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Detroit needs an image makeover, Kilpatrick tells class

As a lifelong Detroit resident, Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick probably heard countless negative comments about crime, abandoned buildings and problems in the Motor City.
Kilpatrick (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

But if he needed a confirmation that it is important to improve the city's image, he received it earlier this yearin Israel. A person living in the Middle East, where violence often appears in the media, described Detroit as a "rough place," Kilpatrick told students during a Nov. 14 visit to the Ford School of Public Policy.

"We believe Detroit will never be a world-class city unless we change our image," said Kilpatrick, who at age 32 is the youngest mayor in Detroit's history.

Kilpatrick shared his plans for Detroit and discussed his role in public office for an hour with students in Public Policy 686: State and Local PolicyEconomic Development. The students also learned about his plans from copies of Kilpatrick's Urban Agenda, which serves as "a framework to improve the quality of life for all citizens in urban communities." The agenda addresses homeland security, transportation, education, health care, social and family policy, land and construction, community improvement and law enforcement.

Changing the city's image won't be easy, and the newly released movie "8 Mile," which stars rapper Eminem and was filmed in Detroit, doesn't help, he said.

Unlike previous administrations that believed a downtown mall would help revive the city, Kilpatrick said his focus is creating a better environment for residents. One initiative"Kids, Cops, Clean"offers after-school activities for children, involves changes within the police department for safer streets, and results in a cleaner city by removing trash, abandoned cars and vacant buildings, he said.

In addition, Kilpatrick discussed his push for new home construction to revive the city's residential base. He was expected to announce a $116-million project Nov. 15 called Jefferson Village with 350 homes and 15-acre shopping center near the Detroit River.

Kilpatrick said the city is vital to Michigan because it contributes $160 billion to the gross national product, ranking it 10th among major U.S. cities and 37th among the largest economies in the world.

"As long as we diminish the importance of Detroit, we diminish the importance of the state," he said.

Kilpatrick said he enjoys his job but sometimes finds it challenging to balance work and family. While some students in attendance aspire to set policies at a local, state or national level, the mayor reminded them that every decision affects many people.

"There's so much emotion. You make decisions based on what's best for the city as a whole," but it might not be what's best for a family, he said.


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