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This weekend's Austin American Statesman, as posted on imgur.com.

Ok, we’ll admit, Changing Gears has not always had a friendly tone toward Austin. But, mean-spirited jokes aside, Austin does seem to come up on this site a lot more than other non-Midwest cities. We’ve even written about Austin’s hopes to build its own local auto industry.

But when we saw the headline above, from this weekend’s Austin American-Statesman, it just seemed like this strange, long-distance flirting between cities could be the real deal. Detroit and Austin actually have a lot in common – both have great music, both have hipsters and both are pretty weird.

So how about it Austin? Do you want to go steady with Detroit?

Circle one:

Yes      or      No

If you live in Michigan, you might be mulling over the big economic news from Detroit. Namely that not-yet-consensual consent agreement that could alter city governance for years to come.

Kindof a big deal. But economic stories come in small packages too. Like this:

In Good Faith Missionary Baptist Church

In Good Faith Missionary Baptist Church -- photo by Kevin Bauman

Kevin Bauman is the photographer behind this picture project on Detroit’s small churches. We’ve been curious about small churches here at Changing Gears, and what happens to their buildings when services stop.

(No offense to the big guys; you deserve your own story, Archdiocese of Detroit.)

But right now we want to learn about the little pop-up and store front churches in your neighborhoods. Are they still active? Or have they fallen into disrepair … and off the tax rolls? What’s the story behind the church on your block?

 

Fracking taxes Ohio governor John Kasich unveiled a plan yesterday that would increase taxes, and regulations, on the growing number of oil and gas drilling projects in the state. BusinessWeek says the higher taxes would raise $1 billion in revenue by 2016. Partner station WCPN Ideastream says the new revenue will offset an income tax cut for Ohioans.

Lot o’ Lollapaloozas The Chicago Park District signed a new nine-year agreement with organizers of the Lollapalooza music festival, according to the Chicago Tribune. One park official says the deal will give the city a $1 billion boost over the next decade. But ticket prices for music fans will probably be going up.

No consent Tuesday, the State of Michigan offered leaders in Detroit a consent agreement to allow a new panel to solve the city’s budget crisis. Now, the Detroit Free Press reports the city is working on a counter-proposal, while the Associated Press says a “war of words” has broken out between the mayor and the governor.

Starting up startups The Wall Street Journal takes a look at Chicago’s growing scene for startups. But the paper finds Chicago still has a long way to go to compete with New York or Silicon Valley for startup money.

Keeping up with foreclosures Chicago foreclosure filings spiked upward in February, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The Columbus Dispatch says filings were also up in Ohio, though they’re down quite a bit compared to a year ago. And partner station Michigan Radio reports foreclosure filings were down in Michigan for the month.

Prison time Rod Blagojevich reports to prison today. Partner station WBEZ has the story.

Fracking taxes Ohio governor John Kasich unveiled a plan yesterday that would increase taxes, and regulations, on the growing number of oil and gas drilling projects in the state. BusinessWeek says the higher taxes would raise $1 billion in revenue by 2016. Partner station WCPN Ideastream says the new revenue will offset an income tax cut for Ohioans.

Lot o’ Lollapaloozas The Chicago Park District signed a new nine-year agreement with organizers of the Lollapalooza music festival, according to the Chicago Tribune. One park official says the deal will give the city a $1 billion boost over the next decade. But ticket prices for music fans will probably be going up.

No consent Tuesday, the State of Michigan offered leaders in Detroit a consent agreement to allow a new panel to solve the city’s budget crisis. Now, the Detroit Free Press reports the city is working on a counter-proposal, while the Associated Press says a “war of words” has broken out between the mayor and the governor.

Starting up startups The Wall Street Journal takes a look at Chicago’s growing scene for startups. But the paper finds Chicago still has a long way to go to compete with New York or Silicon Valley for startup money.

Keeping up with foreclosures Chicago foreclosure filings spiked upward in February, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The Columbus Dispatch says filings were also up in Ohio, though they’re down quite a bit compared to a year ago. And partner station Michigan Radio reports foreclosure filings were down in Michigan for the month.

Prison time Rod Blagojevich reports to prison today. Partner station WBEZ has the story.

Gassed up Ohio will get a new $900 million natural gas processing plant, as the state’s boom in shale-gas drilling continues.

You’re next, Illinois Mitt Romney’s poor showing in Alabama and Missisippi seems to have heightened the importance of next week’s primary in Illinois. The Chicago Tribune reports the Romney campaign just bought another $1.35 million in ads in the Chicago market.

Politics behind consent Yesterday was a big day in the city of Detroit, as Michigan governor Rick Snyder released a proposed consent agreement to handle the city’s budget crisis. Partner station Michigan Radio takes a look at the politics behind the proposal.

Mining a new strategy Even though a controversial piece of legislation to allow mining in northern Wisconsin failed to get enough votes, and the company that wanted the mine has pulled out, some state Republicans are still fighting for the cause.

Ohio gets the bronze The Labor Department reports that Ohio had the third-largest increase in jobs in January. Only New York and Texas saw more jobs created in the first month of the year.

Camera-ready Partner station WBEZ looks into Chicago’s volatile, but growing film industry.

Detroit is running out of money, and now it’s time for drastic action.

Officially, leaders expect they’ll be out of cash by the end of June. For the past few months, a review team has been looking at the city’s finances to determine whether the state should appoint an emergency manager in Detroit.

Today, Michigan’s governor hinted strongly that there’s enough of a problem for him to appoint an emergency manager. 

But, in an effort to preserve some local control, and avoid a political showdown in the state’s largest city, Snyder has instead offered  a “consent agreement” to Detroit leaders.

They’ll stay in power, in return for a state role in the oversight of financial matters.

