The first "big innovative idea" for our region is the notion that the majority of people of this region are ready to abandon long standing polarization and isolation and embrace regional cooperation and partnerships. Major roadblocks in transportation, infrastructure and employment can be broken if our leaders will walk away from gamesmanship and sit down at the table and work it out for the good for everyone. In other words, if our leaders will lead, instead of posture, we can move away from the past and actually get something done.
That's a big IF though, as posturing wins elections by promoting large allegedly "moral" issues that make voters "feel" like someone is "fighting for their way of life". Contrast that with actual leadership, which requires intelligent discussion of tough issues requiring sacrifice, hard work and compromise, with a benefit to be realized in the future.
Partisanship is the immediate gratification of a fast paced football game. Good government, on the other hand, is the slow and steady machinery of identifying issues, examining facts, and designing and implementing policy. Because it is completely natural and human for people to want to polarize and team up by race, economics, or religion, partisanship is easy. It is almost an instinctive reflex, and we are very good at it. We all want to be on the winning team, cheer on our victorious leaders, and crush an enemy.
Unfortunately, our partisan urges mask our intellect, because we know that in whatever part of the demographic we fit racially, economically, and location and lifestyle-wise, we are all on the SAME TEAM going in the same direction in southeastern Michigan. Whether we are going to a brighter future or off a cliff is entirely up to us, and our leaders. It is our leaders' responsibility to encourage cooperation and teamwork and overcome our instinctual partisan desires. That's not easy, but it's more productive. It will take a major re-think of what we do to accomplish these goals. As leaders, we have to preach the new reality of Good Government---cooperation, consolidation, and teamwork, if we are going to have a future.
We've been through a lot as a region. In my life, we've been through riots, suburban sprawl, stagflation, high interest rates, high deficits, reckless spending, unnecessary wars, and the globalization of industrial jobs which has laid waste to our economy's central tenet: That one person with a high school education can support a family, a house, two cars, a place up north, and a garage full of toys, all with a 75 percent pension and no-deductible health insurance. Now, entire families labor just to provide the basics of food and shelter. Our local economy is strained past the breaking point, our infrastructure is crumbling, our workers are idle.
But from what I see, this new generation is pragmatic, willing to take risks, and able to see through the posturing to the goal. Our generation, in our 40s, and those younger than us, don't harbor the same suspicion and animosity towards our urban brothers that our parents' did. In fact, we really like the urban nature of it all. To us, mass transit is what cities have, diversity is what makes life interesting, and we like old buildings, urban living, and a great restaurant or bar on every corner. We dance when we like the music.
More importantly, we are ready for leaders to guide us in the reality of cooperation, consolidation, and teamwork. That's why in Royal Oak, we are remaking our government in Royal Oak to do more with less. We are enlisting the cooperation of our unions to work within our financial constraints, reorganizing our City Hall departments, and essentially re-designing our government around our customers. We have much less to work with financially, and the next several years will be rough. But every day, entrepreneurs and established businesses bring us their brilliant business ideas and we work with them to bring them to reality.
I really appreciate the invitation to guest blog for Metromode. Without unnecessarily flattering them, I feel like I'm in some seriously good company as I have read many of the other blogs. Being a glass half-full sort of guy, I like the optimism, the energy, and the possibility that our collective new vision for this region can become a reality.
Out to the Suburbs
As a bit of history, I am a first generation suburbanite. My great grandfather's house still stands on King Street on the northeast side of Detroit, my grandfather was a Detroit car dealer from the 30s until the 70s. My mom and dad grew up on the streets of Detroit, went to Mumford and Central when a degree from either was an automatic ticket to a job or a top notch college. They remember ice being delivered in a wagon with a horse, they stoked a coal furnace in the morning to get warm, and as kids they rode a streetcar for pennies, alone, to go to Hudson's.
Once they moved to the suburbs, they became afraid of the city. They saw it fall apart from its heyday, they saw their neighborhoods fall into disrepair and ghetto, and the blame set in. Colman Young and Bill Bonds didn't help. The 70s was an era of all-out polarization in Detroit. It almost seems like the leadership wanted you to be very afraid of any interaction or cooperation. The unions and management, city and suburb, white and black, young and old, it was a decade of disagreement and conflict.
When I attended U of D law in the 1980s, my parents warned me of crime and vice, and I worried about my safety. I learned to deal with street people, keep my head up and my eyes open, but never experienced any real crime. I spent a lot of time in a lot of venues in the city, and never experienced much racism at all. I never gave any either, for that matter. I got to enjoy the neighborhoods of the city, the Eastern Market, the revitalization that struggles still all over the city.
Back to the Region
I was asked to write about my "big innovative idea" for our region. I usually find "big" and "innovative" ideas to be grounded in clear and simple truths and common shared values. And that's the reason that I ran for, and won, a seat on the Royal Oak City Commission. We face unprecedented and complicated issues in Royal Oak, but our solutions boil down to simple parables: You have to live within your means, you have to know where you are going, you have to work well with the others around you, and you have to clean up your own mess.
I have a vision of Royal Oak and this region at the end of this decade, in the year 2020. My vision involves fostering an atmosphere conducive to job creation, right-sizing our services, and allowing our City Hall to work with business to bring the next wave of entrepreneurs, entertainment, and urban residents to our neighborhoods. We will work with our sister communities towards final resolution of long-standing regional problems... lack of mass transit, regional isolationism and prejudice, revitalizing our industry, and ensuring living wages for families, just to name a few.
Just like perfect 20/20 vision at an eye exam, we too must collectively focus on our 2020 vision for this region in order to fulfill our obligation to leave a better Detroit region for the next generation. Government's role in this progress is to focus on facilitating solutions to chronic problems, instead of being itself the roadblock in the way of the solution. I will expand on this in my next post.