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September 2010

While the funding didn’t arrive, the promise is still alive

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education invited communities to apply for a grant from the Promise Neighborhoods Program.  Building off work done by Geoffrey Canada at the Harlem Children’s Zone, the Promise Neighborhoods Program was designed to provide funding to improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children in the nation’s most distressed communities. The funding could support efforts that:

  • help leaders and members of the community understand the state of children in their neighborhoods;
  • connect schools, families and the community to support children from the cradle through college to career;
  • help agencies and programs work effectively together;
  • help the public and private sectors work together to spread best practices beyond the pilot neighborhood; and
  • institute a rigorous evaluation of the program.

Grant winners receive a one-year planning grant. In subsequent years, contingent on the availability of funds, the Department intends to conduct competitions for implementation grants, as well as competitions for new planning grants.

Seven of the 339 applications received by the Promise Neighborhoods Program came from Michigan. Data Driven Detroit served as a data resource three of our state’s applicants. Detroit’s Black Family Development applied to help transform the Osborn and Chadsey-Condon neighborhoods. Data Driven Detroit served as a data resource while City Connect Detroit assisted in the project coordination and proposal writing.

Data Driven Detroit also met with the team from Focus Hope which submitted a proposal for their neighborhood, and provided data support to an effort on the city’s east side.

On September 21, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 21 recipients who will share $10 million.  While no Detroit applicant was chosen to become a Promise Neighborhood, the Guidance Center in Southgate received $500,000 to work with the River Rouge School District.  We congratulate the Guidance Center and look forward to learning more about their effort over the next year.

Of course, Detroit feels a deep sense of disappointment at being passed over for a Promise Neighborhoods grant. But while working on the proposals, I was impressed by the dedication and sense of possibility that the communities generated as they imagined a new environment that’s supportive of children. During the proposal writing process, the message was clear among all of the Detroit applicants: the “promise” would move forward, with or without the grant.  

The Promise Neighborhoods Program has served as a key driver for discussions across the country.  The release of the documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” coupled with the “Education Nation”   series on NBC News this week, and the education conference in Washington, D.C., have served to raise the level of discussion around education at all levels. We must make sure that this week’s “buzz” does not fizzle but, rather, leads to a clarion call in Detroit, the region, the state and the nation, that educational reform must occur at all levels.


Even if you know the way to San Jose, you’re better off driving in Detroit

The next time you find yourself weaving while you drive –not because of intoxicants or phone, GPS or other distractions, but because of potholes—rejoice that you are not driving in San Jose!

According to a study released yesterday (Sept. 22) by The Road Information Program (TRIP), Detroit ranked 17th among the 20 U.S. metro areas with the highest share of state and local roads in rough shape.  TRIP is a Washington, D.C. nonprofit transportation research group financed primarily by the construction industry.

As you worry whether you are about to suffer a blowout or another bent tire rim, be comforted by the fact that only 38 percent of Detroit roads are in poor shape.  Just think about those poor drivers in San Jose, Los Angeles and Honolulu (I really don’t worry about Honolulu folks on any measure) where the poor road shares are 64 percent, 63 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

The cost of these poor roads is estimated to average $536 per year for Detroiters, which covers the additional maintenance and gas costs due to increased wear and tear.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel (or pothole)?  Alas, I doubt it as Michigan’s transportation department faces significant financial shortfalls in roadwork money.  In fact, we face the loss of $475 million from the feds because we can’t afford to come up with the matching funds!

Get out those Schwinns, those Treks, those Raleighs and more!  Get out Keds, those Doc Martens or those hiking boots.  Greenways and bike lanes (preferably without potholes) are our only hope!

