Bankole: Detroit’s comeback lacks will, not resources

Bankole Thompson

I always believed that resources are within reach to transform Detroit. That in the conversations about the much-trumpeted comeback of the city, it has never been an issue of resource limitation in my view. 

Mayor Mike Duggan, left, with corporate and political leaders, announces investments that will be made in several Detroit neighborhoods at the Artist Village, in Detroit on Dec. 10, 2018. The press conference announced a $35-million corporate commitment to be invested in seven Strategic Fund Neighborhoods.

Instead, it’s been an issue of limitation of will. Seven Detroit-area companies AAM, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Huntington Bank, Penske Corp, Flagstar Bank, Fifth Third Bank and Chemical Bank proved just that.

The leaders of these companies announced a $5 million donation each to seven neighborhoods during a press conference with Mayor Mike Duggan on Monday that will go into the Strategic Neighborhood Fund to make improvements in communities like Warrendale/Cody-Rouge, Russell Woods/Nardin Park, Campau/Banglatown, East Warren/Cadieux, Grand River Northwest, Gratiot/Seven Mile and Jefferson Chalmers.

While the combined $35 million neighborhood investment doesn’t add up to the $100 million that the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation recently pledged to develop Detroit’s riverfront or the $50 million dollars that the Kresge Foundation earmarked for the Marygrove College community, the revelation was more than just a simple act of benevolence.

It underscores the importance of corporate social responsibility and the need for the allocation of resources in overlooked areas. The leaders from the various companies should be commended for a good start because it shows that with commitment and readily available ideas, direct investments can be made outside of Midtown and downtown that would lead to more robust communities and enhance quality of life for Detroiters.

While the mayor praised the latest commitment, he could have started his first term in office with such bold initiatives especially after the emergence from bankruptcy. He could have right away acknowledged the obvious fact that there are two Detroits by declaring a war on poverty with an assembled coalition of business leaders and then work to address the uneven recovery. After all, not many industry captains in this town would say no to a Detroit mayor’s request to help redevelop distressed neighborhoods.

But now that inequality in Detroit has become indisputable and the rating agency Moody’s joining the call for meaningful investment outside of downtown to realize a full recovery, those tasked with leading the city appear to be demonstrating a sense of urgency. It should be clear by now that there is nothing more germane in this recovery than confronting poverty.

Over the past several months, I have had conversations with some of the CEOs who were part of Monday’s announcement regarding the fact that poverty is the defining issue of this dispensation. I indicated that unless those with the levers of economic power are willing to confront the issue, not sidestep it, poverty will continue to strangle any effort geared towards revitalizing the city. Our failure to seriously tackle the problem means Detroit will continue to be greeted periodically with embarrassing and blistering reports about how poor it is doing nationally on the socioeconomic index.

To build upon the $35 million corporate support, we need to put more spotlight on inequality.

We need more discussion around long term economic investments in neighborhoods that will change the current poverty trajectory for thousands of people whose lived experiences do not reflect the downtown area, which has become an island of opulence and abundance. About half of Detroit kids reportedly live in poverty and making grand pronouncements about the respectability of civility at a forum won’t change their lives for the better.  

What will move the needle for them is the kind of corporate investment unveiled, which is where our focus should be. In measuring the value of the dollar, the announcement itself is not the end-all and be-all. We must spend the dollars adequately and accessibly to transform lives and improve the economic conditions of the people who feel abandoned.  

Detroit is a textbook example of extreme inequities. A recent Detroit News report that the city could see a decline in affordable housing in the next few years on top of every other issue haunting the recovery is a significant indicator of the city’s economic health.  The antidote to the problems would require extraordinary and strategic measures that will reduce inequality and show that there is a will and a bolder approach to create long-term economic growth for the city.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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