friends from Mumford High School.
Changing Gears is asking you about the best and the worst of Detroit, and the factors that are shaping your views of the Motor City. We’ll keep updating throughout the week. Here’s a sample of the first responses.
About 50 reporters arrived in Detroit on Monday for a three day conference Mayor Dave Bing is calling “Transform Detroit.” Bing said this morning, via Twitter, that Transform Detroit “is a media briefing that connects reporters with community leaders and positive happenings throughout the city.”
He also tweeted that he hoped he would get some reporters to tell “GOOD stories” after the conference.
The city is trying to put its best foot forward.
Reporters are touring areas where there has been substantial investment, like the central Woodward Avenue Corridor, seeing some of the city’s famed architecture, and also are being introduced to business owners and community leaders from throughout the city.
Changing Gears has been asking people all over the country if they think Detroit’s image has rebounded. Or, if they think the city’s problems are just too big for any makeover to take hold.
You can answer the question here. And, you can send us photos, like reader Howard Duffy did, above. Then, come back later today and read a sample of our first responses.