Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Link Drop - June 30, 2009

  • A non-profit coalition is trying to open a community grocery store in an empty Farmer Jack to help alleviate Detroit's "food desert" crisis (Michigan Citizen). The Free Press has more.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Link Drop - June 29, 2009

  • Sam Riddle dishes more dirt on Monica Conyers (Free Press) and Ken Cockrel plans to force her off the City Council (News). The sooner the better, I'd say.
    • Detroit Make It Here gives some much deserved press to Going Home, a community blog that's helping to revitalize the struggling neighborhood near City Airport.
    • Is the Packard Plant -- the always-burning, forever-abandoned, 43-building dumping-ground on the city's east side -- Detroit's greatest absurdity? Bill McGraw makes the case (Free Press).
    Update: Monica Conyers resigns from office effective July 6 (Crain's).

    Sunday, June 28, 2009

    Link Drop - June 28, 2009

    • Meijer might sign on as the anchor tenant of the Shoppes at Gateway, a long-rumored outdoor mall to be built at 8 Mile and Woodward (News).
    • The New York Times Magazine takes a deep look this week at how the downsizing of the auto industry has affected Metro Detroit's black middle class.

    Friday, June 26, 2009

    Link Drop - June 26, 2009

    • The Lafayette Building is coming down (Free Press). The Downtown Development Authority voted unanimously to demolish the historic, 1920s-era structure, preservationists be damned. 
    • A new Cobo deal is headed to Detroit for the council's approval (Free Press).
    • The Ilitches will renegotiate the lease on Joe Louis Arena (Crain's). It's not clear yet whether the goal is to renovate the stadium or buy time before building a new one.

    Monica Conyers pleads guilty

    Monica Conyers pleaded guilty this morning to conspiring to commit bribery. No word yet on her sentence (she could get up to five years), but if there's any justice in this world, she'll go to prison for a long time and never return to public office. Thanks to the hard work of the local media and the FBI, the Kwame Kilpatrick era of corruption -- in City Hall, in the school system, and on the Council -- may finally be ending. We have a new, principled mayor. We have a responsible and driven fiscal manager cleaning house at DPS. And now we need a new council, elected by district, operating on a rewritten city charter.

    In honor of the King of Pop:

    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    Link Drop - June 25, 2009

    • A final bill to expand Cobo is actually expected to pass (Free Press).
    • Last month, the American Institute of Architects released a report (PDF) reimagining Detroit as a series of interconnected "urban villages" and green spaces. Rooflines, a blog by Shelterforce magazine, has an interesting post on the proposal, as does the Landscape + Urbanism blog.

    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    And the bridge battle goes on

    The fight over twinning the Ambassador Bridge keeps getting messier. Yesterday the bridge company accused MDOT of dumping 10,000 tons of dirt onto a new truck ramp out of spite. The company filed a lawsuit in May seeking to block construction of a rival, publicly-funded span, and they say the dirt was dumped in retaliation. MDOT says no, the dirt is temporary, but the bridge company may have jeopardized federal funding for the massive Gateway Project by unilaterally changing the design of the bridge plaza, among other infractions. The same issues were cited by the U.S. Coast Guard last week when they ordered the company to stop all work on the new, unapproved span.

    To say this spat is getting complicated is to greatly understate the case, but the most surprising development to emerge in the last few weeks is that Matty Moroun, the Grosse Pointe billionaire who owns the Ambassador Bridge as well as Michigan Central Depot, may finally be getting boxed in. The odds have always favored Moroun--he's got the money and the track record to do what he wants, public opinion and the law be damned--but it looks like he may have overplayed his hand. The company has cut off part of Riverside Park without title to the land, shut down access to part of 23rd Street without permission, built the ramp to a new bridge without a permit to do so, and so far failed to divert truck traffic from neighborhood streets.

    That's led to doubt or outright opposition from nearly all Southwest residents and community groups, all levels of government in Canada, the City Council, MDOT, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the state representative for the area, Rashida Tlaib, as well as most media observers. Moroun still has a few backers -- a handful of community groups, who co-signed the lawsuit against the public span, and some Michigan lawmakers, mostly Republican, who'd rather see a bridge built at private expense. But the opposition is growing, and for good cause.

    Update: MDOT sues the bridge company for disregarding its contract. This is getting intense.

    Link Drop - June 24, 2009

    • Confusion reigns on the incinerator question. From what little the public knows, it looks like it's here to stay -- meaning no landfills and little or no recycling in the city's future (Metro Times).
    • Jack Lessenberry continues to sound the alarm over the state budget crisis (Metro Times). 
    • On Tuesday, the Ilitch family will announce whether it's renewing its lease at Joe Louis Arena or building a new stadium (Detroit News). Bill Shea has the best breakdown of what it means for the city (Crain's).

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    Link Drop - June 23, 2009

    • The Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy formally lists its grievances against the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (Crain's). Worth reading.
    • Richard Florida of "creative class" fame and urban economist Ed Glaeser discuss a recent Telegraph article on shrinking cities: Glaeser says we should stop investing in declining cities as places, investing in people instead so they have the education to get out if they wish (NY Times); Florida concurs but argues that demolition and smart infrastructure investment can make shrinking cities better places to live for those who remain (Atlantic).
    • First Tiger Stadium, now the Lafayette Building. City Council denied a historic designation for the downtown building today (Crain's). Expect demolition imminently.

