The State of Our City Shea Howell

Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
The State of Our City
shea25Mayor Duggan gave his third State of the City address last week at the Second Ebenezer Church on Detroit’s East Side. He emphasized the progress he has made cutting crime and increasing police response times, tearing down blighted houses, encouraging businesses, and creating job programs for youth. He discussed his initiatives to cut car insurance and to add new technologies of surveillance. He announced his intentions to carve out a role for the Mayor in the Detroit Public School crisis and said he is encouraging the return of power to an elected school board.

 Most of the 2,000 folks in attendance cheered on as members of the audience stood to have their efforts acknowledged.  But for the first time in over 40 years, the speech was interrupted 4 times by protesters.

Mayor Duggan would do well to pay attention to those protests. They say more about the state of our city than all of the orchestrated cheering. These brave young people who stood up to question the Mayor and his “relentless, positive, action” deserve the thanks of all of us who are concerned about the growing racial divide and brutal inequalities we are facing.

It was their voices that raised the important questions we face. Unfurling a banner that read “Opportunity for who?” they challenged gentrification, water shut offs, disinvestment in education, and Duggan’s ties to Governor Snyder and his emergency managers.

“Many Detroiters – especially black Detroiters – aren’t experiencing the ‘revitalization’ of greater downtown,” said Dakarai Carter, an organizer from BYP100. “Millions of dollars are being invested there, while our neighborhoods deal with disinvestment resulting in a lack of community services and resources. We are disrupting business as usual because we know that cities thrive on democratic control and shared access to resources.”

The reality is that Duggan’s speech was almost exactly the same as the speech given by Mayor Dave Bing right before the onslaught of emergency management and bankruptcy in 2013. Bing, too, offered five key initiatives: cutting crime and increasing police, blight reduction, Detroit Works to grow demonstration areas to redevelop neighborhoods, improve public transportation, and encouraging entrepreneurs.

That is why Duggan is failing the city. The questions we face are not the same as those of the pre-emergency manager-bankruptcy era. To move down the same old path of promising the “best way to handle the problem is to grow the city,” is the kind of relentless positive non-thinking that brought us the crisis in Flint.

Mayor Duggan refuses to look at the basic question of how do we develop a city that includes all of our people? How do we create relationships that foster care, compassion, and joy for everyone?

These are not empty questions. Nor are they utopian thoughts. Since Duggan took office, citizens groups have offered clear advice: Put a moratorium on foreclosures. Stop the Water Shut Offs. Adopt a Water Affordability Plan. Adopt a community benefits agreement. Develop place-based education to encourage our young people to learn while rebuilding the city. Encourage land trusts and cooperative businesses.

Shortly after the State of the City, Former Mayor Dave Bing, who no doubt recognized much of the progress claimed by Duggan, offered some advice “As much as we say or think we are being inclusive, the reality is we are not. There is an undercurrent of frustration and anger that could lead to a negative outcome.”

Detroit is a movement city with a strong history of developing creative grass roots alternative ways of living and being. Duggan’s old thinking shows no sign of recognizing the depth of the challenges we face. He would do well to listen to our youth.

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