INTRO: Wednesday night, L. Brooks Patterson gave his state of the county speech. Thursday, the Oakland County Executive spoke on WDET, Detroit public radio. He took calls about his speech from residents. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports on two opposing strategies for economic development.
Craig Fahle ended his show on WDET saying:
“This question came from Dan in Ferndale who wants to know how Oakland County can position itself as a leader in ending sprawl and encouraging reconstruction of areas that have already been built up, reinvestment in existing areas…”
“Well. We’re doing that through our main street program,” said Patterson. And the Oakland County Executive touted reinvestment in the bricks and mortar of places like Ferndale and Holly. Then Patterson said:
“But contained in his question was a pejorative. He calls it sprawl. I don‘t want to end sprawl. One man’s sprawl is another man’s economic development. He sees it as sprawl. I see it as the people exercising their free choice to move any place they want in my county or Livingston County and Lapeer and open up a business. And that’s their right as citizens. If they want to live outside the perimeter of the City of Detroit or the surrounding suburbs. They got a right to do that.”
But not everyone has that right, says Thomas Sugrue, author of the 1996 awarding winning history book ‘Origins of the Urban Crisis.’
“Beginning in the 1920’s, in Detroit, realtors and housing developers began to put into place racially restricted covenants. They were attached to the deed of the house. It said this property may not be used by someone of the non-Caucasian race.”
Sugrue was 5 years old when he watched the 1967 riots from his yard near Fenkell Street on Detroit’s west side. He ended up at Brother Rice High School in Birmingham.
“Racial restrictions still remain in deeds in many places up to today even if they’re not enforceable any more in a court of law. So they were an important device not just for keeping blacks out but for sending a signal that these neighborhoods would be inhospitable to African-Americans. They shouldn’t even try to move in.”
As the county prosecutor in the 1970’s, L. Brooks Patterson led the fight against busing for racial integration. Back on WDET Thursday, Patterson said,
“They call it sprawl. No no you stay here! We’re gonna force you to do your development in the city of Detroit. That’s undemocratic and it’s not gonna happen. I think their sprawl… I love it. Because I call it economic development.”
“One thing I want to do is see more urban development in terms of rebuilding our cities and stop some of the urban sprawl, have less of that.”
That was Governor Rick Snyder a year ago at an agriculture conference.
“and have more opportunities to put land into use. I think there’s opportunity for agriculture to grow in our state.”
Last fall at a conference on high speed rail, Snyder said Oakland County supports his bus rapid transit plan for linking the city and suburbs.
“Brooks Patterson is being a good member of that.”
Patterson is supporting buses but not trains. He believes places like Walled Lake and Oxford can thrive when surrounded by strip malls and subdivisions. Governor Snyder, by contrast, created an office of urban initiatives.
“No one benefits by the continuing sprawl. The real goal is how do we rebuild our central cities and at the same time encourage good rural development.”
During his campaign, Rick Snyder spoke to the Urban Land Institute. And to the Michigan Municipal League where Rick Cole also spoke. Cole was born in Royal Oak. He’s been manager and mayor of 3 California cities, including Pasadena.
“We build our cities around 6,000 pound behemoths. That’s great if you’re a car. Not so good if you’re a human being.”
Cole says sprawl has forced urban planners like himself to follow a form based code so cities are good for walking not driving.
“And the result is you have to have a code for the kind of city you want to be. Otherwise you become the kind of city that is placeless that has no value.”
Rick Snyder is assessing the crises in banking and real estate. L. Brooks Patterson must be too. But this week, Oakland County has got 185 tax foreclosures in Bloomfield Township, some with Bloomfied Hills addresses. They’re on streets like Charing Cross, Ardmoor and Country Club Drive.