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Downsizing Detroit

Philanthropic dollars are helping to shrink Detroit to half its current size in an effort to save the city.  Detroit is undergoing a radical downsizing – the most ambitious urban makeover in American history – that will shrink the city’s current 139-square-mile footprint to approximately half that size as abandoned neighborhoods are consolidated and returned to productive farmland. Mayor Dave Bing, a former Detroit Pistons player and All Star, is determined to shrink the city because it can no longer afford to serve its dying neighborhoods.  In addition to neighborhood consolidation, failing schools are being closed; money is being invested in new-economy job creation to counteract Detroit’s 25 percent unemployment rate; and improvements are being made to the inadequate public transit system.

Bing has brought in urban planner Toni Griffin, whose salary is being paid with a grant from the Kresge Foundation, to oversee the Motor City’s transformation.  Other foundations are contributing to the city’s makeover.  For example, Data Driven Detroit (DDD), which recently completed a plot-by-plot analysis of the city, is backed by both the Kresge and Skillman foundations.  “The foundations are making investments to augment the capacity of government,” according to Bruce Katz, founding director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.  “They’re pooling funds to take on a monumental task, which is, how do you begin to change the trajectory of an entire metropolitan community?”

This enormous task is not without controversy.  The Michigan Citizen compared the effort to a “modern day ‘Trail of Tears’ for Detroiters”.  Mayor Bing remains optimistic:  “I think the city and philanthropy organizations will continue working together.”  Charles Pugh, Detroit City Council president, agrees, noting that “Detroit is a textbook case of a city that needs this kind of assistance, and we welcome it with open arms.  I’m jumping up and down.”

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