Hard to remember now, but people throughout the Detroit area were shocked beyond belief by the four days of riots that devastated the inner city back in the summer of 1967. Within months, a number of groups were founded to try to make sure nothing like that ever happened again. They included, among others, New Detroit and Detroit Renaissance, two of the six groups in the new regional coalition with the unwieldy name, “One D; Transforming Regional Detroit.”
Their aims back then were in many ways the same aims One D has now, especially when it comes to economic improvement, regional cooperation, and bringing the races together.
I have been alive, around and paying attention most of that time. And I can tell you that while these groups have had many small successes, the bigger picture is one of failure.
The Detroit area is the most segregated in the nation. Detroit city suffers from vast poverty, job and population loss, a dysfunctional public school system, and an overwhelming lack of resources.
The suburbs too often don’t think it is their problem. Their residents voted overwhelmingly against affirmative action. L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County’s longtime powerful chief executive, is against any kind of mass transit other than buses.
He is against paying suburban dollars for a badly needed renovation and expansion of Cobo Hall, Detroit’s main convention center. When in doubt, he believes in cutting the central city out. Naturally, plenty of Detroit politicians have responded in kind.
So now comes a number of groups calling themselves “One D. This is not really an organization at all, but a loose coalition of organizations. They intend to study some problems, most of which have been studied at great length before, and present their results at the Mackinac Conference next spring.
The fashion is to be hopeful. It is not seen as polite or politic to be cynical. So I won’t be. But put it this way. If the One D coalition accomplishes anything major, I will be greatly surprised.
You see, I’ve seen this movie before. There is, however, one encouraging thing about this. That is the fact that there is a growing need for regional cooperation if we are to have any future.
Want to know what I would do if the One D folks asked me for advice? I would issue every member of every group a copy of David Rusk’s marvelous little book, Cities Without Suburbs.
Then I would have them start agitating to get the Michigan Legislature to pass the one thing that would make a difference.
And that would be metropolitan government. Combine Wayne County and Detroit into one governmental unit, as they have in Miami and Nashville and Indianapolis.
Provide for cooperative transportation and revenue and resources sharing links with Oakland and Macomb Counties.
Do that, work hard at what follows, and we could be and should be a healthy region again sooner than you might think.
Or, of course, they could write another report instead.