By TAYLOR HAWKINS, Staff Columnist
Last Wednesday, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced the release of the Detroit Future City Report, the next phase in Detroit Works’ long term project of creating a strategic framework for the city planning department. The report’s recommendations are also being kicked off with a $150m grant from the Kresge Foundation. Unsurprisingly, the report makes some radical recommendations about land use like “innovative ecological landscapes” which appears to be a fancy way of saying “let mother nature take over” which may be a pretty good idea if the implications about the human and environmental benefits are true. Overall, the plan is objectively well thought out, gives the appearance of democratic participation, and is realistic about the challenges the city faces, though it’s concept of the future of the city is pretty ambitious.
What is particularly troubling isn’t the plan itself but the response to the plan, particularly in the Detroit Free Press. John Gallagher’s article on the plan is entitled “Plan to save Detroit unveiled.” Brian Dickerson imagines neighborhoods as wounded people when asking “Which neighborhood can be saved by emergency surgery and which are doomed with or without such intervention” and “Who can be treated in place and who must be moved to better-equipped facilities to enjoy a reasonable chance for recovery.”
This discourse of Saving Detroit is incredibly problematic. In the world of Dickerson & Gallagher, Detroit is a singular behemoth on the verge of death and collapse, awaiting a savior (in this case the city planning department). A quick google search of “Save Detroit” finds articles from CNN, LA Times, Model D Media, Detroit News, GQ, The Washington Post, The New York Times and numerous personal blogs with these words in their headlines, all offering suggestions on how to prevent imminent collapse and rein in the city from the brink of destruction.
This language creates Detroit as Other, as a singular entity that is in need of a quick fix (from the outside). It recreates the suburban mythology of Detroit as a city stolen from suburbanites (white people) and ruined by Detroiters (black people). It demands and requires a savior, another singular entity, the planning department or the oft-mythologized entrepreneur. By creating the city as a singular Other, it homogenizes difference within the city, rewriting the diversity of material conditions as uniformly bad. The discourse on how to save the city often ignores the inter-related and structural socio-economic problems that face the city and is awfully reminiscent of neo imperialist white knighting.
As both professionals and lay people talk about Detroit, it’s important not to talk about the city that overly generalizes. We’re talking about the real world and a lot of people live and work in the city and it’s important not to construct their reality in false or misleading ways to frame a talking point.