Mayor Bing’s plan to save Detroit sputters on

Mayor Dave Bing wrapped his long arms around the city’s newest homeowner – a 27-year-old nurse – as cameras rolled this morning.

The press event was intended to highlight the successes of the mayor’s cornerstone plan, the Detroit Works Project.

The city, Bing announced, is renovating 13 homes in the Boston Edison area as part of a $5.5 million plan to save the area from crime, blight and abandonment.

Sounds good, right?

All together, the mayor’s three-year-old Detroit Works Project, which was designed to attract thousands of residents into revitalized neighborhoods over the next decade, has summoned only about a dozen new residents to areas that are far from revitalized.

Urban planners nationwide have been monitoring the progress of the initiative to see if it could become a model for other struggling cities.

So far, the project has proven that even alluring incentives, such as giving away renovated homes, are not enough to draw new residents from the suburbs.
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And many current residents, who are distrustful of the government after decades of forced removal, are unwilling to relocate, even to areas with more resources.

The lesson: A city on the brink of bankruptcy can’t transform 80-year-old, declining neighborhoods into something better without significant help from residents, businesses and the state and federal governments.

“The project was a pipe dream,” a former administration official told me last month. “It looked like a good idea on paper, but it was too ambitious. If the residents and businesses won’t get behind it, you might as well forget it. The city is unwilling to change.”

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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