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In the 1950s, more than 1.8 million people resided within the 140 square miles that comprise the city of Detroit. Some sixty years later, the city’s population has tumbled to 713,777, according to 2010 U.S. census figures.

The geography hasn’t changed.

From deploying police officers to demolishing vacant structures, the mechanics of governing a spread-thin population have become a central challenge for the city’s mayor, Dave Bing. He doesn’t sugarcoat the glum news for remaining residents: The city must shrink.

Mayor Dave Bing wants to reshape Detroit.

“We cannot continue to support every neighborhood in the city of Detroit,” he said last week while speaking at the Charles H. Wright African American Museum. “We don’t have the funding to support everybody.”

Far from using grandiose rhetoric, Bing has delivered unpopular sound bytes on a regular basis since taking office in May 2009. Halfway through his term, one of his biggest accomplishments just might be tempering expectations.

Among his constituents, sobering reality might be a hard sell. To outsiders, it’s a more pragmatic course. Last week, a report released by IHS Global said Detroit may not regain the 323,400 jobs lost during the recession until after 2021. Media reports have already sounded the alarm on the potential for what’s been dubbed another “lost decade.

Even as Bing touts the addition of 8,000 new jobs to downtown Detroit, he concedes they’re a drop in the bucket. “It’s not to be this quantum leap all of the sudden where we have 50,000 jobs,” he says about the prospects for a Detroit recovery. “It’s not going to happen like that.”

Rather, the mayor foresees slow-and-steady growth, aided by a resurgent auto industry and efforts to diversify the Motor City’s economy. One such effort is TechTown, a 43-acre small-business incubator that houses 220 companies and 500 jobs adjacent to Wayne State University.

It’s a long-term solution for an immediate problem, one which Bing has confronted while simultaneously tackling a $330 million budget deficit

On that topic and others, the mayor buffets the optimism that other boosters exude. His administration will have “miniscule” effect if he cannot achieve health-care and pension reforms, he says. Of the 80,000 vacant structures in the city, Bing notes 3,200 have been torn down, but that’s “the tip of the iceberg.”

Reversing 50 years of decline in one term may not be a realistic expectation for Bing’s administration. So what is?

“You have to stabilize our city first, before we do anything,” Bing said.

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Economists await automotive sales numbers. The U.S. manufacturing sector slowed following the Japanese nuclear catastrophe. This week, economists hope new data will show an uptick in automotive sales and, in turn, growth in orders for U.S. automotive suppliers.

Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard tells partner station WBEZ that the automotive sales numbers will not only help measure the manufacturing sector, but act as an overall indicator of health of the U.S. economy. “Car sales always depend on employment, jobs and housing,” she said. “If those things are not lining up, car sales won’t go up in any specific way.”

2. Labor unions decry Detroit mayor’s ‘scare tactics.’ Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has told union leaders the city’s school district must help save $121 million in health care and pension costs or face takeover from a state-appointment emergency financial manager. So far, some union leaders are daring Bing and the state to appoint one – they believe the emergency managers championed by Gov. Rick Snyder will be  unconstitutional.

3. Wisconsin adopts two-year budget. Gov. Scott Walker signed a two-year, $66 billion budget that cuts nearly $800 million from public schools and business taxes, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported today. The budget closes a $3 billion shortfall. Walker signed the budget at Fox Valley Metal-Tech, a site that highlighted a tax cut for manufacturers included in the budget.

Here are three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. McCormick Place mulls making workers public employees. Should an appeals court uphold a ruling that protects collective-bargaining agreements with private employers, officials for the Chicago convention complex may try to turn its private contractors into public employees. “It’s the only alternative to achieve the same reforms,” Jim Reilly, the executive in charge, told the Chicago Tribune.

