By Shea Howell

February 27, 2017

Mayor Mike Duggan delivered his fourth State of the City address last week in an unusual venue. He chose Focus: Hope as the spot. It was a move designed to highlight his central message, time to focus on the neighborhoods. “We’ve improved the basic services but if we’re going to fulfill a vision of building a Detroit that includes everybody then we’ve got to do a whole lot more,” Duggan said.

Duggan then listed efforts he intends to take: job training with a clear “path to jobs” though Detroit at Work and a Skilled Trade Employment Program aimed at youth. He emphasized neighborhood investment by philanthropic organizations, promising a beginning $30 million to engage residents in Livernois/McNichols, West Village and Southwest Detroit to create walkable communities, and he promised street sweeping. He even pledged affordable housing and to back the City Council effort to guarantee 20 percent of new units will be set aside in any new project.

He said we can also expect more police officers, a new initiative around healthy pregnancies, and a Detroit Promise to insure that those babies, and current students, have a guaranteed college education when they graduate from Detroit Public Schools.

In spite of all of this, the Mayor’s speech seems more show than substance, more promise than reality.

The first reason for this is the overall framing of the neighborhoods. According to the Mayor, our neighborhoods are only places to be fixed. He does not see any of the creativity, energy or imagination that has been evolving at the neighborhood level for years. Home recipes turned into a thriving sweet potato pie shop, a neighborhood bakery reclaiming lives with returning citizens, bike shops and barber shops, 3-D printing, hand crafted furniture, and flower shops all are anchors in communities long neglected by development schemes. Rather than seeing these as sources of strength to be supported and expanded, the Mayor reduces neighborhood life to nothing more than a vast wasteland he will fix for us.

At the same time, he has refused to look honestly at the inequality his policies have created. Just days before the address, two local professors released a studyconcluding: “First, by a number of measures Detroit continues to decline, and even when positive change has occurred, growth has been much less robust than many narratives would suggest. Second, within the city recovery has been highly uneven, resulting in increasing inequality.”

The report went on, “Citywide data suggest Detroit is continuing to experience decline that makes it worse off than it was in 2000 or even 2010 in the depths of the national recession. Population, employment and incomes continue to decrease, while vacancies and poverty have increased.”

Perhaps the most important reality for the mayor is his failure to come through with his earlier promises to leverage jobs in the development of the core city. Detroiters are actually losing jobs at an alarming rate. The researchers noted,
“At each geographic level, the number of jobs held by residents has dropped over time, while employment of non-Detroiters has increased…Jobs for those living in the suburbs — who are mostly white — have gone up 16.6%. Meanwhile, jobs for city residents are down 35.5%.”

Had the Mayor heeded the wisdom of the community, we would have a Community Benefits Agreement in place that could already have mandated job training, job placement and increased the number of Detroit Enterprises benefiting from downtown investment.

Had the Mayor heeded the wisdom of the community he would have adopted a Water Affordability Plan to stop water shut-offs and support people staying in their homes.  Instead his blindness to this human rights abuse risks the wellbeing of everyone.

The Mayor is going to have to do a lot more than stand inside Focus: Hope and offer promises. He might start listening to what people want.