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    Link Drop - June 22, 2009

    • Right-sizing or shrinking the city has become an issue in Flint's mayoral campaign. Of the two candidates, one is more open to the proposal than the other, but both express skepticism (Michigan Messenger).
    • A new Census Bureau report confirms the rapid sprawl of Metro Detroit (Free Press). Since 2000, Wayne County has shrunk by 5.4% while Livingston County jumped by 16.3%. Ever outward we go ...
    • The transfer of government responsibilities to non-profits and corporations continues. The state can only afford to mow Eight Mile's median once a month, so the Eight Mile Boulevard Association is getting cities to do it themselves (Detriot News).

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    Link Drop - June 21, 2009

    • Detroit's been tapping library and school funds to meet payroll (Free Press). That's illegal and could mean a state-imposed fiscal manager is in the city's future.
    • After months of debate over whether the city should keep using the incinerator, residents were told Thursday that the city actually has no choice (Detroit News). If the incinerator matches the best price offered by the landfills, the city's contractually obligated to keep using it (Metro Times).
    • Over on Detroit Yes, a poster (tangerine) makes a persuasive case that Woodward Avenue, from downtown all the way out to Pontiac, is the region's best hope for a dense, urban core. Downtown and Midtown Detroit would be just two anchors among many along the route (as is the case, in reality, now).

    New feature: Link Drop

    Every week, at least two-thirds of the material I plan to comment on slips past me. In recognition of the fact that I just can't keep up, I'll be posting a quick list of links every day to the most interesting articles and blogs I've come across in the last 24 hours. The first Link Drop will be up today at 3 o'clock. Regular posts with more commentary will keep coming once or twice a week, too.

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Bobb promises deep changes to Detroit schools

    Detroit Public Schools won't be the same when Robert Bobb's one-year tenure as fiscal manager is up. That much is clear from his forceful, honest interview with the Metro Times and TV appearance this morning. He has an ambitious, five-part plan, and he says, "I'm going to get it done in a year. This plan will be done come hell or high water." Not everyone will be happy when he does it. Here are three passages that are bound to provoke:

    1. On security:

    We want our public safety personnel to be able to press a button to a camera and see everything that is happening in and around the schools. There are cameras around schools but we want to be able to have cameras so we can see up and down corridors into dark spots — we want to be able to see where our kids are. We’ll have a crime camera that will look up and down the streets onto our playgrounds that will be able to capture people with sensors who come into our buildings at night when they shouldn’t be there.
    2. On charter schools:
    Bobb also said he has entered discussions with Doug Ross, founder of University Preparatory Academy charter school, to possibly turn over management of Mumford High to Ross’s charter school management company. Other charter school companies met with district officials Wednesday, just weeks after Bobb announced that some of the 40 schools that will be reformed next year may become charter schools or may be managed by companies.
    3. On the elected school board:
    They're over there, I'm over here.

    Wednesday, June 3, 2009

    Accountability returns to DPS

    The results of a district-wide audit are in and they're as bad as anyone feared. Just five DPS schools out of 194 had a "clean" audit. The rest had accounting errors or outright theft, including "misappropriation of cash, loans made to officials using school funds, funds diverted to personal accounts, and missing money from dances and sports activities."

    And no surprise: the district eliminated its internal audit department four years ago. Of course, that didn't stop widespread petty theft a decade ago, when according to the Detroit News, "auditors found nearly $2 million in missing or misspent money during a review of the 270 schools, including a principal accused of buying booze and sending a son on a trip to Italy with school funds, another accused of taking school money as loans, while others used the money for cell phones, staff luncheons and fraternity dues."

    This time, the wrongdoers need to be fired and/or prosecuted, and protocols must be put in place to prevent abuse at this scale from repeating itself yet again. Let's hope Emergency Financial Manager Robert C. Bobb is up to the job. He can't just expose past problems; he has to fix them for the future, too.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009

    Consolation prize

    So, yes, GM is bankrupt, but the feds are still looking out for us. The city of Detroit will get 100 new police officers courtesy of the federal government to combat "a possible rise in crime brought on by the economic fallout from the auto industry crisis."

    Tiger Stadium going, going, gone

    Time to pay your last respects. The board of the city's Economic Development Corporation voted today to demolish what remains of Tiger Stadium within the next few weeks.

    Why the sudden urgency? A spokesman cited "safety and security concerns" and the desire to make the site "more attractive to potential developers without the leftover structure." This rational would hold more water if a) the city were paying for security or b) there were potential developers. In fact, there are no developers lined up, and the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy has been covering the security costs for the past eight months. The city just prefers an empty lot. And with Michigan Central Depot scheduled to be torn down too by summer's end, there'll be no shortage of empty lots on Michigan Avenue.

    Update: Crain's reports that the conservancy is surprisingly close to financing the renovation of the stadium, making the urgency of the demo vote all the more baffling. Why rush to kill the only serious proposal for the site when nothing else will likely emerge for years?