Salon looks at JPMorgan Chase, Detroit and the Global Cities Initiative

May 22, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Buried inside the announcement of a $100 million investment in the city of Detroit by JPMorgan Chase was this: a $5.5 million pledge for the M1 Rail streetcar and to bring the Global Cities Initiative to Detroit.

We'll assume you're aware of the M-1 Rail project. The financial institution plans to provide a $1.5 million philanthropic grant for the project, as well as a $1 million to Midtown Detroit Inc. to mitigate the temporary impact of construction for businesses along the corridor, according to JPMorgan Chase spokesperson Steve O'Halloran.

But, if you're in the same boat as us, you were probably unsure what the Global Cities Initiative is.

JPMorgan describes it as an endeavor they've embarked upon with the Brookings Institution since 2012.

"Our Global Cities Initiative ... aims to equip business, civic and government leaders from U.S. and global metropolitan areas with the information, policy ideas and global connections they need to thrive in the global economy," JPMorgan writes on its website. "Through GCI, we have tapped our network of relationships around the world to convene far-sighted leaders in cities from Los Angeles to Sao Paulo, bringing together policymakers business leaders and non-governmental organizations to collaborate on best practices and strategies for improving global competitiveness."

Yadda yadda, connecting cities to a global market, yadda yadda. Sounds like a lot of fluff, no? David Dayen, a freelance writer who contributes to and The Fiscal Times has one explanation why.

"Simply put, it's a giant public relations project meant to encourage the privatization of public resources in cities like Detroit," Dayen wrote yesterday on after the $100 pledge was announced.

The project, Dayen explained, began when JPMorgan Chase gave Brookings $10 million to put together this program where "Brookings can go all over the country and advise cities how to best increase jobs."

He adds: "Low and behold, the things that they typically give as recommendations are things that have the potential to aid the bottom line of JPMorgan Chase."

Interestingly, the chairman of the Global Cities Initiative happens to be Richard Daley, the former mayor of Chicago. Daley, some may recall, was instrumental in the infamous sale of the city's parking meters. The 75-year lease provided Chicago with $1 billion in cash, but brought an endless stream of increases to meter rates and fees -- and may eventually net the purchaser more than $9.5 billion, Dayen notes, calling it "an absolute disaster."

Detroit's currently positioned to privatize a number of assets, having already spun off trash collection last month. There's a possibility the city's water and sewer department could be privatized, and Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has indicated in the city's proposed bankruptcy-exit plan that Detroit's parking assets could be sold or leased.

The Global Cities Initiative plans to hold a forum in Detroit next year to "draw attention to new opportunities for investment that, in turn, will create new and better jobs for city residents." O'Halloran says they have no further information at this time on the forum.

Dayen says there are reasons why JPMorgan Chase would be interested in doing business in Detroit. With roughly one million customers across metro Detroit, "having a revitalized Detorit as the center of commerce in the region is going to help [their] bottom line. I don't have a problem with that. That's doing well by doing good."

But, he adds, "The fact that a part of this investment involves bringing the Global Cities Initiative to Detroit should raise flags as to the true motive here."

You can read Dayen's full piece here.