Hard Choices

Dave Bing on Fixing Detroit


The only way to fix this city is to deal with reality. We are not fiscally sound. Anybody who could get out is gone, for the most part. In 2000 we had more than 900,000 people. In the last census we had just over 713,000. Anytime you go under 750,000, you lose some financial support at the federal and state level.

Detroit was built over time for 2 million people, and we now have an infrastructure we can't support. We can't service the same landscape with a third of the people. We don't have the taxes. We can't pay for buses all over the city. We have to reform the pensions and fix the schools. We don't have the density in certain communities to create safety.

The biggest problem is historic. There was a time when people could go into an auto factory and get a good-paying job with minimal education. Now you need a better education and you don't get the same pay. Yet expectations haven't changed. We have a benefit package for public employees that's 108 percent of their salaries. That's totally unsustainable.

This is like Custer's Last Stand. If we don't make the hard decisions, someone else will make them for us. There's a lot of unused housing stock. We want to tear down vacant homes that are dangerous and attract people to quality housing. We're focused on building up the strongest neighborhoods and want to make them even stronger, with incentives for people to move there. Vibrant communities attract young professionals. They attract restaurants and businesses. We won't abandon the other areas, but they won't get the same investment. Some people won't want to move, and we can't make them. But we can't satisfy everyone with the resources we have.

As an athlete, you understand the excitement of winning, but you have to deal with losing, too. There are some days when I wonder whether or not I made the right decision in becoming mayor, but I am not quitting this city. Now is a chance to build on our strengths. Out of crisis comes opportunity. The value of our real estate is at an all-time low. There's nowhere to go but up.


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