Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Mythical Check and The Future of Detroit by Akindele Akinyemi

Detroit is facing an economic crisis of proportions not seen in decades. Personally, I do not think people realize how deep the situation in Detroit is when it comes to stability. Most days people feel that we are headed towards anarchy in this city. When you add poverty to the crisis we have a serious catastrophe.

This past week we saw how truly depressed and distressed came out in droves seeking housing and utility assistance payment from the City of Detroit as part of the "Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program," a federal stimulus fund designed to help residents pay rent and utility bills. 35,000 people were so desperate for help with mortgage and utility bills that threats were made, fights broke out and people were nearly trampled.

Keep in mind that our city's official unemployment rate is 28.9 percent.

Officials said a total of about 65,000 people over the past few days have gotten applications for a share of $15.2 million in federal stimulus money to help people avoid foreclosure or quickly rebound from homelessness. Only 3,500 people may receive the help. The sad thing was how people lined up thinking that they were going to receive a check or debit card. A mythical check was waiting for them.

It looked like scene from Hurricane Katrina.

The reality is that poverty exists for several reasons. One major reason is the lack of education. The other is that black people in this city will not hire one another in terms of employment. A third reason is the 100% dependency and victimization mentality that has paralyzed the city through racial paranoia and fear.

We cannot begin to even heal with this type of mentality. Let alone we have city officials who think like this and love to fan the flames of ignorance from community to community.

While Detroit struggles to come into the 21st century it will also struggle to come into the global picture. The automotive industry is dead and along with it the unions who have controlled the politics of the city for over 5 decades.

When I speak to urban conservatives on the future of our city and other urban areas across America I often tell them to have vision. We have moved past those who want to continue to keep the status quo.

One thing that no one running for any political office in this city (or any urban area) is the need for micro-insurance. This is a term increasingly used to refer to insurance characterized by low premium and low caps or low coverage limits, sold as part of atypical risk-pooling and marketing arrangements, and designed to service low-income people and businesses not served by typical social or commercial insurance schemes.

It's a financial arrangement to protect low-income people against specific perils in exchange for regular premium payments proportionate to the likelihood and cost of the risk involved.

Sharing risk through micro-insurance could help communities rebuild after natural disasters. The United States poorest people often live in the places most likely to be struck by disasters and they are the least likely to have insurance. If we allowed Detroiters to turn to micro-insurance programs it will allow participants in a community to pool their risk and hence lower their premiums to as little as $2 per year.

While we are talking about urban agriculture in Detroit how come no one is discussing the need to develop biobutanol? This is an advanced biofuel made from wheat, corn, sugarcane, and other agricultural feedstocks. Biobutanol’s advantages over ethanol will become more obvious in the years ahead: Its energy content is closer to that of gasoline, it is less corrosive, and it can be delivered and dispensed using current infrastructure.

Building an biobutanol plant here in Detroit can put people back to work. This project is tied in with building research parks in our city. The same for tactical bio-refineries that can turn garbage into fuel. A portable generator developed for military applications can turn food, paper, plastic, and other trash into electricity. Not only will this help troops stay mobile, but it will also increase their security by eliminating telltale information in a unit’s waste. Detroit should lead in this industry.

While building our research parks it should house the world's most innovative information technology companies. While we are transforming Detroit from an automotive market to a financial market we should also train and innovate a new generation of career-path information technology workers who will help design and market new high tech computers such as the quantum computers. These are computers that use spinning electrons rather than silicon-based chips to process data could do in seconds what would take a modern computer billions of years, raising the prospect of infinite processing power by the year 2020.

Already most security systems use what is called biometrics. Governments and corporations are using fingerprints, hand geometry, the iris, voice, and facial features in a growing number of identity verification systems, with fingerprints making up 67% of these applications. The question is where are the firms in our city and other urban areas across Michigan to build and program this level of technology. Again, putting people to work.

If you think what you saw at Cobo Hall is a sign of mass breakdown of social services wait until we evolve where electronically enabled teams in networks, robots with artificial intelligence, and other noncarbon life-forms will make financial, health, educational, and even political decisions for us. The reason for this is because technologies are increasing the complexity of our lives and human workers’ competency is not keeping pace well enough to avoid disasters due to human error.

So while we are still fighting over things that should have been solved in the 20th century we must look ahead to our immediate future if we do not want to fall further behind the wheel. Detroit must be able to diversify its economy if it wants to stop shrinking as a city. However, I see Grand Rapids surpassing Detroit as the largest city in Michigan by 2020 because Grand Rapids's infrastructure is ready for what is outlined in this article. Detroit's future looks bleak unless we embrace silver rights, 21st century strategies and begin to think ahead instead of playing race games and staying in poverty.

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