2. Obama pushes high-tech innovation. Speaking at a robotics lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh on Friday, President Obama launched a $500 million program designed to spur innovation and create new high-tech products. “If we want a robust, growing economy, we need a robust, growing manufacturing sector,” he said while introducing the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. The money will be allocated toward projects that include batteries, composites, biotechnology and more.

3. Tough talk for Detroit’s teachers’ unions. Roy Roberts, the emergency financial manger appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to run Detroit Public Schools, submitted a budget plan that calls for 10 percent wage cuts to help deal with a $327 million deficit. He said he wants union input. “We need it and want it,” our partner station Michigan Radio reported. “But if they don’t, I’m not putting up with crap.”

As part of our ongoing coverage of Detroit’s efforts to transform its image, we have heard from scores of people about city’s problems and about what makes them hopeful for the future. We asked people inside and outside the city to tell us what they see in Detroit’s future. Here is how our readers described the Detroit of 2020:

Photo submitted by Nathan Barnes

“If guided by a clear, consistent, mindful vision between now and then, nine years from now Detroit will be thoughtfully developing  but not necessarily growing to improve the lives of current and future residents through transportation options.” - Elizabeth Luther, Detroit.

“I couldn’t possibly imagine anything changing for the better.” – Marcus Moore, Jacksonville, Fla.

“More hipsters.” – Molly McMahon, Detroit.

“An imperfect but creative city of energy and momentum.” - Garlin Gilchrist II, Washington, D.C.

“Detroit will always be the city that lives on the edge of extinction.” – Dan Olson, Royal Oak, Mich.

“With 60 percent of their long-standing issues resolved, Detroit is energized, revitalized, ready and willing to fix what’s left.” - David Foley, Edmonton, AB, Canada.

“A city that leading the nation in technology and manufacturing.” – Cydni Thebert, Silver Spring, Md.

“The Detroit of 2020 will be more defined by a brain-based economy, and it will be more built up with less abandoned building, but there will still be a lot of work to do before Detroit returns to the great city it once was.” – Jamie Cotrone, Ann Arbor, Mich.


Keep sending us your thoughts about Detroit, or become a source for other stories by signing up here. You can also read Changing Gears writer Pete Bigelow’s coverage of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and his thoughts about his city’s future.

On Tuesday morning, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing gave a candid assessment of the Motor City, its struggles and hopes for its future during a press conference with reporters in town for “Transformation Detroit,” a  three-day event examining the city’s future. Here’s a glimpse at five interesting statistics and quotes Bing delivered:

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing

1. Asked about the most difficult aspects of luring outside companies into Detroit, the mayor said health care and pension costs prevented the city from offering competitive relocation packages. “If we don’t have health-care reform and pension reform, we’re just blowing in the wind, quite frankly,” Bing said.

2. He said more than 80,000 empty home are located in Detroit, contributing to the blight outsiders often associate with the city. Under Bing, the city demolished approximately 3,200 homes in the past year. His goal is 10,000 by the end of his term. “It’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

3. Real estate isn’t exactly a hot commodity in Detroit. Home sales fell 4.3 percent in May from the previous year and the median sales price of $65,000 was down 13.3 percent from 2010. Bing joked with the group of assembled reporters he’d be happy to help them purchase real estate in the city. But one area in which he foresees real-estate potential is in the immediate areas east and west of Woodward Avenue, where the city plans its first light-rail service. “That’s where the activity is going to be,” Bing said.

4. As part of efforts to lure more young residents in the city, Bing said Detroit officials need to do a better job of developing their waterfront. He said it’s “the most undeveloped and valuable piece of land in the state of Michigan.”

5. Crime prevention was one of the mayor’s top priorities. Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said that violent crime had collectively fallen 12 percent so far in 2011 across categories of assault, burglary, rape, larceny and auto theft. But year to date, the city’s homicide rate showed an 11 percent uptick. There were 140 homicides in Detroit through June 5, 2011, up from 126 through the same period last year.

