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Community Takes Commitment (Part 3)

This is the third and concluding section to the three-part series of Detroit Crime statistics, causes and potential solutions. Microsoft’s Civic Tech Fellow Ivoire Morrell shares a powerful story of the history, economic impact and future narratives of Detroit’s most economically depressed communities. It is our hope that by shining a spotlight on the raw data, and illustrating the potential impact on Detroiters, that we can together build a stronger future.

In our last two discussions, we looked at Detroit Crime data and compared Detroit to other similarly sized cities. This discussion will focus on creative approaches to tangibly change Detroit’s impoverished neighborhoods, starting where the crime statistics are the most challenging.

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My solution (presented on the visual above) to decrease the crime and improve the economy of Detroit is simple: cultivate urban communities. The data shown on this visual is from the motor city mapping dataset. Table 4.1 (Top-Left) displays the number of unoccupied non-residential buildings in Detroit by neighborhood, with Harmony Village having the most unoccupied non-residential buildings at 253. Table 4.2 (Top-Right) shows the number of unoccupied homes in Detroit by neighborhood, with Conner (2,325) having the most unoccupied residential properties. Table 4.3 (Bottom-Left) displays employee statistics by zip code in Detroit. This chart presents the number of employees, the annual payroll, and the number of establishments per zip. Table 4.4 (Bottom-Middle) displays a chart of all of the unoccupied nonresidential properties in the city of Detroit, which includes the address of the property, structure type, neighborhood, and the condition of the building. Table 4.5 (Bottom-Right) displays a gauge visual that compares the estimated total population of Detroit with the estimated population total that live in poverty (indicated by the red target marker). The unoccupied property list (Table 4.4) is where the rebuilding process should begin. Unoccupied non-residential properties are potential building blocks that can be used to fuel economic, technological, social, and mental breakthroughs for impoverished communities in Detroit. With strategic planning – well positioned businesses, development centers, schools, medical centers, and other developmental institutions – internal liberation of citizens and external growth can be brought to fractured communities.

In order to effectively use the unoccupied non-residential properties in the city of Detroit as pillars to initiate change, two types of buildings/institutions should be strategically placed in impoverished, high crime communities: internal liberators and external generators.

By internal liberators, I am referring to infrastructure/institutions that promote the internal growth of citizens who have suffered far too long from living in the neglected urban communities in Detroit. Internal liberators function as support systems to help overcome internal struggles caused by the broken environments. These include, but are not limited to counseling centers, drug rehabilitation centers, skills development centers, and other facilities that target the personal development of citizens. In order to reconstruct an outer reality, change must come from within. Internal liberators also help with the professional development of citizens by equipping them with skills to achieve employment, particularly in fields of high demand.

By external generators, I am referring to businesses, organizations, and other institutions that promote healthy environments for citizens living in impoverished communities. External generators function as forges for long-term communal cohesion. Building hospitals, schools, libraries, community centers, and other facilities will bring positive socio-economic growth in these neighborhoods. New start-ups, tech companies, community owned grocery stores, construction businesses, and other forms of enterprise should be planted in these empty locations to give the citizens opportunities for employment in well paid, highly-demanded fields. Gardens, parks/playgrounds, greenhouses, artworks, and other outdoor establishments should be brought to each community as well. A visually stimulating landscape helps promote positive thinking and gives the community positive energy.  Investing money to promote internal growth of citizens and the external growth of the environment they live in raises the morale of the citizens living in the communities. In turn, this promotes economic growth through new job opportunities, decreases crime, and ultimately makes Detroit a more desirable place to live.

The best example of internal liberators and external generators working together to bring positive change is in Downtown Detroit. The economic advancement and growth of Downtown Detroit over the past decade has simply been amazing.  “Billions in investments” have been put into the development of downtown Detroit making it place where “where more people” want to live, “more people work and more people see potential for profits” (Gardner). Some of the most recent projects that have and will serve as external generators in Downtown Detroit include the “$1.2 billion plan by Olympia Development Co. to complete a new Red Wings arena” along with new office, housing, hotel and retail space”, “$950 million estimated for future riverfront development”, “$2.2 billion in property investment by Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate”, “$279 million” toward the  “renovation of Cobo Center” and “an estimated $2 billion in investment” towards the redevelopment of Midtown (Gardner). Downtown Detroit has also seen an increase in other external generators like restaurants (378, an increase of 77 from 2013), outdoor dining cafes (81, an increase of 32 from 2013), and retail stores (352, an increase of 41 from 2013) (Gardner). The increase of external generators has led to an estimated 58,000-person surge in the neighborhood’s workforce (Gardner).

Downtown Detroit is also home to internal generators like the Detroit Training Center; a cultivating organization that focuses on the enrichment of communities, families, and individuals through initiatives that improve “urban education, foster personal growth, and support training/employment initiatives for adults” (Detroit Training Center). The Downtown Detroit Partnership serves as an internal generator by “supporting advocates and developing programs and initiatives designed to create a clean, safe, and inviting Downtown Detroit” (Downtown Detroit Partnership). Companies like Grand Circus Detroit serve as internal generators by teaching individuals the art of computer programming through 10-week boot camps that equip them with the necessary skills to achieve employment in high demand technical fields. Businesses like Bizdom serve as internal generators by “helping entrepreneurs launch, fund and grow innovative, web and tech-based startups” which eventually lead the entrepreneurs to becoming external generators through being able to provide employment opportunities to applicable candidates (Oppourtunity Detroit).