The agreement was presented to Detroit’s city council this morning, and the city has until March 28 to respond. If it’s approved, the document could change Detroit for years to come.

Partner station Michigan Radio has been digging into the agreement, and the response it’s generated.

The agreement calls for a nine-member panel to oversee Detroit’s budget for no more than three years. The panel would have the authority to slash budgets, close city departments and oversee the sale of city assets.

It also gives the mayor and the city’s chief operating officer the authority to negotiate, or terminate, labor contracts. That’s a power that goes to an emergency manager, and it’s one of the most controversial aspects of state law.

The Detroit News reports that the proposed agreement has already angered some in Detroit. The consent agreement caused a heated debate at the city council meeting today.

Snyder said this morning that he hopes to have the agreement signed in two weeks. If that doesn’t happen, or if the agreement is signed and later challenged by the city, the governor may still resort to appointing an emergency manager.

 

Sharon McClinton cares for the vacant land around her house. Detroit is trying to make it easier for residents like her to buy that land, too.

Apparently, the phone has been ringing off the hook over at Detroit’s planning department.  It’s all because of a few lines uttered by Mayor Dave Bing in his State of the City address last week. (You’ll find them about 30 minutes in.)

“This week we sent out over 500 letters to property owners in Hubbard Farms, Springwells Village and Southwest Detroit,” he announced, “telling them if they own a home adjacent to a vacant city-owned lot, they can purchase this lot for a mere $200.”

“No coming downtown,” the mayor said.  “No added bureaucracy. The city will mail back the deed.”

The initiative is a response to the overwhelming problem of abandoned property in Detroit.  It’s a problem we explored in our stories about Detroit “blotters” — which you can see here and here.

Blotting describes what happens when homeowners annex the vacant lot, or lots, next door. They create expanded properties, between the size of a lot and a city block.  Sometimes, residents can purchase these side lots.  Often, they’re constrained by bureaucracy or money, so they may just throw up a fence to ward off the dangers of abandonment.

Many cities have programs to encourage residents to buy vacant side lots at discounted prices.  Detroit has one too, but it’s been slow and unwieldy.  It can take years for residents to buy the lot next door.  Considering that Detroit owns tens of thousands of vacant land parcels, that wasn’t fast enough.

So on Friday, hundreds of Detroiters got the letters, written in English and Spanish. The city offered to sell homeowners the vacant lot next door for $200.

This new White Picket Fence Program is basically the same as the existing adjacent lot program.  What’s different is that instead of waiting for residents to come to them, city planners targeted certain neighborhoods, pro-actively identifying eligible lots.

It’s a kind of pre-approval on the city’s part, as well as a tacit acknowledgment that many residents don’t know their options or have given up.

Greg Holman, the Special Projects Coordinator at the planning department, describes himself as someone with “a weird passion for vacant, adjacent side lots.”  He’s been watching the responses come in.

As of 12:15 pm today, he’s received 20 completed applications in the mail.  It’s just been a few days since the city’s letters went out.  It shows how interested many Detroiters are in owning and caring for the land around them.

Though the expedited side lot program targets Southwest Detroit, Bing hopes it will be replicated in other areas.  It certainly won’t solve the problem of vacancy in Detroit.  But Greg Holman sums up the prevailing spirit: “Small changes can make big waves, is my theory.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decision time in Detroit Today, MIchigan Governor Rick Snyder is expected to announce the details of a new consent agreement with the city of Detroit. Partner station Michigan Radio says the agreement would give broad, budget-cutting powers to the city’s elected officials, without appointing an emergency manager. Without drastic cuts, leaders are worried Detroit could run out of cash by this summer.

A deal gone sour The executive of Cuyahoga County is looking into a possible lawsuit over a land deal that cost the county $45 million. Some of the people involved in the deal have been convicted of corruption.

We’re number 9! A new ranking puts Chicago ninth among the world’s most competitive cities. Chicago ranked behind cities including New York, London, Singapore, Paris and Hong Kong. It ranked just ahead of Boston, according to the Chicago Tribune.

A tale of two legislatures The Wisconsin state legislature is wrapping up its current session, and the two pieces of legislation that were the top priorities for Republicans at the start of the year aren’t getting done. Indiana lawmakers are also wrapping up their current session. The state’s Republican leaders had a little more success, reports partner station WBEZ.

Confirmed culprit State regulators in Ohio concluded on Friday that earthquakes near Youngstown were almost certainly caused by a waste-water well drilled by the natural gas industry. Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports the regulators announced new rules on future wells to hold the waste from fracking.

So, what now? Partner station Michigan Radio reports the review team that’s examining Detroit’s finances dodged a possible contempt-of-court charge by disbanding a sub-committee that met in private. A judge ruled the review team must hold its meetings in public. The review team has already found that Detroit will probably run out of cash by this summer.

Read all about it The Chicago Reader is up for sale, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

The elevated park A proposal would turn an unused 2.7 mile stretch of Chicago’s elevated rail line into a public park.

The Chicago L route map overlaid on the city of Detroit. Credit: reddit user northsider1983

What would it look like if you took a platoon of helicopters and airlifted the entire Chicago L system and dropped it on Detroit? It would look like the map you see above. The map was made by a reddit user, who goes by the handle “northsider1983.”

The map gives a sense of the scale of both cities, and their very different transit options. Detroit, of course, doesn’t have a rail system. It has the People Mover, which covers all of 2.9 miles. It’s pretty arguable whether Detroit even has a functioning bus system these days (though there was a time when Detroit’s streetcar system was far more extensive than today’s L).

But Detroit’s transit dreams still have some life left in them. Businessman Dan Gilbert said again this week that he expects the new light rail line along Woodward Ave. “will be in the ground by the end of this calendar year.”