Last week saw a series of public meetings organized by Detroit Mayor Dave Bing in an attempt to lend a democratic façade to his plan to downsize and reshape the city. However, the basic framework of “The Detroit Works Project” will remain unchanged, having long been decided upon by Bing and the city’s elite behind the backs of residents.
Whatever the final details of the plan are, it will involve the destruction of entire neighborhoods, complete with the dismantling of infrastructure and the eviction of residents. Nothing short of a social tragedy will unfold if such a plan is carried out.
Moreover, Bing’s claim that the specific neighborhoods to be destroyed are yet to be determined is belied of the fact the areas must correspond with the wrecking campaign currently underway by Detroit Public Schools financial manager Robert Bobb. Dozens of public schools are slated to be closed this year under Bobb’s direction.
This has nothing in common with the rational and progressive aspects of urban planning.
The merits of any plan for Detroit can only be weighed on a political scale. Who is to determine the plan? Who is to benefit? Who is to implement it? The two choices – the multimillionaire Bing and his cronies, or the workers of Detroit – have irreconcilable interests. They can therefore only have diametrically opposed plans.
Perhaps the biggest winner of Bing’s plan will be Detroit Edison Company. The consolidation of utilities would allow the company to finally abandon infrastructure located in the unprofitable, poorer areas of the city long starved of maintenance. It would also aid the company’s campaign to prevent what it calls “energy theft” and “illegal hook-ups,” as well as facilitate the enforcement of its inhumane utility shutoff policies.
This is to be expected given Bing’s 20 years of service on DTE’s board of directors and his close relationship with the company’s current CEO Anthony Earley.
Proponents of downsizing Detroit typically point to the depopulation of the city and its budget crisis. However, these arguments are meaningless when divorced from their source, that is, the deindustrialization of the city and the destruction of jobs and social services. This, incidentally, is the disastrous legacy left by the Democratic Party after decades of running the city.
In other words, it is no accident the decrease in population from around 2 million in the 1950s to about 900,000 today follows closely with the dismantling of industry in general and the auto industry in particular.
For example, at General Motors – once the world’s largest private employer with 850,000 employees worldwide – the American section of its workforce of half a million has since been reduced to 96,000. Under the bankruptcy terms imposed by the Obama administration, another 31,000 jobs will be destroyed by 2012.
If a city like Detroit has no money to provide its residents with even the most basic services, it is only because trillions of dollars have been squandered on militarism abroad and bank bailouts at home. Moreover, it is a damning indictment against the capitalist system.
It is not the poor who are draining society’s resources and bankrupting the country. Simply put, society can no longer afford to support an idle and parasitic financial aristocracy.
What is needed is not the shrinking of Detroit, but its rebuilding through a massive public works program employing the nation’s millions of jobless. Social services like housing, utilities, healthcare, education and recreation – essential rights in a modern society – shouldn’t be reduced to what the elite deem “affordable.” They should be vastly expanded to the level needed to guarantee every resident a decent standard of living.
However, such a plan can only be realized by transforming the main levers of the economy into public utilities under the democratic control of the population.