Charitable Citizens Try to Save Struggling Detroit

Tuesday, 16 Jul 2013 02:15 PM

By Andrea Billups

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As Detroit ponders bankruptcy and is now run by an emergency manager appointed by the governor, some of its charitable private citizens have teamed up as entrepreneurial volunteers to save it.

Many are motivated by civic pride and a desire to do their part after decades of political scandal and government mismanagement led to the famed Motor City's near demise, Fox News reports, noting the city's nearly $2.5 billion in debt.

One group of volunteers has stepped up to do the mowing in some of the city's 72 parks, which have been closed because they are too expensive to maintain.

"When we get there [to a park], people are happy to see us, especially the kids. This isn't a problem solver, but it's a solution that helps," says "Mower Gang" leader Tom Nardone, a former Ford Motor Co. analyst who used his own riding lawn mower to give youth a place to play.

"I was looking for some sort of volunteer work when the city announced that they were closing 72 parks," Nardone, 48, told Fox News. "I wondered at the time what exactly that meant and found out that when the park is closed, it basically means that they stop with the upkeep. They are basically abandoned."

Another civic angel, Andy Didorosi stepped up to start the Detroit Bus Co., providing urban residents reliable bus transportation in place of a light rail program, which has since been scrapped as the city tries to determine how to pay its most important bills like power and public safety.

The bus company also gives rides to kids from after-school programs and summer jobs.

Didorosi says he's hopeful that the city can improve.

"Transportation is a public problem," Didorosi told Fox News. "I don't necessarily think that the system should be privatized, but I don't see a better option than providing the services. Hopefully, everything will work itself out and the city will be back on track."

Others in Detroit, including some church groups, have also pitched in to make the city more livable in times of crisis. Volunteers from the Rosedale Park Baptist Church have fought back against city blight, working to board up abandoned buildings which might help facilitate criminal activity.

As the city looks to privatizing some city services and other plans to limit expenses, at least one think-tank expert applauds the emerging spirit of Detroiters to help bridge the gap that governments cannot.

Ted O'Neil of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich., said while it is not yet clear if such volunteering and ingenuity can help Detroit recover, the civil society model of some leaders there is laudable.

"The Center has defined civil society as a network of private institutions, community associations, schools and religious organizations, families, friends and co-workers, and all their voluntary, from-the-heart interactions that generally steps in when political society fails," O'Neil told Fox News. "Without it, failing cities like Detroit would be in even more trouble."

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