Saturday, April 14, 2012

UNIVERSITY PROPOSES GREEN ACRES IN DETROIT


In a recent Detroit News article, representatives from Michigan State University have made a formal proposal to Detroit city officials regarding an urban agriculture research project. As conceived, the project would take over blighted, vacant land in the city and convert it into farmland. Among the objectives of the initiative are to explore the prospects of contemporary urban cities growing their own fresh food supplies, seeking to meet the needs of indigenous populations who have challenges in accessing healthy food. More here:



City leadership and some local activists have long been rigidly skeptical about urban farming. Among the concerns are prospects for locals to be hired for any jobs developed. Still yet, there are cultural and political challenges, as a segment of vocal Detroiters tend to openly equate any sort of urban-directed agriculture developments with sharecropping and slavery. To this author, such notions are baseless and reactionary.


A wealth of green-industry jobs can be initiated in the city of Detroit. Detroit can be a much ‘greener’ city than it is now. Creating new uses for land in the city is an absolute must. A recent Detroit News article identified agriculture as experiencing slight growth in the state of Michigan, despite the ongoing challenges of recession and unemployment. There are those who feel that an urban environment and farming can’t coexist. I disagree vehemently. I feel that there should be a City Department of Agriculture Development that encourages both large-scale commercial farming as well as smaller neighborhood-based farming communes. Schools in the city can also participate- especially with partnerships with state colleges and universities, they can have dedicated plots of land, where students can work on them for credit, especially during the spring and summer. Detroit schools can emphasize earth-science curriculums, leading to career fields as forestry, agriculture, urban planning, botany, new energy, and more. Age-appropriate green-industry jobs training for high school students, college students and non-student adults can be a long-term boost to the local economy.

Monday, April 09, 2012

DETROIT NEEDS TO LOOK TO THE PAST TO SEE ITS FUTURE


There has been a lot of well-meaning but empty rhetoric about “job creation” in the city and state. When people speak of “jobs” in Detroit, I think it has to be parsed out exactly what type of jobs jobseekers are looking for, and from there just what type of jobs are jobseekers qualified for?

The parts of Detroit’s economy which are not working mostly involve manufacturing. This cannot be over-stressed. Historically, Detroit has placed an inordinate amount of resources into assuming that the heavy-industrial manufacturing industry would be here forever. There was a time in which various factory and heavy-industry-related jobs were plentiful for local residents, whether they were simply a high school graduate, or even a dropout. At the risk of understatement, that era is over. From the 1960s forward, there has been both drastic and gradual disinvestment, by both larger corporations and smaller businesses, which has economically crippled the city of Detroit and made the metropolitan area much less prosperous than in the past.

Manufacturing as an industry farmed jobs out to foreign countries while downsizing dramatically within our borders. Today, even entry-level jobs at various companies require some form of formal skills training, such as a degree or certificate. This prevents a high percentage of Detroit residents from even being considered for various jobs. Thus, even so-called blue-collar jobs—which have come to define much of the city’s cultural identity—are not a sure thing for anyone unskilled seeking employment.

In light of recent developments with the consent agreement between the City of Detroit and state government, there needs to be a state/city partnership on job creation. All the principals involved in managing Detroit city government need to start thinking outside of the box. If urban Detroit’s real unemployment lies between the state’s official rate of roughly 18% and the higher unofficial estimate of nearly 50%, then unemployment for Detroiters is an emergency that needs to be directly addressed. If cash help to the city coffers from Lansing is out of the question, then a pragmatic alternative would be to start a sweeping program to address unemployment in the city.

Specifically, I submit that Governor Rick Snyder and the Michigan state legislature need to create a Michigan version of the Civilian Conservation Corps and/or the Public Works Administration, both of which were federal initiatives that took place during the Franklin Roosevelt presidential administration. These modern-day CCC and PWA programs would directly target currently unemployed and underemployed Detroiters, and put them to work tackling large-scale infrastructure and land-management projects.
Such projects should include, but not be limited to:

Blight removal: Detroit has a notoriously visible problem with blighted structures: houses, apartment buildings, storefronts, warehouses, abandoned factories and other commercial structures. These abandoned structures are not only eyesores, but they are hotspots for criminal activity and dangerous for passers-by with respect to loose debris. It is difficult to get a handle on exactly what type of new developments are possible when there is so much blight that could be removed and this could give city planners a better idea on what type of commercial or residential developments could be beneficial to a given area.

Recycling- A city-wide curbside recycling needs to be instituted, expanding the recent pilot program for certain neighborhoods. Recycling efforts can also incorporate organic materials recycling, especially that which comes from abandoned lots.

