Two weeks ago, Detroit City Council released its first set of four discussion draft maps for council districts. All maps must be compact contiguous and roughly equal population. The city’s first proposed options, took abstract cuts through the city horizontally and vertically. These first maps wrapped boundaries around precinct lines rather than natural separations cutting many neighborhoods apart in order to fit.
Detroit doesn’t need boots that don’t fit, we need sturdy broken-in workboots so we can tackle the job at hand. When Data Driven Detroit (D3) released its neighborhood based map on Friday, it started gaining momentum almost immediately at public forums. Without fliers, or posters, or being displayed on the big screen, the D3 map was mentioned more than any other. The Data Driven Detroit map looks familiar – like Detroit.
The move from district government to all at-large council ninety-four years ago was a hopeful step toward addressing the problems of 1918. Almost one hundred years later we find ourselves taking another hopeful step toward a better future by moving to the hybrid system that combines the strengths of the at-large and district systems. It is an exciting time that is full of potential to re-organize and update our democratic infrastructure and start fresh. It isn’t a silver bullet, but it is a new hope.
The 1918 all at-large system of council was designed for a rapidly growing city. We were moving up, expanding in both population and revenue fueled by the seemingly unstoppable automotive industry. Today we face a different reality – we are having trouble maintaining our population. While we expanded from the center, we lost population in more of a checkerboard pattern, some neighborhoods remain strong and some have been hit hard. Today, we have to rely on each other to make neighborhoods work. We need a government that supports that local effort.
Every day we see evidence of a simple Detroit truth: it will be a long while before central city government is able to do better for our neighborhoods than we can ourselves. That’s not to say we shouldn’t want or expect city government to do its job and support the common good, it’s just to say we shouldn’t hold our collective breath. We need to do what we can to support neighborhoods that are working now.
The D3 district map supports neighborhoods. It adds legislative heft to areas of the city that are working together to keep it together. Imagine a City Council table where Councilmembers represent the unique neighborhood perspectives. Southwest has a voice, Northwest, the Eastside, the Westside, each with their own disctinct issues, each with their own solutions. Council becomes the forum where all the voices of the city come together to work for the common good. Rather than focusing on what downtown has or doesn’t, the D3 map focuses on neighborhoods that are already working together and builds off that strength. It uses freeways, railroads and industrial space as much as possible to avoid slicing neighborhoods in half. We need to tell council that neighborhoods matter to us, not precincts. The D3 map feels right, but council is having a hard time finding a way to discuss it.
We have some very good people trying very hard to fix the city inside city government, but we know that the problems still exist when we elected officials ignore public consensus. The conversation is stifled because Council can’t figure out how to get the neighborhood map to the table. The D3 map is compact, contiguous, roughly equal population, and meets Voting Rights Act requirements. In fact the D3 map does is more complaint that the City maps. Then the city said it needed to match the precincts and D3 was still able to create a neighborhood-based map that matches up with precincts. So what is the holdup? The D3 precinct-based map has jumped through the hoops and should be on the table. Council must not hide behind procedures to ignore constituent feedback. This is not the time to say we’ve run out of time to carefully consider the D3 map. This is not the time to worry about there being too many maps. This is the time to get it right. This is the time for districts that fit.
Council is set to make its final decision Friday, Feb. 17. Let your Council know that we need the best possible districts to help the effort to re-build our city from our neighborhoods up.