Rebuilding Detroit, Responsibly

A virtual national Kickstarter campaign has sprung up in the last two years to rebuild Detroit, which was hammered by the Great Recession, and strangled by decades of plant closings in the auto and manufacturing sectors, dramatic populations losses, and failing civil society institutions.

From our perch in the Steel city, which suffered the terrible collapse in the metals industry during the 1980s, we think the help and attention being offered to the Motor City is a good thing. Because, three decades later, cities like Pittsburgh and many Mon Valley milltowns are still bankrupt, (though many of our communities are well on the road to recovery).

The can-do energy happening in Detroit is remarkable and we applaud the people who are making it happen. But take it from us, Detroit needs more than infusions of "pop-up" projects and cool-sounding entrepreneurial initiatives. Detroit needs huge investments in many of their stressed, marginalized neighborhoods and smart capital for the real economy, not just more downtown revitalization. Turning around the Motor City will not be easy and will not come quick.

One of our latest posts below provides a short report on the new AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust's (HIT) innovative program to repair and rehab up to 300 single-family homes and properties, a down payment on a scalable project that could make a big difference for Detroit residents. In 2012, we examined the strategies of pension funds and worker-friendly private capital funds to rebuild the manufacturing base of the region in a lively Heartland RoadShow in Detroit. The work of HIT and other responsible housing infrastructure groups adds to those efforts. (See:

We've also posted a remarkable piece by the late Rick Cohen, "A City in Remission: Can the "Grand Bargain" Revive Detroit?" that explains some of the many conflicted and tainted initiatives to "save Detroit" and what that has meant for retirees including firefighters and cops whose pensions were cut as part of major restructuring partly driven by foundations.

Currently, we will not get into the recent man-made disasters in Detroit and Flint wrought by the disgraced Michigan Governor and his austerity policies and bad privatization schemes. Those myopic, ill-planned policies have resulted in lead contamination in the Flint water system and wildcat teacher strikes in Detroit due to unsafe, unhealthy conditions in the schools. Many of the state's so-called emergency managers have been fired or resigned, and as Flint resident Michael Moore has suggested, maybe the guilty parties should see some jail time. We may return to this tragedy in the future.

For now, we are siding with the people of Detroit who are trying to dig out of the mess and working to democratically control their own fate. We also hope to demonstrate that workers' capital is being invested responsibly, with more to come, to renew the city and many older industrial communities across the country.

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