Landscaping- Much of Detroit’s landspace has recklessly been reclaimed by nature, and the trend continues. Illegal dumping and general inattention by landowners has made many neighborhoods look grossly inhospitable. Further, abandoned former industrial sites throughout the city have left contaminated land that needs to be redeveloped for future use. Brownfield redevelopment could be a key element to Detroit’s long-term revival.

Local electrical grid and lighting: There is no excuse for a modern city like Detroit to have the problems it has with public lighting. A full revamp of Detroit’s electrical grid and lighting system needs to take place.

Local water/sewerage system: Similarly, Detroit’s water system is in dire need of comprehensive repair. This is an initiative that could put many Detroiters to work and will help in making the city more green-friendly.

As far as partners in this effort, Michigan’s corporate and philanthropic communities should be recruited for co-underwriting and other resources. Detroit’s many skilled-trade unions should be partnering in this initiative, training people in their respective disciplines, grooming them for future employment even after certain projects reach their climax.

I am not someone who feels that government “cannot” create jobs. By default, any paid public official who promotes this notion is being intellectually dishonest. Large-scale government-initiated job creation has been done in the past, and it can happen again. If the re-visioning of Detroit is going to work, it has to incorporate a means of addressing core infrastructure issues for the long-term and not just budget-cutting to save money for the fiscal year. I want Detroit to work as a city, and I want Detroiters to feel as if they have a direct hand in remaking the city into what it could be.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

DODGING THE DRAFT


A writer for TheRoot.com offers the opinion that recent talks in NBA management are looking at the possibility of requiring college players to stay at the amateur level until 20 years old: http://www.theroot.com/buzz/nba-draft-age-limit-high-enough-already


This is ridiculous. The writer, Deron Snyder, skirts dangerously close to making a "college is annoying, so why bother?" argument. Long-term NBA "stardom" isn't remotely guaranteed for anyone. The writer seems to still be fascinated with the narrative of working class black American boys becoming millionaires before the age of 21 based on their ability to drive the lane, and how restrictions on joining the draft straight out of high school amount to "player hating" or even racial bias.


Has the writer produced any stats on people who have finished at least an undergraduate degree since leaving college early to join the draft? The American major-league baseball system has had a longstanding intriguing setup, where scouted folks can go to the minor leagues right out of high school or play in college. The minor league system offers a liveable (though not millionaire level) salary, and the players work on fundamentals in smaller-market venues before they can be recruited to a major ballclub.


But in today's "instant gratification" culture, such a system seems quaint-- witness how black Americans have a much lower presence in the major leagues compared to decades ago (you will see a more consistent presence of Afro-Latin players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, etc.) Aside from urban-infrastructure issues regarding baseball (availability and quality of local parks, lack of funding for baseball programs at the middle and high school levels) part of this is that contemporary black American youth (and sometimes their parents) don't see baseball as leading to "instant big money" down the line. In contemporary black culture, professional sports club aspirations boil down to football and basketball now. Would it make sense for high school football players to join the NFL draft, and right away start going head-to-head with the bruisers that exist at that level? Whatever the frequently self-serving decisions that have been made over the years by Stern and the NBA team owners, people need to be less concerned about this than about the increasingly marginalized presence of black men in college settings.


Snyder offers that ex-college players can always go back. While technically true that "anybody" can put off going to or finishing college, the reality is that when a person is older and in the "working world", life responsibilities evolve from what they were when you were 18, and scheduling becomes a major issue depending on what your "day job" (or night job) is. Also, no one ever stops to examine just how college-aged men who have shelved their formal education tend to manage their money after becoming wealthy "overnight."


Young black athletes being recruited by colleges need to realize how privileged they are, and how the decisions they make now can affect them for the rest of their lives. There are thousands of black youth who would love to get to go to college for free based on playing a sport they love, but it doesn't happen for the vast majority. "Making it" to the NBA is quite literally like facing the odds of winning the PowerBall lottery. People can invest time and major money into the effort of asserting themselves to make the cut, but it still may not be enough.


