Benchmark Detroit: Six months later

Hurry up.

That's the word on the street in Detroit, a city that is both hopeful and anxious.

While Dan Gilbert gobbles up city buildings for redevelopment and Mike Ilitch’s plans for a new hockey arena take shape, Midtown is growing and pockets of the city are enticing new residents.

And though city retirees and bondholders fret over the outcome in court, the upcoming bankruptcy trial likely will reduce the city's annual expenses, allowing for more spending on cops, firefighters and city cleanup.

Against this backdrop, Mayor Mike Duggan charged into office in January, promising a turnaround that would begin to take shape within six months; a bold approach that has helped earn Duggan a honeymoon, for now. He's vowed to knock down more blighted homes – and increase the number leveled each month. He's called for and gotten more buses on the city's streets. He's overseen sweeping changes in the city's administration, streamlining the bureaucracy that has strangled the city for decades.

People remain hopeful. They like what they see, but want – no, demand – more.

"I just wish he'd hurry up and put a rush in and get some new buses and stuff because people need to go where they have to go," said resident Talere Anderson. Anderson was talking about buses, but could have been talking about any number of the city's woes – crime, jobs, quality of life.

Six months after Duggan challenged city residents to give him a half-year to show what he could do, the Detroit Journalism Cooperative grades his efforts. We see promise across several performance benchmarks that Bridge set in January. Ultimately we agree with the mayor’s own grade – incomplete – because in a city like Detroit, with so much to do, six months isn't enough time to get a final grade.

What follows are a series of reports this week by writers from Bridge and our partners at the DJC assessing the city’s progress since Duggan made his bold vow. What we found is a patchwork of views: some see signs of success and others remain frustrated.

Yet most people interviewed say they've seen incremental improvements. But more is needed, particularly in neighborhoods – as Duggan himself is well aware.

Benchmark: Jobs
Benchmark: City services
Benchmark: Livability

"There are some things we’ve done really well," he told members of the annual policy conference on Mackinac Island in May. "But at my Wednesday morning cabinet meeting, my department heads are not getting A’s from me every week.”

Already, Duggan says the city will soon be knocking down 800 blighted homes a month, up from 500. Yet tens of thousands remain, leaving a process that will take hundreds of millions of dollars and years to complete.

More buses are on the streets every day – up to 200 when 150 were there just months ago. Riders still complain of hour-long waits and Duggan's staff says it won't be solved unless the city adds up to 63 more buses. And that includes 50 from the federal government that isn't a done deal.

On other measures, progress has been more difficult to gauge – or is outside the new mayor’s control, anyway. The police department is overseen by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr; the schools by city and state-run school districts and dozens of charter schools. And one of the pocketbook issues Duggan talked about during his campaign – reducing the city’s high car insurance rates – has yet to be addressed.

But what Duggan has been able to touch, he's changed, residents and leaders say. The question remains: Will it change fast enough?

Support for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative on Michigan Radio comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism's Michigan Reporting Initiative, and the Ford Foundation.

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Wed, 06/25/2014 - 7:44pm
I attended a meeting a few years ago and a lady made this statement that refers to too many citizens. I want all I want it now and I don't want to pay fore it. It is a not possible to change Detroit in 6 months after over so many years heading in the wrong direction. It will take more than money it will take imagination and corporation and that will require listing to citizens at every level to come up with a progressive plan. It would be interesting to see Dan Gilbert's plan for the future in writing so the progress can be tracked. Dale Westrick
Toni McIlwain
Sun, 06/29/2014 - 7:25am
The Ravendale area is completely. I did not vote for Duggan, however, that does not mean we should be left out of the progress. Residents are living in the middle of high grass, overgrown trees. "They are actually living inside a forest" I am very please with the progress of trash and bulk pick-up throughout the city, but our area must be a part of the progress, not just those that worked on your campaign! The city do not need favoritism, it needs everyone involved!! I have tried to make contact with some of your team with no results. Let's change Detroit together! Toni (President Ravendale Community, Inc.) Please, will someone please look at Harper, Chalmers, Dickerson area! I am sure you agree, residents are living in a forest!
Sun, 06/29/2014 - 9:36am
Detroit should stop trying to be what it once was and become something new. Stop trying to be a big city. Make it smaller town where people live in a community and are not isolated and separated into pockets. Detroit should sell of some of its land to anyone who wants to develop it for small communities, farming, business, etc. Even consider selling the land to reduce the land size of Detroit. Form a new town.
Tue, 07/01/2014 - 1:40pm
Duggan is doing a great job with one major exception. He needs to step up and challenge the wisdom of the Grand Bargain. Think what the city could do with an extra $14 billion. The time for Detroit to dispose of its art at the DIA is now. This is the case whether the city is financially bankrupt or not. The city is not only financially bankrupt. It is bankrupt educationally Per a report in one of Detroit's local newspapers only 70% of Detroit's adults are employed or graduated from high school and 80% of children attending DPS is in poverty. The other day someone stated the art should not be sold because future generations would miss out on its enjoyment, When you are unemployed, impoverished and malnourished art is not on your mind very much. Let's face facts. Life in Detroit for most of its citizens is not going to improve unless education levels improve. Middle class population of the city is not going to increase unless the schools, safety and neighborhoods improve. I doubt very much that the state or federal government will provide sufficient long term investment in Detroit's education to make a major difference, How can non residents of Detroit in good conscience tell Detroiters that they refuse to provide the funds necessary to turn the schools around and at the same time not allow the city to transfer the $15 billion they have invested in art to investing it in education? Kevyn Orr works for the citizens of Detroit. The Grand Bargain should be junked and he needs to do everything in his power to shield the art from the creditors so it can be put to use by the city. Per a White Paper prepared by Jones Day this could have been done as the bankruptcy was proceeding and not even the judge could have prevented it. Mr. Orr and Mayor Mike Duggan, do your job for the citizens of Detroit....