Hearing about Detroit’s plunge into bankruptcy makes me realize not only Detroit, but also other cities on the edge financially, may benefit from looking at non-customary methods of survival and/or rebuilding. Such pilot endeavors could operate right alongside whatever other strategies cities are developing to continue being viable.
A big concern is the concept of bail-outs causing a domino effect of failing cities giving up the ghost in unison together after Detroit’s admitting defeat. Perhaps solutions will not come from government, but from caring individuals with a gleam in their eye. After all, aren’t these the ones who invented the American spirit?
Think Outside the Box
In keeping with Einstein’s cautionary words “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” we may need to think differently.
Innovative thinking may include looking at debilitated cities as opportunities, as new frontiers. This would frame their problems as possible positives rather than depressing negatives.
Taking a page from American history would indicate a need for some rugged individualism as well as small community teamwork.
Treating an acreage as a new frontier would attract pioneer types who could bring their sweat equity to the table in hopes of eventual profit. This would enable grass roots investment in the rebuilding of America. Instead of “putting your money where your mouth is” there could be investment of labor to bring life blood to our cities.
Look for Win-Win Ideas
A possible way to generate money for the city coffers could be to sell off (or lease on the cheap) several acre plots to encourage involvement of small business in regeneration. Obviously that doesn’t solve all the city’s budgetary issues, but some regular money coming in is better than none.
These would need to be in an area where some city services could be provided–eg. water, electricity, and sewer for sure. The small intentional community could even pitch in to enable these services by collecting garbage to a central location in order to make the city’s functions more doable.
Labor intensive but low capitalized businesses could be started in this fashion. Unskilled or semi-skilled workers could do manufacturing in such a setting, as long as built in incentives and supervision which includes training is available.
Such an endeavor would require housing. Someone said there may be houses available as low as $500. just to get out from under the tax burden of owning some present residents face.
If that be the case, a company could purchase housing with equally affordable buy-back option after 2 years or so should the employee desire to make it a permanent home.
A start up company could begin with a mere 20 or so workers. People who might thrive in this could be home-schoolers, people who want to grow their own food, and do-it-yourselfers.
No doubt security would be a necessity in such an adventure since downtrodden cities tend to have more crime and people who don’t relate to the rule of law. This would be particularly crucial at first till success becomes obvious to the current citizenry.
One wonders if the National Guard could be used as a preventive measure. To make security work there would have to be regular communication with anyone else in the neighborhood to avoid fractures in the community.
At first, single workers and/or childless couples may find this frontier style life more possible. However, education could be addressed by home-schooling type approach combining the small group of students into a 1-room styled classroom. This could be staffed by a teacher who could be paid after a minimal salary with a domicile with students’ parents providing volunteer hours for fix-up projects etc as well as a % of profits after a period of time.
Idealistic and service-oriented Americans go to other countries to help uplift people who need a second chance. Why wouldn’t some young teacher decide to choose this type of effort which would help put a city on the path of redevelopment?
Leadership and Commitment
It would take a leader or leaders who welcome challenges involved in living and working in a fairly insular situation. This is due to the fact that a downtrodden city may not provide all the urban amenities, including safety, that the average American worker is used to.
With good leadership and an unusual arrangement with the City, a couple of dozen people could make it work. The City may need to provide waivers regarding certain regulations, yet may benefit from the company’s success.
An entrepreneurial spirit may be appropriate here since many of the management methods would need to be developed on the go.
Where to Find Workers
Some small farms could recommend out-of-work people who may fit the bill. To sweeten the offer, pay may be low at first but after 2 years or so, some type of profit-sharing could provide a good incentive for hanging in there.
The same motivation that inspired pioneers to Go West would be at work here in drawing possible workers to the program. Some may want to get out of an urban neighborhood. Some may like the taste of adventure, like campers and wilderness lovers. It would need to be sold honestly as an option for the hardy, not for the faint of heart.
This writer lays no claim to expertise in these areas, other than having run a small business in the past. However, if this spurs discussion the purpose in writing this opinion piece will be achieved.
Since nothing is particularly working now, why not tap into the great American pioneer spirit? Our cities like Detroit which are tipping towards bankruptcy are already looking at unusual solutions like imminent domain. Maybe it can go a step further by establishing a new type of redevelopment zone.
Rather than keep it all under government purview, why not turn some individuals loose with a pipe dream and a little incentive to help them make it happen?
Copyright 2013 by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.