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Retooling the Motor City: Can Detroit save itself?

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Bing created the Detroit Works Project to puzzle through a long-term plan that will eliminate blight, consolidate city services, and create incentives for residents to move closer to downtown. Similar urban renewal endeavors have helped turn around the ailing economies of Youngstown, Ohio, and Saginaw, Mich. But Detroit is the largest city in the United States to contemplate such a dramatic restructuring.

Through a series of public meetings that started last fall, Bing and other city officials have stressed that no final decisions have been made. But in interviews, Bing makes it clear that "I have to be brutally honest...." Whatever the outcome, he says, there are "a lot of hard decisions that need to be made. We've got limited resources yet we've got demands from our citizens for services like never before, and we can't afford to do it."

Besides committing to demolishing more than 10,000 blighted homes through 2013, the Detroit Works Project is tasked with prioritizing city services according to the population of the area, proposing new uses for dead zones, such as creating urban forests or farms, and completing a light rail project that will connect neighborhoods.

The final plan is not expected until 2012, after being pushed back several times this year. And the delay in direction has allowed public misperception and suspicion to incubate.

Some longtime residents like Carl Allison, a former corporate fundraiser who now operates his own handcrafted candle company, are nervous about the possibility that residents may be pressured to relocate to shore up city resources. "To me, it almost seems like we're giving up. I would like to take creative minds and build the city back up rather than shrink it. It seems like it's the wrong message," Mr. Allison says.

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