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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Army of Detroit

In recent months, I have considered how to most effectively combat Detroit's crime troubles. For forty years, the situation has deteriorated as everyone knows. Blight has crept after poverty upon neighborhood after neighborhood, with crime and violence following suit. The police department has proven grossly inadequate, with most serious crimes going unsolved. Crime prevention is a novelty, and citizens have no faith in the system. Some burglars target the same home multiple times, and as police have no impact, we have situations like the Tigh Croff case, where Mr. Croff had his house burglarized numerous times in a short span, so he tracked down and killed the criminal. Of course, vigilantism and extra-judicial executions are not an ideal solution either. More effective deterrence would be ideal in the short run (while over the long run, addressing the many underlying causes of criminal behavior).

I thought perhaps an "Army of Detroit" would be an interesting solution to Detroit's crime troubles. Much like the "surge" strategy employed by the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, I would like to see a strategic increase in civic activity, engagement, and even citizen watch patrols in targeted areas, gradually covering the whole city. On Angel's Night, Detroit sees tens of thousands of volunteers protect the streets and deter violence. Of course, it would be a massive challenge to secure so many volunteers year round, but by cleaning up one neighborhood after another with a smaller volunteer base, until the criminals are pushed out fo the city, I think it could work. The Army of Detroit would not just be citizen watch patrols (of which there are several throughout the city), but a concentrated dose of volunteerism, including tutoring, greening, and other engagement. By publicizing and promoting the effort, hopefully criminals will get the message and leave without too much resistance or conflict. At the end of a surge in a target neighborhood, ideally, the local citizens could take ownership of their own protection and well being.

As I mentioned, neighborhood watches are already in place in parts of the city. To some extent, they are successful. In a recent example, one neighborhood mobilized and formed an ad hoc coalition to successfully track down some brazen criminals. The people have power in their hands, if they chose to use it. I see two weaknesses in the current approach to neighborhood/citizen watches that the Army of Detroit could try to avoid. One is coordination – the watches are haphazard and I don't know that criminals are even aware they exist. A second issue is deterrence – for the most part, these watches are reactive and simply report crimes. The watchmen typically are not armed. However, I think that if all ~140 square miles of Detroit had two armed watchmen patrolling every hour of the day and night, criminals would have no place to go. There are risks, but doing nothing is a risk that has paid off poorly for Detroit…

To get something like this kickstarted, I had an idea to acquire a small apartment complex and offer free lodging to some residents in exchange for periodic neighborhood patrols. If I had other properties in the neighborhood, the rental and inherent value of these investments would rise, enabling me to fund further patrols.

This would take a lot of work, but I think the "Army of Detroit" could be quite fruitful.

What do you think?

(As an aside, the "army" imagery has also been adopted recently by a volunteer PR group looking to promote the city; they are less focused on security and more focused on image with their new group, but if their volunteer army expands beyond media into service, perhaps there is room for cooperation - http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2010/08/do_you_believe_in_detroit_adve.html)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why stay in Detroit?

Laura Berman of the News had a good post with three good reasons why someone should move to Detroit. Basically, you can make a difference, you don't have to deal with some problems that other big cities face (e.g., traffic), and the cost of living here is ridiculously low. Now, I share these thoughts regularly with those I try to "sell" on Detroit or provide the same answers when someone asks me why Detroit is a great place to be (especially the first and third arguments...the second is a bit of a double edged sword; I guess the third one is too). What is a negative to others is a really a positive. Ms. Berman has summed up the points nicely, so here they are:

"You're smart, you're talented, you've got new ideas.
In New York, you're a sparrow. In Detroit, you're a prized canary. This is Mecca for you, Mr. or Ms. Would-be Transplant, if you've got the brains and hustle to outwork and out-think the demoralized survivors of decades of renaissances that haven't taken root.
No other major metropolitan area will out-welcome Detroit's welcome. Give us your newcomers with moxie and talent. We'll mentor you, invest in you and invite you to parties.
The flip side of a shrinking Big Metro Area is that some problems shrink, too.
Like big city culture. Cultural attractions that require advance commitments and plans in other cities are a snap here. Whether you want to snag seats for an opera, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, a visiting ballet company or an NFL football game, you can almost always see it here without using bonus dollars or extra sweat.
You can see a Tigers game this weekend. Tell that to your brother in Boston. And the traffic? You can commute downtown in 20 minutes from 20 miles away -- choose the direction. My brother in Los Angeles can't imagine that.
Detroit's affordable. Really, really affordable.
Here, a young couple can become landed gentry -- house, backyard, good schools -- for a fraction of the cost in a similar community anywhere else. In these shrinking-city days, a shrewd would-be homeowner can pick up a tidy, three-bedroom suburban house for what one used to cost here 15 years ago.
Or, if you're young and adventurous, you can move into Detroit and try out the social consciousness and pioneer spirit progressive young adults mouth so easily from Portland, Ore., to Burlington, Vt. -- places that entertain them but no longer need them."

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100824/OPINION03/8240359/In-Detroit-area--young--talented-have-better-shot-at-being-heard#ixzz0xYzw5xjf