Changing Gears is wrapping up its first week as part of the Public Insight Network. Through PIN, everyone can sign up to become a source for our coverage. It’s kind of like a citizen news wire.

To put your personal experiences in the spotlight, we’re introducing a new daily feature called Your Story. We’re letting you tell how Midwest’s economic transformation is changing your life.

There’s no better place to start than in Detroit. It is touted as either the poster child of urban decay or a case study of Midwestern promise. This week, we wanted to hear from people about Detroit’s image, drawbacks, and value.

Mohammed Fahad is 19 and has lived in Detroit most of his life. Here are his answers to our questions.

Q: Describe the Detroit of today in one sentence.
A: A book that has a battered cover, but pages full of great words.

Q: Now describe the Detroit of 2020 in one sentence.
A: Newly revised educational system without debts and financial managers.

Q: What’s the coolest thing about Detroit?
A: Great people. People who have lived through a lot and are wise. Those people understand the outside world and the words being said but they do not let it affect them or the type of Detroit citizen that they are or have been. They are people who have heard it all and are not afraid to speak up about their city.

Q: What’s the worst thing about Detroit?
A: The empty lots and vacant areas. These only add to the names that outsiders give to the city.

Q: Tell us about anything that’s happened in the last year to change your impression of Detroit.
A: Working in Downtown Detroit. I got to see new places and am working with great people!

Mayor Dave Bing. Photo by Kate Davidson.

In just over two years in office, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has grappled with a $330 million budget deficit, watched the Motor City’s signature industry reach rock bottom and demolished more than three thousand vacant houses.

“It’s the toughest job I’ve ever had,” Bing said Tuesday morning. “The only person whose job is tougher than mine is the guy I was meeting with yesterday.”

That would be President Obama, with whom Bing met Monday as part of the United States Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C. During the conference, the mayors took an unusual step of overwhelmingly calling for the president to speed the end of overseas wars and redirect federal savings to their cities.

For Detroit, it sounds like the lobbying will work. Although any connection between a troop drawdown and aid to cities still battered by the economic downturn is unknown, Bing said he expects “something significant” to emerge from Washington sometime in the next two months that would spur change in Detroit.

“We talked about something yesterday I can’t make public right now,” he said while speaking at a press conference at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. “But sometime in the next 30 to 45 days, there will be an announcement they will make, not me. And I think we’re going to be very pleased with that.”

Later in his remarks, he hinted the federal money could boost education funding. Not merely for K-12, but also for re-training tens of thousands of workers whose educations and skill sets have become outdated in a changing economy that now favors the service sector and health-care industry.

To date, the city’s school system has left its residents ill-prepared for those new jobs, Bing said.

In Detroit, 47 percent of the metro population is functionally illiterate, according to a recent report from the National Institute for Literacy. And on Monday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced some of the city’s worst-performing districts would be melded into a new statewide district run by the Michigan Department of Education.

“We’ve also got three generations of people who grew up in that same system who are, in some cases, unemployable,” Bing said. “We need some massive dollars from a re-training standpoint. I had a lot of conversations about that in Washington yesterday.

“We have got to make sure that population from 21 to 40 or so, we have to get money to re-train those people, because the jobs for 2012 and beyond are not necessarily the skills they have. You have to get people trained for the growth areas we are talking about.”

All week, we’ve been covering Detroit’s attempts to improve its image. We heard about plenty of things to celebrate, but Detroit also has plenty of real problems, ranging from its struggling education system to a huge loss of residents over the last decade.

Photo submitted by Kira Plotivrnkov


Along with the city’s positive aspects, we also asked you to tell us: what’s the worst thing about Detroit? Here is a sample of your answers.

