From Michael Mullholland, Front Line:

Male Cow Dung

Mayor Dave Bing’s planning process for Detroit is off to a bad start. Coming one week after the disastrous and tragic fire that left families homeless, Detroit residents were not in the mood for the black-suited “urban experts” who convened the chaotic forum Tue. Sept. 14, the first of five scheduled public forums seeking input from residents. Detroiters wanted answers. Answers about immediate needs that they know are city responsibilites: Public safety, fire protection; continuing foreclosures; trash dumping; abandoned properties; education; shuttered schools.

They got no answers. Detroiters pay the highest taxes in the state, are redlined by insurance companies, bear the brunt of corporate banking’s mortgage lust gone sour in the foreclosure orgy that has left 90,000 abandoned shelters. All of that and more make it difficult for Detroiters to swallow a slick planning approach that wants to talk about 20 years in the future. There’s a crisis now that no one is addressing.

Participant after participant expressed frustration with the disconnect between the display boards listing statements that no one disagreed with. As citizens said, yes, we want all of that. We want what you have: Pot holes fixed, clean and neat neighborhoods, adequate city services, a 9-1-1 that picks up the phone, a fire company that responds, a police department that can be as effective in the neighborhoods as they are in the downtown entertainment districts. Most of all we want jobs, employment, education. People concerns. Now.

The planners — with all of their impressive resumes for work from London to Scotland, Chicago and Germany — have to engage Detroiters if they want meaningful planning. The $800,000 Kresge-paid consultants have yet to engage the Mayor’s own Task Force that has the responsibility of guiding this planning. The experts are stuck on process and not people. Detroit citizens know process: Process of population flight, crack wars, anti-urban federal policies of the Bushes and the rise of the corporations.

DTE is one of those profit-driven corporations, one with close ties to Bing. As DTE profits have soared, its services have declined to the point where 11 people have perished since January in Detroit due to power-related fires. When the fire broke out last week, DTE was blaming power thieves in the neighborhoods for their own failure to maintain their lines. And that brings us full circle back to the Bing planning process.

Is all of this talk about land use really a way to cut DTE’s responsibility for maintaining power and gas lines through emptying neighborhoods?

Citizens know that until someone takes responsibility for what is not being done now, any plans for the future will be as meaningless as Bing blaming the wind for the fires. Until there is total transparency in the planning process — revealation of what ideas are now being kicked around inside the mayor’s office and among the planners — the feeling that this whole process is so much male cow dung will persist.