Detroit Future City and the Michigan Legislature

50YearLandUseThis article and others written about Detroit by Detroiters was published in the Spring 2013 issue of Critical Moment. Critical Moment is distributed throughout metro-Detroit. Go to for more information.

DetroitWorksProject_DetroitFutureCityThe last session of the Michigan legislature was not about Right to Work. Nor was it about the new restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.

They were just add-ons – possible because of the give and take of politics.

The legal framework necessary to shrink Detroit, change Detroit’s demographics and impact future elections was the purpose for the last session of the Michigan legislature. It was about the 2012 Detroit Strategic Framework Plan entitled “Detroit Future City” (hereinafter, “DFC”) and the for profit and non-profit corporations that will implement and benefit from it.

A bevy of bills (now laws) – almost entirely sponsored by non-Detroit-resident, Republican legislators – were passed that provide the legal framework necessary to shrink Detroit.

Note: Readers can go here to find laws referenced here. Use relevant search terms.

Yet, it defies reason to imagine that these Detroit-oriented bills were written without the guiding hand of Detroit’s powerful non-profit players.

The new law that creates “special assessment districts” is the cornerstone of the scheme. An examination of how these districts will operate and who will benefit and who will lose will provide insight into the recent controversies surrounding the unprecedented Hantz land sale and the political fight over the State of Michigan’s intended control of Belle Isle.

More importantly, it’ll raise startling questions about self determination. And, it’ll provide important clues concerning Detroit’s land use challenges. Lastly, it’ll provide a pathway towards understanding how the other laws recently passed relating to Detroit’s “right sizing” will profoundly impact Detroit demographics and future elections.

Special assessment districts will arise and operate in the following way: first, a new type of government body will be formed; second, that entity will carve out areas within Detroit with specifically defined boundaries; and last, the question of whether to impose a new tax for heightened services will be brought to the voters of each district that has been carved out.

“Essential services” are defined as ambulance, fire, police and jails as well as “essential services equipment” such as motor vehicles, apparatus, equipment, housing and other items” needed.

According to the legislature’s plan, areas within the city will become like separate villages. The village-like places will be operated by its own form of government – the law confers the power to “any authority created to provide essential services.”

In Detroit, the “authority created to provide essential services” could only be the newly created Lighting Authority since there are no other existing Detroit-based authorities that provide what are generally understood as “essential services.” The deadline to be considered for membership on the authority was Friday, February 15, 2013. Authority members are chosen by the Detroit City Council and the Mayor.

The DFC plan’s “Proposed” 50 year plan for Detroit has “Neighborhood Centers (Centers)” operating as anchors for particular geographic sections of the city. These Centers would seem to be the natural place for the quasi-governmental operations envisioned by the Michigan legislature when it created the Special Assessment Districts. And, as such, it would also seem reasonable to conclude that the new form of government would be based at these anchor-places.

Interestingly, as the map created by Opening of Detroit illustrates, the DFC Centers align very cleanly with the locations of Detroit’s biggest non-profit organizations. And, if examined along with other laws recently passed by the legislature like the “reforms” made relating to the Michigan’s Civilian Conservation Corps as well as changes made to the laws relating to housing and taxes, the implications are stunning.

For instance, in what has been called “reform,” Michigan’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) a workforce development program originally created to provide jobs and work experience for minorities, single heads of households, people with disabilities etc, has been transformed into a program designed “for the purpose of … developing this state’s natural, cultural and recreational resources…providing field experience and training (for those) interested in pursuing natural, cultural and recreational resource related careers…” And, projects shall be “on lands open for public use and shall be selected on the basis of the natural, cultural, or recreational resource benefits.”

The class of people intended with the reformed bill seems to be the creative class.

In a city that will be electing its City Council people for the first time by district then the implications of these changes become more apparent. Large non-profits like Southwest Solutions and The Villages own places where new residents can live. One wonders if new CCC members will pour into Detroit and occupy places along the Detroit River. If these new residents are spread among three of Detroit’s new districts and, if the powers that be and their dollars get behind two other at-large Council candidates then what will that mean for future elections?

Further, will new CCC members be available to work at places like Hantz Farms, Belle Isle and / or even North Corktown where discussions are proceeding about creating a land trust. Further, is the Greening of Detroit’s “Open Space” program connected to this?

These are all serious public policy questions. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz asserts that public policy that gives away our most valuable resources is among the root causes of the rising inequality in the United States.

Will carving up Detroit with non-profit organizations operating as the “anchors” create a sustainable, global city and a thriving region?  What will be the implications to democracy if this vision comes to fruition? Might this even be considered a regressive vision that returns a major American city to a place of fiefdoms and lords?

10 thoughts on “Detroit Future City and the Michigan Legislature

  1. Very interesting analysis. It is not clear from the article what the regulations are for forming the special assessment districts and who will run them. Perhaps a cohesive group of residents could form a group, a large block club, a community action organization? Another key question arising is that if the state legislature can make these sweeping changes, based on the current makeup of the legislature, then the legislature can reverse these changes, one with a different makeup. So part of the assessment of the role of state legislature should be a detailed look at how many seats need to be changed in order to reverse or modify these changes. Perhaps not easy work. But are the conservatives and anti-Detroit representatives that much smarter or more dedicated than those fighting for democracy and human rights. Are there really more of them than the loose coalition of minorities, women, labor, gays, environmental and peace activists who re-elected the Obama administration. It would seem not. Rooting out the Right might not be easy, but it must be done. When to begin?

  2. Why do you hide the laws at a non-direct link? Not very lawyerly for an argument which is clearly written from your legal background.

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