Mike Duggan tells CNN affordability, small businesses, quality education will grow Detroit

Duggan says everything can be measured by population trend


DETROIT – Mayor Mike Duggan believes affordability, small businesses and quality education will turn around Detroit.

And with these ingredients he's willing to bet his job on reversing the once-bankrupt city's population decline. 

In an interview with CNN's Poppy Harlow, Duggan explained how the city is trending in the right direction and how "rebel" entrepreneurs are helping change the city. 

"Entrepreneurs are rebels by nature, and the extreme rebels are showing up in Detroit," Duggan said. 

Affordability lures entrepreneurs

The mayor emphasized the growth in Detroit entrepreneurship is due to the city's affordability. Getting a house and storefront in this town is way easier than most other major American cities. Duggan hopes this will be a contributing factor in reversing the city's population trend, which he said has been declining every year since he was born in Detroit 57 years ago. The most recent Census data shows the trend is starting to flatten out. 

Story: Detroit's population decreases again, but at slower pace

"I do believe that when the Census numbers come out next May, we will have reversed that six-decade decline. We've got people moving into neighborhoods across the city. We've got property values going up across the city, and we've got businesses ... restaurants in this town are opening so fast that people complain they can't get to them all, and it's a function of people coming back," Duggan said. 

Duggan has been outspoken about competing with the suburbs to grow Detroit's population. He knew it would be an uphill battle when he took office in 2014, but he didn't shy away from setting a lofty goal. 

"In my first State of the City I said I only want to be judged on one standard: Is the population of the city going up or going down? And I said by the end of my first term my goal is to have it going up," he said. "So, if it isn't going up next year, I guess I have a re-election problem."

Harlow asked him if he is betting his re-election on the population trend. Duggan gave her a confident answer. 

"We're competing with really good suburbs around us for residents and for businesses, and now we're competing and winning," he said. 

What about Detroit schools?

Duggan told Harlow about the city's new promise of two years of community college for every high school graduate. He explained how the Detroit mayor traditionally has not been in charge of the school system and how he is changing that. 

Story: Mayor announces college tuition program for Detroit high school graduates

"We want to create a local authority that says it doesn't matter if you're public or charter, if you're good we're going to grow you, and if you're bad you either need to improve or we shut you down," he said. 

Duggan said he also will measure his success with the schools based on the city's population trend. 

"Everything fits together. The only measure I care about is whether the city's population is going up or going down. And if more people want to come here than leave, we're succeeding. Right now, parents with children are not coming here," he said. "We need to get to the point like Washington DC. Parents are moving into Washington DC because of the quality of school options they have. I'd like to be at that level at some point in Detroit."

The No. 1 thing Duggan said he wants people watching this interview to think about Detroit is: 

Detroiters really don't care what people outside think. We don't. We've been beaten up for so long ... What you have in this city is a bunch of really hard working people who don't spend a lot of time feeling sorry for ourselves, and we're working on turning this city around"

Watch the full interview here: 

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