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Duggan stays optimistic in 11th State of the City address

Duggan highlighted familiar themes in his annual State of the City address.
City of Detroit
Duggan highlighted familiar themes in his annual State of the City address.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was characteristically upbeat during his tenth annual State of the City address Wednesday night, painting the city as a work in progress that’s made big strides since it exited bankruptcy 10 years ago.

Duggan said the city has had some success in reducing violent crime after it spiked in the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic. He credited the Detroit Police Department, as well as community partners doing violence intervention work in some neighborhoods. That program, known as Shotstoppers, has shown promise in some areas,notably ones where the community groups “emphasize personal interaction,” Duggan said. He added that he plans to send a proposed one-year contract extension for those Shotstoppers partners to the Detroit City Council next week.

Duggan also highlighted a change in approach when it comes to dealing with blight. In the early years of his administration, Duggan spearheaded a massive demolition spree that brought down about 40,000 vacant homes citywide. Now the number of vacant properties under the control of the Detroit Land Bank Authority has dwindled to 4400, and Duggan said he expects that number to reach zero by the end of next year.

“We're going to knock down 1,700, [and] we’re going to sell and rehab 2,700 by the end of next year,” he said. “The Land Back is going to be very close to zero vacant houses in their entire inventory."

One area still in need of major improvement is Detroit’s lagging bus system, which Duggan acknowledged. But he said the city has made some progress toward restoring service to pre-pandemic levels, while hiring 140 more drivers and boosting their pay.

“We got more buses on the road. Went up from 120 last year to 159 this spring,” Duggan said. “By fall, we're going to have 188 buses on the road. We are getting this done.”

Duggan also highlighted plans to turn parts of some especially blighted neighborhoods into solar farms, a process he said he will bring benefits to residents who choose to remain. And he touted efforts to bolster some of Detroit’s historically significant sites. They include restoring the vacant Brewster Recreational Center, where boxer Joe Louis once trained; the Ossian Sweet home; and building a memorial on what’s known as “Freedom Point” commemorating Detroit’s key role in the Underground Railroad.

“We are going to build a historic destination worthy of these events,” Duggan said. “I want to be a city where people want to come and hear the history.”

One of the speech’s most notable moments came near the end, when Duggan recognized a woman who’s been one of his most vocal and ardent critics–community activist Helen Moore. The 86-year-old Moore has worked tirelessly to reopen another once-abandoned community space, the Dexter-Elmhurst Community Center. The city now plans to invest $8.5 million in restoring it, prompting Moore to call Duggan “a lifesaver for our center, and I thank him for that.”

Other grassroots leaders remained critical. Scott Holiday, Political Director for the group Detroit Action, accused Duggan in a statement of “consistently showing preference for wealthy developers at the expense of displacing the working poor,” and enabling a “rapid cycle of gentrification and displacement.” The group wants the city to devote more resources to housing affordability, home repairs, and providing free attorneys for people facing eviction.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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