The combination of the external generators and internal generators has made downtown Detroit a thriving foundation of economic and social development. More jobs are being created and more people are being educated, making downtown a flourishing facility of hope for Detroit. In context to the discussion, the development of Downtown Detroit has coincided with a sharp decline in crime in the area. Between 2009 and June 24, 2016, 5,494 crimes (excluding miscellaneous and sexual crimes) have been reported in downtown Detroit. When you compare this number to some of the other neighborhoods in Detroit, it presents a stark example of how the economic development of a neighborhood can impact the crime in the community.

When resources are poured into a community to help generate employment, personal growth, socio-economic growth, and environmental advancement, citizens are ingratiated in world full of internal and external growth. The ambiance of this environment creates not only a plethora of opportunities for citizens to escape the claws of poverty through making a better living, but also a sense of hope for a brighter future (along with better policing systems). The mental metamorphosis from psychological discouragement to psychological encouragement combined with the environmental alteration from community scarcity to community prosperity creates an environment were using crime as a method of survival begins to diminish. While the heart of the city (Downtown) should continue to receive funding to increase economic growth, initiatives with the same diligence must be nurtured in neighborhoods that need it the most. Imagine how much could be changed if a similar level of investment that occurred in Downtown went towards bringing more internal liberators and external generators to disadvantaged Detroit communities.  Lives and communities would be greatly impacted.

To initiate the process, a meeting of minds – government officials, investors, community leaders, creators, and innovators – should take place to take stock of the statuses of Detroit’s many neighborhoods. Each community must have legitimate representation at this meeting in order to talk about the specific needs of each neighborhood. After a thorough deliberation and strategic planning – cost/expenses, and other viable information has been discussed – collaborators can begin to map out where to place different facilities based off the unoccupied non-residential property list. As more money is invested into urban development, more jobs will be created and communities will become safer to live in. This will result into more people being able to become homeowners and also cause more families to move back to Detroit, which will lower the amount of unoccupied residential properties and improve the city’s tax base.

To help provide additional funds for broadening the rebuilding process, government officials can start by cutting the costs of developing prison systems and reinvest those funds directly into communities. By placing more money into development of better communities, instead of prison systems, more opportunities are created for citizens to escape the grasp of poverty. Having establishments in place to help improve the personal, professional, and economic development could ultimately result in less crime. We do not need more prisons or prisoners; we need more scholars, educators, and self-sufficient citizens who can be integral parts of a rebuilding community. The system in impoverished communities seems, in my opinion, as if it is designed to create deprived citizens who are forced into a life of crime due to lack of opportunity for social and economic advancement. This system must be changed if Detroit wants to become the city that it is destined to be.

When the redevelopment of urban communities begins, the city should track the changes in crime based off economic growth. If the Rebuild Urban Detroit initiative leads to decrease in crime, it could serve a potential blueprint for how to decrease crime in other cities. The city should track the amount of internal liberators and external generators placed in each community, how much money is placed in each community, and gather information from different communities to learn more about how citizens feel regarding the changes being made. If a city like Detroit, which has been plagued with high crime, can decrease its crime through helping rebuild the economic and social infrastructures of urban communities, it would give other cities hope that if similar principles are applied, crime will decrease as well.

Placing an emphasis on the social and economic development of impoverished communities gives citizens a chance to escape the pitfalls of the environments in which they live. Facilitating development in fractured communities can promote economic growth and social/educational advancement, decrease the amount of crime, and give citizens hope for a positive change. When I think about the city of Detroit, I cannot help but think of the phrase: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31). The failure of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is the root to many of the problems that exist in America today. Step inside the shoes of a citizen struggling to make ends meet; attempt to feel the blues of a battered and bruised individual with nothing to lose, whose picture painted on the news is so often misconstrued. Imagine waking up every day not knowing if it’s your last because the environment you live in is plagued with violence and a lack of opportunities for positive growth. Whether you accept it or not, the data clearly shows that this is the reality many Detroiters face every single day. Until people who are in a position to extend their hand to those who need it the most and treat those with the same love that they expect to be treated with, the world will remain in a state of disarray. While there are a plethora of problems that must be addressed in order to induce positive change, placing a focus on cultivating deteriorating urban communities will have a huge impact on raising the morale of all citizens and could contribute to a decrease in crime. When individuals who are greatly suffering start to receive the love and support from those who have the power and resources to change the city, it has the potential to ignite change that will greatly benefit the city of Detroit.

For more information on the data shared in this report, visit the link below to view more data on crime in the city of Detroit


Bibliography

Brand-Williams, Oralandar. The Detroit News. 25 April 2016. 6 July 2016.

Detroit Training Center. About Us. 2016. 25 July 2016.

Downtown Detroit Partnership. 2014. 27 July 2016.

Gardner, Paula. How downtown Detroit has transformed since the Super Bowl 10 years ago. 4 February 2016. 25 July 2016.

Ghosh, Palash. Detroit, Michigan: Crippled and Paralyzed by the Recession. 5 September 2011. 6 July 2016.

Mahler, Jonathan. G.M., Detroit and the Fall of the Black Middle Class. 24 June 2009. 6 July 2016.

Oppourtunity Detroit. Working Hard in the D. 2016. 25 July 2016.

Suburban Stats. Population Demographics for Detroit, Michigan in 2016 and 2015. 2016. 6 July 2016.

Thompson, Heather Ann. Inner-City Violence in the Age of Mass Incarceration. 30 October 2014. 6 July 2016.

US Census Bureau. Amarican Fact Finder. 2016. 6 July 2016.