If there’s one city that could benefit instantly from President Barack Obama’s urban revitalization plan, it’s Detroit.
Like many other struggling urban centers, Detroit is waiting for help, and it appears the wheels of federal government – at least for the Motor City – are turning very slowly.
A year ago, the Obama administration created the White House Office on Urban Affairs and rolled out an ambitious initiative to spend billions of dollars over the next three years to overhaul predominantly black cities in the areas of education, housing, health care, poverty, transportation, infrastructure and safety.
It’s an epic initiative, considering the long-standing economic problems that inner cities have experienced. For eight years under the Bush administration, black neighborhoods were essentially ignored. But today, the Obama administration wants to right past wrongs with cutting-edge ideas. A government list of several “cities in crisis” includes Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia.
On paper, Obama’s urban renewal plan is sound and comprehensive. In reality, federal funding seems to flow like glue. Detroit can’t wait on bureaucratic paperwork because too many black men are dying in the streets, families are losing their homes to foreclosures, and students are leaving their schools because the city can no longer afford to keep them open.
What a shame.
On Tuesday, violence in Detroit erupted again. This time, Detroit Police Officer Brian Huff, a husband, a father and 12-year veteran of the force, was gunned down in a hail of gunfire during a shootout on a city street. Huff, who was black, died on the scene. Four other policemen were wounded in the firefight, so fierce that it surprised even the most cynical citizens.
Detroit has many needs, and the city could use more cops. Mayor Dave Bing made an appeal to Detroit residents to turn in the suspects and “stop the madness.”
His plea to Detroit’s bystanders could also be made to Obama to help prevent further madness in a city that is suffering from almost every major social and economic crisis imaginable. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson says Bing is “the right man at the wrong time,” and said in a pessimistic moment that it may be too late to save Detroit.
He could be right – although Bing says he believes in the rebirth of Detroit.
Last month, NBC’s “Dateline” aired a controversial special on Detroit entitled “America Now: City of Heartbreak and Hope.” The segment was criticized by local leaders as a lopsided snapshot of Detroit.
And while there are business leaders who are champions of a new beginning for Detroit, there are some hard facts that can’t be ignored. Once a thriving town known for great cars and extraordinary black music, the city now has 80,000 abandoned buildings – more boarded-up structures than any other city in America; a city-wide crime problem – even a deputy police chief has been mugged at gunpoint, blocks of cracked streets and one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
To make matters worse, a judge has ruled that Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb overstepped his authority within Detroit Public Schools and issued a preliminary injunction blocking his plan to close 44 Detroit schools.
Bobb announced a five-year, $1 billion proposal in March designed to close 44 schools in June. The plan is meant to help the city cope with declining enrollment and substantial financial losses.
But the White House says hope is on the way.
“We’re making critical investments to bring opportunities to historically marginalized parts of the country,” Alphonso Carrion, director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, told BlackAmericaWeb.com and a small group of black journalists earlier this year.
Detroit needs some of these critical federal investments sooner than later. For now, Carrion is the Obama administration’s point person assigned the daunting task of fixing the nation’s urban centers.
But Carrion is moving on.
The Obama administration announced this week that Carrión has been tapped as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s New York and New Jersey regional director. The White House says Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, will help with the transition in Carrion’s absence.
The president can’t fix every problem in every city, and no one really expects him to work miracles. But he did create this ambitious urban renewal plan, and he vowed to revive predominantly black cities – like Detroit – that are experiencing record hardships.
Now it’s time to bring that help, And in a hurry.