September 15, 2017


In Detroit, the end of blight is in sight (The Economist, Sep 16th 2017)

[D]etroit seems on the point of doing something remarkable: re-electing a mayor whose singular achievement has been to knock bits of the city down faster than his predecessors, and swapping racially tinged politics for a more managerial sort. Mike Duggan took office in 2014 after an unlikely write-in campaign. In August this year he won 68% of the vote in the primary, and is likely to win the election proper in November. This despite the illustrious lineage of his opponent, Coleman Young II. Mr Young's father was the city's first black mayor, ran Detroit for two decades and has his name inscribed on city hall. Mr Duggan was the city's first white mayor in 40 years. In the past four decades the city has undergone a racial transformation: from 70% white in the 1960s to just 10% now.

Mr Duggan, whose office overlooks the Detroit river (Caesars Casino in Windsor, Ontario, is visible in the distance), calls himself a "metrics nut". The mayor's cabinet meeting room is blanketed in graphs charting the city's employment, ambulance delivery and crime rates, among other statistics. "The police are going to show up in under 14 minutes; the ambulance is going to show up in under 8 minutes; the grass is going to be cut in the parks every 10 to 12 days--it just is." City employees who do not meet these targets do not last long. "It's a pretty unpleasant experience to come in the meeting and not have your numbers straightened out," he says. Cabinet members grimace in agreement.

Plenty of these numbers have improved. Police response times are down from an average of 40 minutes to 13. But the most important numbers for Detroit's future concern derelict properties. There were 40,000 such structures in 2014--ruins left over from an extreme population crunch. The sprawling metropolis, covering 139 square miles, once housed 1.8m people--three times as many as today. The city "is just too big", says David Schleicher of Yale Law School, pointing out that "all that expanse increases the expense of providing services". Urbanists suggest that the solution for such cities is "right-sizing"--shrinking them down to a size where the city can afford to provide pavements, streetlights, sewerage and so on.

There's nothing wrong with cities that making them theme parks wouldn't solve.

Posted by at September 15, 2017 7:17 AM