Most disturbing in Snyder's article's subtext is the trend of encouraging young athletes to treat college as just as onerous, grudging obligation before segueing into a presumably worry-free existence of championship rings, mansions and endorsements. This is patently reckless and continues the anti-intellectual subculture that is curtailing American leadership in industry and commerce. Particularly for African-American culture, it continues to uplift the stupidity that "instant" wealth (typically, without the budgeting/management skills to maintain it) is always around the corner for those who pursue entertainment and athletics as careers.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

CONSENT DISCONTENT


Regarding the recently accepted consent agreement between the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan, I want results. No more well-meaning but empty rhetoric from any of the principals involved: Mayor Bing, Governor Snyder, or the City Council. I want working streetlights: many neighborhoods have no working streetlights. On major thoroughfares it's bad enough, but in the broader neighborhoods, sometimes streetlights are the only ambient illumination (no businesses keeping lights on after dusk) and when they are gone, entire blocks are shunt into 'complete' darkness.


I want a regular police presence: I mean police cars patrolling the neighborhoods, officers on bicycles, and even beat-walking officers. Currently, people can wait for hours and longer after calling for police help-- and of course, sometimes police don't show up at all.


I want a responsive fire department, ambulances and emergency medical service: seconds literally count in emergency medical circumstances, and the current status-quo of frequently broken-down emergency vehicles and overall diminished number of vehicles is untenable.


I want reliable mass transit: currently, that means bus service, which in the past year has regressed from passable to maddeningly inefficient. Commuters are frequently stranded for hours waiting on an assortment of buses, and even if a bus shows up, it may be so packed that the rider deliberately passes by riders for lack of space. Bus drivers face a hostile, frustrated public, some of whom fall into the maniac category and have taken to physical assaults on drivers and even armed assault on buses.


I want blight removal to be taken seriously. Too many structures throughout the city: houses, apartments, storefronts, factory grounds, warehouses and more, lay empty and devastated. Many exist in half-demolished states that are not only eyesores but dangerous for the unwary passerby. Scrappers and urban-ruins explorers put their lives at risk entering and lurking in these buildings, whether for personal profit or a guerrilla-photography muse.


If city planners want to get a proper assessment on what residential and commercial developments are appropriate for the future, they need to be actively getting rid of blighted buildings. Almost no one wants to move in next door to a house that could double as a haunted house. Almost no one is willing to open a business where the adjacent property resembles a burned-out tomb. Records databases have to be drastically improved to see just who owns these properties to begin with. If absentee owners are heavily fined in the process, so much the better.


I want a non-obstructive, functional city bureaucracy. People shouldn't have to travel downtown to the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building to address every single civic issue. Parking is scarce downtown, and by default costs money that poorer folk and working-class folk have little of to spare. Many people take time off from work or school to address business at the CAY building. Time is precious. Most if not all city-business documents should be made available online, with a functioning, user-friendly website for people to navigate and download what they need. This would enable many forms to be filled out before people arrive in-person at city offices. Forms should be able to be filled out online as well (as well as a component to facilitate online payment.) This would help to streamline city government and reduce all the back-and-forth scenarios that frequently happen when a person is directed from one office to the next, and often with a limited time-window to achieve their goal.


I don't want this to last forever. I want Detroit's fiscal stability restored. Detroit's citizens deserves better. They deserve to not live as second-or-third-class citizens.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

A COLD DRAFT

An article in black culture website TheRoot.com deals with the phenomenon of college basketball athletes leaving school as early as their freshman years to attempt to join the National Basketball Association through the annual draft:

http://www.theroot.com/buzz/freshmen-exodus-nba-only-natural#comments


I'm really not sure about the point of this article. What happened to supporting education for its own sake, and not just as a grudging stepping-stone move to theoretical long-term riches from athletics fame and endorsements? I think it would help if there were some published statistics that explain how many ex-college players ended up getting their undergraduate degree after leaving school to join the NBA or other professional teams. I suspect that it is far from 100%, or even 50%.

Sure enough, higher education can't be "forced" on anybody. But hey, America has become a place that is more invested in people having formal credentials-- and in most areas of "white collar" employment, that means a college degree of some kind. Even much "blue collar" employment nowadays requires some type of formal, vocational certification at the very least, even at the entry-level. America is not a place anymore where people can just have a high school diploma or a GED, and expect to find readily available entry-level jobs for those who are unskilled or semi-skilled.

In the past 10 years, look at the ascent of Jeremy Lin, Yao Ming, Mano Ginobli and other non-African-American players in the NBA. The league, as a corporate entity, is looking to recruit more from global and multicultural communities. Not everybody who jumps ship from college early to join the draft is going to become Kobe or LeBron. Not by a long shot. To "Make it" in the NBA, it's increasingly not good enough to just be a talented black American young man from the hood or suburbs anymore.

And when it comes to the post-athletics career, look at what's available. There are only so many slots to be TV sports commentators. Not every ex-athlete is guaranteed a front-office job, especially without a degree.