I read a recent article in the New York Times discussing how Detroit is beginning to reassert the authority of the municipal government in code enforcement and other community needs. While the ability to maintain essential services is great, a quote from the mayor argues that these aren’t what should be celebrated. “Nobody in Chicago ever called their sister to say, ‘My streetlights went on!’ You don’t celebrated the in a vibrant city,” Duggan said. It is true that these are the bare minimums that a city should provide to its residents, but the fact that it can now offer these services more regularly is some cause for celebration, even if the means for achieving the power to do so pushed many residents out. The city has lived so long without these services, and without the enforcement of city regulations, that I would like to question if there isn’t a vicious cycle of redevelopment coming from this gentrification?
For instance, a main issue being highlighted is that many local Detroit businesses, located primarily in struggling areas of the city, have managed to survive since the bankruptcy only to now be hit with countless code violations. It reminds me of what we learned in How to Kill a City, where the city failed to collect tax payments only to return years later and demand an exorbitant amount of back taxes. The businesses which have survived on their own by any means necessary, now being hit with numerous code violations (many of which, I’m sure, do not impact the health or safety of local consumers), will probably suffer the same problems, especially since they’re already located in underfunded and struggling areas. The reason the city has been able to step up this enforcement is because of the money gained from attracting big corporations and businesses to invest in Downtown and Midtown. By stepping up the enforcement of regulations which the city hasn’t worried about in a decade, smaller businesses will go out of business, only to have their properties bought up for development projects planned by Dan Gilbert or other billionaires.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though, and I think the work of Edward Carrington can show how to handle what may be an upcoming problem with the community in mind. Mentioned at the bottom of the New York Times article, Carrington is a black developer from Detroit who is spearheading projects with the goal of building Detroit up, much in the same way as the billionaire and millionaire investors. Unlike the projects which have focused on high priced condos and coffee shops built by non-Detroiters, Carrington’s project in East English Village on East Warren Avenue will create 18 units of housing all sold below market rate for 25 years. The first floor of the building won’t be a new high priced shop for upper middle class residents either; rather, it will be a new home for a local dumpling pop-up, Gajiza Dumplings, which hasn’t yet found a permanent location. I think Carrington’s vision is a great representation of progress with the community, rather than at its expense.
When the city begins enforcing its regulations and turning to the areas of the city it’s forgotten about for a decade, they should think on Carrington’s development. Local businesses which may struggle with paying or conforming to newly enforced codes can be offered space on the first floor of new mixed-use developments. The owners and their neighbors can be offered new residences just above their shop or in adjacent buildings at rents fixed below market value. Detroit is experiencing a population decline, as the article mentions, because while it’s brining in small numbers of investors and new residents, it’s pushing out the original Detroiters in droves, something which ultimately leads to struggling and dull communities.