Come to Detroit: We Have the Most Affordable Housing and Our Own TV Show

Detroit hit the spotlight with two separate events on September 21.  The first was the debut of “Detroit 1-8-7,” a new police drama on ABC.  While I didn’t watch the premiere episode (I just don’t like watching TV at 10:00 at night), I have read numerous reviews (a Detroit premiere occurred a while back) and been inundated this morning with a host of conflicting opinions from residents across the city and suburbs.  I doubt that I will see the show – though maybe an online viewing, without commercials, is a possibility – but I am gratified to know that the majority of it is actually filmed in and around Detroit and not on a sound stage in California.  Detroit is a city of contrasts, rather than the single vision that is often portrayed in the media – and I can only hope that the show is true to that vision and depicts us as we truly are.

The second event is the release of Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC’s 2010 Home Listing Report.

This report provides a snapshot survey of four-bedroom, two-bathroom home listings across the United States.  It is incredible that they found a $1.7 million difference between America’s most expensive and most affordable housing markets.  The U.S. average for the surveyed listings was approximately $353,000.

Where is it least affordable?  One would probably guess an ocean-front community on one of the coasts and this would be correct.  Newport Beach, Calif., led the list of most expensive real estate markets in America, with an average home listing price of approximately $1.83 million for property listings meeting the four bedroom/two bath criteria.  According to the press release Newport Beach is “known for its sandy beaches and historic Balboa Pavilion (established in 1906).” It’s also been the backdrop to numerous television shows including “The O.C.” and “Arrested Development.” 

The other end of the affordability index brought us home. The study found Detroit, Michigan to be America’s most affordable housing market, with an average home listing price of approximately $68,000.  What a difference 1,976 miles and a little water (we do have a mighty nice river view and lakes within spitting distance) make.  Here’s what the press release said about us: “Detroit, the most affordable market, is the only major U.S. city that looks South to Canada.  Residents of the Motor City take great pride in Red Wings hockey and appreciate the city’s hard-working industrial and automotive history.”  Why isn’t our TV show mentioned?

California has six of the most expensive markets, with one each in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Hawaii.

Affordability is a Midwest virtue.  Detroit is joined by Grayling and Port Huron in Michigan, and rounded out by Cleveland and Canton in Ohio; Sioux City, Iowa; Topeka, Kansas; Muncie, Indiana; Kansas City, Missouri and Norfolk, Nebraska.

As a city, region and state, we must begin to turn around our population trends.  We cannot continue to shrink – both demographically and economically.  However, I am afraid that too much notoriety may start a wave of growth that we can’t manage.

Ah…the Ying and the Yang.


As Poverty Rises, the Poor Must Speak Up!

Last week, the Census Bureau released a shocker: One in seven Americans now live below the poverty level–$10,830 a year for a single adult or $22,050 for a family of four. And while only about 10 percent of whites fell below the poverty level, one in four blacks and Hispanics are now grappling with basic survival.

Figures released last week found Michigan’s poverty rate climbing from just over 12 percent to 14 percent in 2009.  The rate for children rose to 21 percent. The 2009 data for our counties and cities will be released on September 28, but Detroit’s rate stood at 33 percent in 2008 and will, no doubt, go higher.

What was Washington’s response to the dire figures? “We know that a strong middle class leads a strong economy,” President Obama told reporters. Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the House and Senate had no reaction to the poverty report.

The reluctance of political leaders on both sides of the aisle to directly confront the fact that growing numbers of Americans are slipping into poverty reflects a stubborn reality about our political system: The poor are politically impotent.  There is a general assumption that poor people don’t vote in great numbers; and they definitely are not making campaign contributions. With those two strikes against them, they have become invisible.

But as the economy continues to stall, the “constituency of the poor” is going to continue to grow. In fact, many more people may consider themselves poor even if they don’t show up in the Census Bureau statistics. There has been an 11.6 percent increase in the number of multi-family households in the past two years. A lot of people would be a lot worse off if they didn’t have family members to rely upon.

The chart below illustrates the growth in adult and child food stamp recipients across the tri-county area, which is a leading indicator for future poverty trends.  Many of these people were the voters of elections past who have seen their jobs disappear and their housing values plummet.

