Earlier this month Eastern Michigan University, hosted many events in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One of those events was a forum titled “Where Do We Go From Here? Building a Stronger Community in Ypsilanti.” The forum was moderated by Reginald Barnes, director of Diversity and Community Involvement.
Present were stakeholders from the community like Lois Richardson, a member of the city council.
As the opinions editor for The Eastern Echo, I’ve written quite a bit about the city of Ypsilanti (10 columns in all). I’ve interviewed the mayor and read the city’s Master Plan. So I was interested in the discussion that was to be had.
I should have prepared myself to be disappointed. The discussion did not provide much detail on how the city would move forward. It was also framed incorrectly. Ostensibly, because the event coincided with Dr. King’s remembrance on campus, the discussion would have a racial tone. But it shouldn’t have. I look at Ypsilanti and I do not see a city mired by racial strife. It has a substantial minority population, and EMU’s campus is one of the most diverse in the state. Members of the forum’s panel had unctuous rhetoric that at times drew the kind of “mhmmms” you hear at a church sermon, but the forum was not very informative.
That isn’t to say a discussion of race can’t or shouldn’t be had, but Ypsilanti’s problems come from financial stress and a lack of economic development. If the city and influential stakeholders want to help black Americans in the community, those are the problems that need to be discussed.
For example, an affordable housing project was recently proposed by Herman & Kittle Properties to be built on Water Street. Nearby will be a Family Dollar that was proposed last year.
Development is important because it improves the fortunes of city residents. To be frank though, that kind of development is not the kind which will attract the middle-income residents the city needs, nor is it an avenue which will better the fortunes for residents who are already here.
Questions that should have been asked at the forum are “Why the city of Ypsilanti can’t attract a business like a grocery store?” Constantly there are stories about proposed investments which do not come to fruition. Angstrom, LLC purchased property in the city in 2009, and intended to bring the kind of heavy industry and well-paying jobs the city needs. Now the property has been put on the market by Angstrom, LLC.
In any case, “Where Do We Go From Here?” provided no answers to the question asked in the title.
The city of Ypsilanti’s elected officials have said that since the closure of the ACH Visteon auto-plant in 2008 and the overall withdrawal of the auto industry from the area, the city should transition from a manufacturing town to a college town.
That is probably the correct course of action to take. Plans to do this are well laid out in the city’s Master Plan. But as it states in the introduction of the Master Plan, “the City can pay for few capital expenditures in the next five years unless additional, new sources of funds can be found.”
The transition is chiefly an alteration of infrastructure and alteration in how the city looks and feels while keeping its historic structures. The marks of a college town are exactly those described by
Mayor Paul Schreiber in our interview: “urban concepts like walkability, bike-ability and public transit.” These are exactly the kinds of capital expenditures the city can’t make.
For the next few years, Ypsilanti’s focus will be restoring its fiscal health. Until that problem is resolved and debts are paid, the city cannot make the transition. So the correct answer to “Where Do We Go From Here?” is, at least for now, “nowhere.”
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