Bankole: Spread progress to Detroit neighborhoods
Downtown Detroit is well taken care of. That assurance was once again given last week before hundreds of real estate professionals at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) conference, who heard from Dan Gilbert, the chairman of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures, and Christopher Ilitch, the CEO of Ilitch Holdings.
In a rare joint appearance, the two, who are virtually driving much of the development in the business district, talked about their excitement over Detroit’s trajectory after bankruptcy and their contributions to the revival.
Whereas Ilitch said “The engine of development in Detroit is just getting started,” Gilbert described the city as a place with a “diverse population with talent in many fields.”
For many in Detroit, whose existence and daily struggle aren’t connected to the activities in downtown and Midtown, they will find it hard to believe that help is on the way as Ilitch sought to convey. Their neighborhoods have not changed one bit. And others will raise eyebrows at Gilbert’s assertion that Detroit is diverse and talented by quickly pointing to Amazon’s recent snubbing of the city for its second headquarters because of lack of talent.
While I appreciate the high degree of optimism about the city expressed at the forum, and the contributions of these two men at the center of a massive downtown rejuvenation, it was evident that the Gilbert-Ilitch dialogue before the ULI spring meeting was a major public relations move. The forum, it appears, was clearly designed to tout the city as a place undergoing a remarkable and serious renaissance, especially after emerging from municipal bankruptcy only a few years back.
But their appearance also reminded us of another glaring need: the city’s neighborhoods’ sorry state of decay and despondency, which need their own Gilbert and Ilitch.
There is a gaping hole to fill in the neighborhoods — and it should be filled creatively and collaboratively. Without realistic and quantifiable progress in the neighborhoods, there will be no full recovery of the city.
Think about it this way. If you go to a family of seven and choose to help only two, while the two might be elated, the rest will feel left out. The remaining five members of the family would have justification to ask: What about us?
Those are the questions many Detroiters are asking about the revitalization that has been heavily focused in downtown and its surrounding areas, at the expense of the more populated neighborhoods in a regrettable stage of elegy. The paltry investments that are sprinkled in few neighborhoods pale in comparison to the kinds of projects and deals that are periodically announced for downtown development.
The neighborhoods don’t have the kinds of champions downtown has in Gilbert and Ilitch. To drive sustainable and impactful development in communities across this city that have long been waiting for transformation, it is going to require some urgent, bold and massive economic projects, not the “roll out the crumbs” program that will take decades to yield any meaningful results.
While the mayor and others at city hall can point to specific things that are being done outside of downtown, it is not nearly enough to result in any serious and lasting change.
Every Detroiter deserves to feel important. All Detroiters deserve the opportunity to contribute their best to the city and enjoy the fruits of its economic and social life.
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