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Bradford Frost Headshot

The State of Our City Is Fragile

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Alamy
Alamy

Fellow Detroiters:

The state of our city is fragile.

While full of possibility and enormous opportunity for growth and renewal, Detroit's future remains tenuous. Our civic leaders must urgently confront the deep historical challenges that are engulfing us today with three essential tasks.

First, we must execute a city turn-around with a fierce focus on the fundamentals of city government. From our decrepit finances to our beleaguered police and fire response units to our deplorable crime rate, nothing will restore confidence in this city more than providing the most basic city services to all of our citizens so they feel safe, protected and empowered to live out their aspirations.

These are not idle issues. They are the fulcrum by which people choose to stay or leave this town. They are the bottom rung of Detroit's own Maslow Needs hierarchy. Every street light that stays out, every blighted property that goes unattended, and every threat our citizens face is an injustice to all of us and the essential role we require from our public services. This, above all else, is why all of us must clamor for city hall to stop promising us moon shots and instead lead with an understanding that our future will be set from the foundation Detroit builds now. We must forge strong basic services to renew, or even reasonably establish, local confidence to stop the bleeding of Detroit's people -- literally and figuratively.

Second, in the face of deep unease, distrust, and anxiety in this city, we must equally commit with profound dedication to community building. Scoff all you want, but until we find common ground built from mutual relationships, trust and reconciliation, Detroit will never realize its full potential as an inclusive community that celebrates all of its citizens and regional neighbors.

All of us in Detroit merit respect and must see our diverse neighbors -- black, white, and brown; young and old; blue-collar and white-collar; lifelong residents and new transplants -- as people worthy of dignity and belonging in our proud and authentic city.

Shame on us for allowing the divisions and distrust that festers at the fringes of our city to denigrate our task, and I beg our civic leaders to understand their critical obligations to effective community building. You must nurture our soulful city to see this vision through and challenge those among us who would dare to bring divisive rhetoric to your forums like you would a school yard bully. We need higher standards in our civic discourse and that process starts with our leaders who have the power of the pulpit. Please, set the tone.

Third and finally, it is unconscionable that our leaders continue to point fingers, get defensive, and play the victims rather than standing up to solve the challenges they face. Punting your responsibilities to effecting reasonable solutions is atrocious public leadership. Most of us respect and understand the enormity of the duty you carry, but we can only endure such feckless (reckless?) leadership that fails to grasp its core charge: solve problems. Get it done: be constructive, not obstructive; be agents for change and reasonable solutions, not the victim of the office you sought and the cards you were dealt.

These three tasks require daily engagement -- initiative, negotiation, communication, collaboration, risk taking and accountability -- from our leadership.

This generations' task in Detroit is profoundly simple to articulate if gruelingly hard to execute: our actions, our tone and our process for addressing Detroit's manic possibility prism is to forge the bridge from Detroit's epic challenges to its profound opportunities.

As unsexy as it is, the tone and substance of the work ahead must show our grit and determination to achieve these three aims. We must channel all of our energy on these tasks to meaningfully reset Detroit's lurching and fitful progress so it may meaningfully emerge into a city built for growth, prosperity and an inclusive future.

These are the core functions of the mayor's office and whoever occupies it for the foreseeable future. While Detroit can be home to the dreams of all our residents, our leaders must deliver results, must stop the divisiveness, and must do it together.

Please understand your task: build the bridge and see through Detroit's transformation.

Only then will Detroit's next great era properly commence.