Detroit neighborhoods with more people and a better chance of survival will receive different levels of city services than more blighted areas under a plan unveiled Wednesday that some residents fear may pit them against each other for scarce resources.
Mayor Dave Bing released details from his Detroit Works Project, calling the changes a "short-term intervention" necessary because the city, with limited financial resources, a $155 million budget deficit and a dwindling population, was spread dangerously thin.
"Our focus is going to be on the people in the neighborhoods," Bing said. "We can effect real change and improve neighborhoods."
Bing's plan isn't about shrinking Detroit _the boundaries of the 139-square-mile city aren't receding. The plan also backs away from forcing the redistribution of what's left of the population into areas where people still live and where the houses aren't on the verge of caving in. Many residents had strongly opposed that idea.
"We will not force anybody to move," Bing said. "We want people to move into the areas that are going to grow; where we have the amenities, the density."
He stressed that police, fire and emergency medical service will be at the same levels in all neighborhoods.
Detroit's population of about 713,000 is down about 200,000 from 10 years ago, according to U.S. Census figures, and has fallen more than 1 million since 1950. Some areas have fewer occupied homes than vacant ones.
Bing's administration has worked with community leaders for months on the effort, in which neighborhoods have been classified as steady, transitional or distressed. It comes as entrenched companies and foundations are trying hard to lure newcomers into downtown and Midtown _ two more stable neighborhoods _ to rebuild the population base.
Neighborhoods identified as steady have the highest housing prices in Detroit and homes that are in good condition. Neighborhoods termed transitional have a mix of rental and owner-occupied homes and are in various stages of decline. Distressed neighborhoods have been in long-term decline and have high vacancy rates.
Under Bing's plan, more attention would be paid to demolishing vacant houses, enhancing vacant lots and improving recreation services in distressed neighborhoods. Transitional neighborhoods would get more services in regard to demolitions, boarding up vacant structures, road improvement, and water and sewerage treatments.
Things like tree trimming, attracting businesses, code enforcement and public lighting will get more attention in the city's best neighborhoods.
To Dennis Talbert, Bing's plan "does not necessarily bode well" for his Brightmoor neighborhood on Detroit's west and northwest sides.
"It won't get any services," he said.
A better plan, Talbert said, would have been possibly closing down neighborhoods like his own.
"He has tip-toed around it," Talbert said of Bing. "Leadership says ... we have to take bold steps. It's not going to be right-sized now. It's going to be neglected."
Bing said the changes will be implemented in the next two weeks, and one neighborhood from each level will receive particular scrutiny and be evaluated in six months to gauge the successes of the new strategy.
"I think he should focus on the good and the bad," said 44-year-old Lisa Simon, who lives on the city's west side. "Treat us equal. We're the same."
Simon said the grass growing on lots in her neighborhood resembles a "cornfield," and tires dumped in alleys are slow to be removed.
Some targeted neighborhoods are doing better, though. Online retail mortgage lender Quicken Loans and four other employers announced an incentive program this week under which 16,000 employees at the Detroit-based companies will be offered $4 million in loans and rent subsidies to move in or near the city's downtown.
"This is all real," said Daniel J. Loepp, president and chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, one of the companies involved. "This isn't all rhetoric. It's action. I can sense in talking to people that people sense that, too."
The effort followed a similar move earlier this year in Midtown by the Detroit Medical Center, Wayne State University and Henry Ford Health System. Midtown, anchored by those facilities and cultural institutions like the Detroit Institute of Arts, has seen retail growth and people moving into the area.
Whole Foods Market Inc. plans to open its first store in Detroit in the Midtown neighborhood, which would make it the only national grocery chain operating in the city limits. The 20,000-square-foot supermarket, slated to open in 2013, will employ about 75 people, Whole Foods executive operations coordinator Red Elk Banks told The Associated Press. The company planned to formally announce the move later Wednesday.
Whole Foods and city officials began discussions in 2007 to bring a store to Detroit. Talks regarding the Midtown site got under way last year, Banks said. The supermarket likely will not look much different than other Whole Foods stores and offer the same products, Banks added.
"We have cultivated relationships with Michigan growers and we want to expand that to Detroit growers," he said. "We feel this is the right time for us to make the jump into Detroit. It's the focus on the food economy that has driven us to select Detroit. We feel Detroit deserves the best that Whole Foods has to offer."
Such programs aim to rebuild the city's residential base. A 2010 survey found Detroit had 33,000 vacant houses and scores of empty, weed-filled and trash-cluttered lots.
"He's got his hands full," Loepp said of Bing. "The land mass of Detroit is unmanageable."
Using federal funds, about 3,000 abandoned houses have been torn down over the past 12 months. Bing has promised to demolish another 3,000 over the next year.
Bob Gregory, senior vice president of the Downtown Detroit Partnership that works to develop initiatives to strengthen the city's downtown, said there has been momentum despite the economic downturn, and it must continue.
"The neighborhoods of the city are very important to the overall direction and growth of Detroit," Gregory said.