Food Stamp Eligibility

Historically, voter turnout holds an inverse relationship to income. In 2008, more than 90 percent of registered voters who made more than $100,000 turned out to vote. Of those making less than $20,000, about half turned out, according to the Washington Post.

(There is one bright spot: African American women. In 2008, they had the highest voter turnout rate among all racial, ethnic and gender groups, according to Pew. Since they are also disproportionately affected by poverty, perhaps they will also participate in November to make their agenda known.) But now with so many middle class voters falling into poverty, there may be unprecedented activism in a previously apathetic constituency.

A 2009 Pew survey found that most Americans believed government should take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. But only 48 percent agreed that the government should help the needy even if it increases the national debt. This helps to explain why so few candidates have talked about poverty.

This is not my call to the politicians to show empathy—I am afraid that is just a waste of breath. Rather, this is my call to the disenfranchised—both old and new—to make sure you are registered for the upcoming election.  October 4 is the registration deadline.

While this is an important election for the nation, it is more critical for Michigan.  We will be electing new leadership from the governor to a majority of our state legislators.  Those who are unemployed; those who have lost their homes, or are on the brink of foreclosure; those who have seen their benefits disappear; etc. 


If You Ever Wanted to Be Involved in Detroit’s Rebirth…Now Is the Time!



Mayor Dave Bing addresses a community forum. Behind him are maps provided by D3.


I can’t remember a time when there were so many evening events that I wanted to attend.  While I have found that organizations in the Detroit area are always providing interesting opportunities to extend the work day, my tendency is to, more often than not, just head home and relax.    

This week, however, starts what I anticipate to be a fall season of many late evenings.  On Tuesday we had the first of the initial series of five community meetings designed to introduce the process of reinventing the City of Detroit—a process that will continue over the next 18 months.  It was great to see the enthusiastic turnout—a turnout that was unanticipated by project staff, though predicted by those of us doing the work in the community.     

While the results were mixed, staff obviously learned a great deal and made adjustments for the second meeting that occurred last night. (I had to miss that to attend a Global Detroit initiative meeting.  I will write about that later.) It was obvious from a number of informal conversations, with both community residents and staff of active community organizations, that there remains a great deal of skepticism and distrust of the process.  The only way that this can be alleviated is to make sure that TRANSPARENCY is the name of the game.  Mayor Bing and staff must be very open and sharing of the information they are collecting and the moves that they are making.    

While we applaud the large crowds attending the meetings—1,000 at each of the first two—we must remember that, even if this trend continues throughout this first set of meetings, we still have, conservatively, more than 750,000 Detroiters who did not attend.  The Detroit Works Project brochure describes a workforce with a 30 percent unemployment rate (official estimate is 25 percent, though actual number is probably 40 percent or more) and an adult functional illiteracy rate nearing 50 percent.  We know that more than a third of households fall below the poverty line and that more than half of Detroit’s children live in households receiving food stamps.   Community meetings and a website will not provide the means to gather their input as to what they would like to see in Detroit’s future.  A true engagement will require city officials to “take to the streets” and bring engagement to every neighborhood in the city—particularly those that have experienced the greatest divestment.    

The second phase of the Detroit Works effort will entail holding 40 meetings around Detroit in the “study circle” format. These will help bring the conversation closer to the disenfranchised. However, I wonder if even more, less formal dialogues will be necessary.    

What will also be necessary is to share critical data so that every Detroiter can understand what the city is up against, and what resources are available to cope with our challenges. Data Driven Detroit staff are attending each of the meetings and will have a variety of maps available to help translate the information into powerful visuals.  We want to work with community organizations that can help us understand how to portray information in a way that allows all residents—regardless of formal education—to participate in the process.     

Look for us at the meetings, email me (, call our office (313-887-6511) or visit us (163 Madison in downtown Detroit).    

This map shows the median income of Detroiters. The lighter the color, the lower the income.