Two principles of an urban revival are public safety and access to a quality education. Since the 1970s, Detroit has largely failed to provide either. The good news of late is that certain areas of the city now have safe havens, especially within the 7.2-mile area that encompasses the central business district and Midtown.
The benefit of providing safe areas in Detroit — or any city — comes down to revenue. If people feel secure living and working in a place, or attending events, tax receipts rise. On the other hand, a lapse in security and education leads to increased crime, which is why certain areas of Detroit are more dangerous than others.
Consider violent crime in the city has decreased significantly over the last 40 years — the number of homicides was 333 in 2013, down from a peak of 714 in 1974. Yet, according to the Detroit Police Department, around 70 percent of such murders involved narcotics activity in select neighborhoods such as Brightmoor, East English Village, Seven Mile/Livernois, Grand River/Greenfield, North End, and Osborne.
Recognizing the trend, Police Chief James Craig has spearheaded several criminal sweeps in recent months, netting dozens of arrests. One sweep, quickly followed by another, affords criminals little respite. Craig says he plans to continue the practice indefinitely.
Another facet of security is on the horizon. Over the last three years, more than 30 downtown businesses — working in concert with local, county, and state police, the Downtown Detroit Partnership, and the FBI, Homeland Security, and Border Patrol — have installed more than 300 high-powered surveillance cameras in the central business district.
A command center, located in the lower level of Dan Gilbert’s Chase Building, was set up to monitor the cameras and identify potential crime as it unfolds. In addition, each of the participating businesses — known as a lighthouse — provides 24/7 security, aid, shelter, information, and potential lodging. (For emergencies that don’t require calling 911, the lighthouse hotline is 313-471-6490.)
Recognizing Project Lighthouse’s success in reducing crime, several businesses on the east side of Detroit are looking to expand the program in and around their operations. Apart from reducing crime hot spots, the security system will assist Homeland Security and Border Patrol in apprehending illegal immigrants (especially a recent wave of Russians) who attempt to enter Michigan from Canada.
In turn, once the FAA and NASA issue rules for flying drones in U.S. airspace, likely in 2015 or 2016, unmanned aerial vehicles can monitor shorelines, utility stations, transportation networks, traffic, and public spaces.
The focus on security complements improvements in education. Nonprofits such as Beyond Basics, for example, are working with several Detroit public schools to provide certified tutors for students who are identified by their teachers as falling behind in reading, writing, and word comprehension.
Sure, volunteer reading programs connect students — many of whom don’t have the opportunity to travel outside of their neighborhoods — with upwardly mobile adults, but they do little to identify and track an individual’s progress. In addition, the certified tutors from Beyond Basics don’t compete with public school instructors.
The nonprofit has a 90 percent success rate in teaching students, who work with a certified tutor one-on-one for an hour each day, to read within six weeks. No other reading program comes close, whether from the Skillman Foundation, United Way, or any number of volunteer programs.
Just as teaching a person to fish provides a lifetime of sustenance, teaching a child to read opens up the world — and the universe — giving that child a lifetime of opportunities. db