It’s time to invest in America’s cities

The “New York Times” has a good piece today on how we’ve put off investing in America’s cities for far too long. The author of the piece, Nicolai Ouroussoff, doesn’t focus on Detroit specifically, but I think a great deal of what he has to say is applicable here in the region. Here’s a clip:

The country has fallen on hard times, but those of us who love cities know we have been living in the dark ages for a while now. We know that turning things around will take more than just pouring money into shovel-ready projects, regardless of how they might boost the economy. Windmills won’t do it either. We long for a bold urban vision.

With their crowded neighborhoods and web of public services, cities are not only invaluable cultural incubators; they are also vastly more efficient than suburbs. But for years they have been neglected, and in many cases forcibly harmed, by policies that favored sprawl over density and conformity over difference.

Such policies have caused many of our urban centers to devolve into generic theme parks and others, like Detroit, to decay into ghost towns. They have also sparked the rise of ecologically unsustainable gated communities and reinforced economic disparities by building walls between racial, ethnic and class groups…

I am also a fan of a National Infrastructure Bank, an idea that was first proposed by the financiers Felix Rohatyn and Everett Ehrlich.

The bank would function something like a domestic World Bank, financing large-scale undertakings like subways, airports and harbor improvements. Presumably it would be able to funnel money into the more sustainable, forward-looking projects. It could also establish a review process similar to the one created by the government’s General Services Administration in the mid-1990s, which attracted some of the country’s best talents to design federal courthouses and office buildings. Lavishing similar attention on bridges, pump stations, trains, public housing and schools would not only be a significant step in rebuilding a sense of civic pride; it would also prove that our society values the public infrastructure that binds us together as much as it values, say, sheltering the rich….

President Obama has a rare opportunity to build a new, more enlightened version of this country, one rooted in his own egalitarian ideals. It is an opportunity that may not come around again.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted March 29, 2009 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    I tend to repeat this little ditty over and over, but it never fails to amaze me that Detroit could feed its population if it gardened its empty lots. Just think about that. It’s amazing and powerful and oh God do I hope it comes true one day.

  2. Posted March 29, 2009 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    From what I’ve heard most of the ground in the city is contaminated. As that’s the case, you’d have to truck in a hell of a lot of topsoil. Still, it could be done.

  3. Sticks
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Any place that was an industrial site, you can forget. Nothing along the lakefront and nothing near the I-75/I-94 interchange for sure.

    However, take a look at some of the neighborhoods. Chalmers and Kercheval on the east side or the State Fairgrounds neighborhood near Woodward and 7 Mile. Lots of vacant land from razed houses could, of course, be turned into gardens.

    The problem becomes who then cares for the gardens. It sure ain’t the people living there. If they actually gave a shit, you wouldn’t have those areas like they are now. If I’m not mistaken, I think there was a hope garden somewhere around the Cass Corridor or Woodbridge but I don’t think it survived but a year or two.

  4. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    I just watched the Jonestown special on PBS and, for the moment, am leery of folks who suggest utopia through gardening…I’ll get over it.

    (For the record, though, my soil in my old non-industrial Detroit neighborhood was far more fertile than our sand and soil mix in Ypsilanti.)

  5. E. G. Penet
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    There are lots of wild floral, cultivated floral and vegetable gardens in Detroit. Always have been. There are rats as big as raccoons, raccoons as big as dogs, fat-fat pheasants and other wildlife, even wild peacocks. It’s a fabulous environmental feast. Folks grow things in the ground, in pots, in hanging baskets, in little boxes, half-barrels and other containers. Yah, the eastsiders have some advantages, but it doesn’t take much dirt to get up some onions, tomatoes or potatoes. Google urban gardens in Detroit. It’s pretty amazing. And most of it isn’t on Google.

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