Snyder is right to focus on revitalizing Detroit, Flint and urban areas
One of Governor-elect Rick Snyder’s most controversial priorities likely will be his effort to revitalize central cities, most notably Detroit.
For decades, Detroit has been a symbol of urban failure. Its previous mayor and city council president are sitting in prison following years of corrupt behavior. Many Michigan citizens see the city as irrelevant to their lives.
When Snyder begins to explain his urban strategy in the coming months, taxpayers will, no doubt, instinctively shield their wallets.
And elected officials in the suburbs who have lived for years off the outflow of jobs and investment from Detroit may view Snyder’s vow to control urban sprawl and implement “smart-growth” strategies as a threat.
But he’s right that restoring Detroit and other hollowed-out cities, including Flint and Saginaw, “is essential to the economic recovery of our state,” as Snyder says on his election website.
Michigan hasn’t been great since Detroit was great — and that’s no coincidence.
The evidence is overwhelming that vibrant cities matter. In Michigan, the metropolitan areas with the lowest unemployment rates are those built around the healthiest cities — Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Lansing.
Extensive research done by Ann Arbor-based think tank Michigan Future Inc. has found that nearly all the states with the highest per capita incomes have large metropolitan areas with even higher incomes.
And those big metros surround cities with a high proportion of residents holding four-year degrees or more.
Metro Detroit lags badly. Of the 55 metro areas with 1 million or more residents, it ranked 36th in per capita income and 37th in educational attainment in 2008, according to the latest Michigan Future study.
Detroit also is losing the increasingly important talent war. Adults with four-year degrees who move among states are relocating primarily to places such as Boston, New York and Seattle, according to census data examined by Michigan Future.
About 7,500 adults age 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree fled metro Detroit between 2007 and 2008, according to the study.
Michigan saw 9,800 college-educated adults leave for another state in that time period, the most of any state.
And if you don’t believe the numbers, look around. You likely have a son or daughter or know young adults who have moved to Chicago, Denver or San Francisco.
It isn’t just jobs these young people are seeking. They want to live in cities bubbling with activities and networks of creative people.
They want good public transportation to shuttle them from place to place. If they can’t find jobs, they create their own in an entrepreneurial urban environment.
As a venture capitalist, entrepreneur and self-described nerd, Snyder knows this. That’s why he believes Detroit and other cities in the state are so important.
But what can he do to help the cities when the state is struggling financially, as well?
Snyder already has taken a giant first step by declaring that cities are a crucial element in his economic recovery plan. That’s the beginning of leadership.
He also can invest millions of dollars in non-general fund money from the Natural Resources Trust Fund, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and other resources into cities, says Bill Rustem, president of Public Sector Consultants in Lansing.
Rustem says he thinks for the first time in decades Michigan citizens are ready to embrace an urban strategy.
“They know our kids are going to the hoppin’ cities around the country,” he said. “ I think there’s an acceptance that we need to change. Snyder talked about reinvention a lot during the campaign, and that was the right word.”
E-mail Rick Haglund at Haglund.firstname.lastname@example.org.