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How Detroit fares in 2019 will largely depend on how much was learned in 2018. Put simply, a lot of work needs to be done in the coming year and all hands must be on deck.  

Those driving the recovery vehicle — Mayor Mike Duggan and his administration in particular — as well as business leaders and investors will have to ensure that there are tangible and life-changing results showing for the economic revitalization. A full recovery will take more than sounding a note of optimism and high degree of confidence at a press conference to announce the next big thing.

Because there are still many neighborhoods in the city that lack economic opportunities, and the people who live in those communities can’t simply depend on a promise of getting to them someday.

That is why I want the mayor to succeed in confronting the costs of inequality in the city because it is expensive to be poor. The degree to which he is able to address the imbalanced economy, which has heavily focused in the business district, will determine how successful his mayorship will be.  

It shouldn’t be lost on any of us that concentrated poverty in certain areas of the city that are out of the reach of the mainstream can be interpreted as an example of economic segregation.

That is why 2019 should be the year the city boldly takes on economic and social inequality, and Duggan should clearly reflect that in his State of the City address in March. He shouldn’t shy away from using the word poverty to describe the conditions in many neighborhoods.

It is true the mayor and some corporate leaders have been pursuing a range of neighborhood revitalization projects to help more Detroiters climb the economic ladder. But the impact of the initiatives that have been rolled out — like the Strategic Neighborhood Fund — will be determined by how fast the investments result in real job opportunities.

According to conventional wisdom a massive downtown investment will trickle down to the neighborhoods. But that has proven to be nothing but voodoo economics. It has not resulted in the kind of job growth that would increase the incomes of many who are left out in this recovery. Also instructive in this recovery has been the reports released earlier this year, including Moody’s urging opportunities be spread outside Midtown and downtown.

“I think in 2019 we will continue to create jobs and opportunities for Detroiters throughout the city, including our neighborhoods,” Alexis Wiley, the mayor’s chief of staff told me. “I think we’ve worked hard and got more work to do. It is all about continuing to make the investments.”

Wiley said the Strategic Neighborhood Fund is key.

“It is a big piece,” Wiley said. “We’ve come a long way when you look at where we were at. It’s focusing on creating jobs and opportunities that will make the difference.”

She cited the Flex-N-Gate project to bring jobs to the city’s eastside as an example of the push to hire more Detroiters.

“It takes partners and I believe we have the partners to continue to do what we started,” Wiley said.

One of the major conundrums of the comeback is that there is still a wide gap in the recovery.

Still, the push to map out a clear anti-poverty policy seems to be resonating across the spectrum of the business community. In fact, The Detroit Economic Club is hosting a poverty forum in February, which would allow an issue that is stealing the future of children in this city to be tabled before a larger audience of corporate leaders. It is refreshing to see that the club and its president, Steve Grigorian, have joined the conversation and he followed through with the poverty discussion, when I recommended the idea to him months ago. 

If we can make some advances in creating equitable opportunities for people in this town to live in dignity and support themselves and their families, then all of us would have succeeded in making sure that economic growth truly translates into inclusive growth.

After all, a successful recovery is one where the desirable outcomes show that inclusion is not a political rhetoric. Instead, it is rooted in how we plan to grow Detroit for generations to come.

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.

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