Hate. From racism to road rage, it is not a friendly place.- Carly Van Thomme, Guadalajara, Mexico

The legacy of Kwame Kilpatrick and Henry Ford. Drive, drive, drive everywhere. -Karen Dunnam, Grand Rapids, MI

That we do not promote the diversity of the people in Detroit and surrounding suburbs as we should. It’s the people that make any city. -Gordon Alexander, Detroit, MI

Suffocating overt and covert racism that serves as a shorthand for much more complex and difficult problems. -Brian Bowe, Saugatauk, MI

The lack of public transportation and urban living necessities to keep people in the city. -Dan Baker, Lancaster, PA

Excessively numbered and large freeways that ruin the continuity of neighborhoods and contribute to a sense of isolation in many cases. – Elizabeth Luther, Detroit, MI

Unfortunately, crime. -Joel Arnold, Flint

How empty it feels.  There is nothing worse than coming home to find the lights off and the family dispersed. -Jeffrey Jablansky, New Rochelle, NY

Lack of city-dwelling yuppies, you need them for economic purposes.- Matt B., Boston, MA

People who have never been there trashing the place. -Todd Doros, Durham, NC

You can still answer our questions here.

Tomorrow, check back to read peoples’ vision for the Detroit of 2020.

Photo submitted by Joshua Mango

We’re back with more from our survey about Detroit’s image. Many people think the city is and always was a great place, with a bad reputation. But others think the problems and challenges the city faces are just too big. Before we get to responses about Detroit’s drawbacks, here’s what people say is the coolest thing about Detroit.

Cars, and the pride of a town built on the automobile industry.  If you are a car person, it is definitely a pilgrimage of sorts. – Robbert Liddell, Detroit

Detroit is a place that allows people to express themselves creatively without government red-tape. –Joshua Slominski, Farmington Hills

Redemption. – George Boyter London, England

The areas surrounding the sports arenas. –Cheryl Vee, Fraser, MI

The mash-up of cultures, histories and people. –Matthew McPhail, Wichita, KS

The people. They are humble, hardworking, and caring. –Joel Arnold, Flint, MI

The people, the history, the potential. –Ben Keyes, Detroit, MI

The coolest things about Detroit are its complexity of architecture, its citizens’ deep pride for their city, and its music scene.  And the best part, from my perspective, is how automobile culture runs through the city’s veins. –Jeffrey Jablansky, New Rochelle, NY

Would you like to share your thoughts? Take our survey.

Then check back for more from our readers.

Photo submitted by Brian Stoeckel

When we asked, “Is Detroit cool again?” we wanted to know whether Detroit’s image is changing.

Our inspiration is Mayor Dave Bing’s Transform Detroit, a event that is showing examples of Detroit’s revitalization to about 50 reporters. Despite the positive picture the city is trying to present, we know not everyone believes the city is on its way back.

So, we asked people to tell us about Detroit today in one sentence. Here’s what a few of you had to say:

A book that has a battered cover, but pages full of great words.-Mohammed Fahad, Detroit, MI

Detroit is a city that is growing and moving, but still remains deeply divided along economic and racial lines. -Alex Hill, Ann Arbor, MI

A cesspit of desolation, neglect and economic ruin that serves a testament and cautionary tale regarding the follies of bloated union pensions and stagnant business models .-Dan Burris, Fullerton,CA

It is a wasteland. -Denis Wingfield, Northville, MI

Rough and tumble with a gritty crust, but refuses to say “no”. -Michael McAfee, Austin, TX

Detroit is a ghost city defined by a past economy that relied on the automobile industry and manufacturing, and it will take a lot of work to rebuild and redefine the city. -Jamie Cotrone, Ann Arbor, MI

A blighted urban play ground for hipsters and creative types. -Jamie Grimaldi, Detroit, MI

A run down tired city on its heels but trying to fight back. -Stephan Church, Milwaukee, WI

Detroit is pride, knowledge, and of the underdog spirit. -Rob Cameron, Royal Oak, MI

Detroit is a work in progress. -Elaine Phares, College Station, PA

Would you like to share your thoughts? Take our survey.

Then come back tomorrow, where we’ll share some more of what you told us.