The Adoption of Blockchain Technology and Classism in Pontiac Michigan [Report]

Reported by Metaverse Alley

Nowhere in America does a city and its residents need to take advantage of Blockchain technology more than the current city administrators, local businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs than those of Pontiac, Michigan. A city decimated from years of financial mismanagement, emergency financial managers, and state power struggles to control the city. It has privatized administrative operations such as vital records, revenue tax collection, information technology, and payroll, as well as federal program management.

According to a National Leagues of Cities report, “Blockchain will empower cities to innovate how they work with local businesses, and invest in and improve efficiencies across many areas, such as transportation, energy and voting. Beyond city operations, Blockchain promises to innovate the way we start businesses, structure investments and account for wealth creation and exchanges.”

The city historically was diverse but was still majority white by 1980. There was a thriving African American community, many of whom migrated from places like Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee during the great migration, up thru the 1940s, the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

The strengths of the African American community at that time were significant work ethic, christianity, masonic & eastern star fraternal affiliations, and strict family first values.

The Wessen & Bagley section of the city, bustling with black businesses described at the time as a city within the city went into decline around 1960. Racial tension finally became an issue in the early to mid-seventies. According to the anti-busing activist Irene McCabe in 1972, “Desegregation has been a negative factor regarding integration in our city. Immediately in the first year, we lost 11% of our white student body because of white flight. They left the city of Pontiac and fled to the suburbs.” The Klu Klux Klan bombed 10 school buses in the city. Canton, which at the time did not impose integration in its school system, received a primarily white population boom of 40% in the same decade and thrived from the newly added I-275 highway construction project, while Pontiac declined from another highway project called I-75.

In 1974 when Detroit elected its first black mayor in Coleman A. Young, Pontiac also elected the city’s first black mayor, 40 minutes away in Wallace E. Holland. In the 1970s, the city became the embodiment of the vision of automotive giants like Ford, Chrysler and GM in that it became the true example of the American dream in its formulation of a white and black middle class, and those companies became the ones who led America into the 3rd industrial revolution. However, the White Flight that occurred years earlier had a trickle effect as the city became more violent, like most urban centers during the middle stages of the heroin to crack era transition from 1987 to 1992. As you might expect, the consequences of white flight on the surviving community were long-lasting and frequently disastrous. Property prices fell because the only individuals who wanted to come in had less money than those who left. With the market in decline, communities quickly switched from middle- to lower-income households.

By the mid 90’s, it became majority black and remnants of affluent whites left to surrounding suburbs and places like central Michigan and they were not alone as most affluent black teachers, doctors, administrators, lawyers, and intellectuals also fled the city to quiet Detroit suburbs like Bloomfield hills, Rochester, Holly, Lake Orion and Troy, only coming back to the city to work or attend church.

The city was once home to summertime carnivals, talent shows, plays, fireworks at the phoenix center on the 4th of July, Woodward cruises and winter bobsledding at murphy park. The sports players, educators and coaches were infamous for their standards, having some of the best talents in the state, from multisport athlete former heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas, coach Bob Kaiser, Educators like Earlene Davis, Mrs. King, Mrs. Battle, Mrs. Edwards the last 3 and one other nicknamed murder row by their beloved students solely for their high academic standards, Mrs. Hatchett, Mrs. Terry, Mr. Petway, Mrs. Laura Williams, Coach Sy Green, Coach Jimmy King, Coach John Brown, Coach Irv Speaks, NBA legend Campy Russell, down to streetball legends like Jesse “Big Jess” Davis who was NBA bound until suffering gunshot wounds and Kalonji Butler the later of who’s myth stretched to the prison yard with rumors of the Detroit pistons scouts attempting to have him released. Long forgotten are those old days within the hometown of Kirk Gibson, Pop star Madonna and current social media influencer DDG.

The city had pride and a prolific work ethic as most Baby Boomers labored for the big 3 auto plants for 15-30 years, retiring around 1992 to 1997. This allowed homeownership, sixfigure savings and a new burgeoning middle class. Despite this Baby Boomer success, it would not be emulated or transferred to later generations as those Boomers failed to venture into entrepreneurship, the stock market or commercial real estate. Sadly, the children and eventual grandchildren were still dependent upon obtaining jobs from the same 3 auto companies who were now paying much less as the industry transitioned to automation and the costs of living increased.

Automation played a major part in the children and grandchildren of boomers not being able to enter the middle class like their predecessors. The lack of entrepreneurship and portfolio investment in the boomer generation was a death blow. Those boomers had the skills to build homes, run electrical, pour concrete, landscape, farm and do carpentry. Yet, they were unable to teach any of those skills to the next generation partly because working for the big 3, usually required 10-12 hour shifts and a complete lifestyle commitment. This left no time to apprentice and only time to provide, leaving the next generation unprepared to thrive in urban settings outside the auto industry. Higher education was pushed ideologically in even the poorest homes within the Pontiac family setting, but with no inheritance, in some cases no role models in the home, no skills and the new get-rich-quick cultural allure of the street life, many fell victim to becoming what’s termed as the permanent underclass. The crack era decimation and the effect it had on the later stages of Gen X, Y, Z and Alpha would require a separate article. The city remained stagnant and sold or outsourced most of its vital resources and land which seemed rushed, unorganized, orchestrated and planned.

The Auto Industry Collapse hit the city the hardest in 2008, and this catalyst, in turn, gave the state a reason in 2009 to place Pontiac under the control of an emergency financial manager due to its financial crisis. The state completely took over the city in a way that was unseen anywhere else in the country, and that financial control still exists. As of 2009, the department of Michigan state government still needs to provide a comprehensive and searchable online checkbook register that gives a complete and timely account for all expenditures.

Michigan then faced a $300 million deficit in August 2010, with the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2010. This meant that funds the federal government gives to states would never make it to places like Pontiac, Flint, and Benton Harbor, all cities with majority black populations. The city was averaging approximately 51 million annually but spending nearly all of it on expenses from a government that never seemed to adjust to the changing times and needs.

In August of 2022, Pontiac, with its newly elected Mayor Tim Greimal, conducted an audit on the previous administration and former Mayor Deidre Waterman, who was alleged to have misused $1.6 million of the city’s budget. Whether this allegation will later become fact or just allegations, this alone justifies the premise for incorporating Blockchain technology within a city that has been cloaked in a veil of secrecy for over 40 + years and continues even under the new administration.

What is Blockchain? Blockchain is simply a technology that enables the secure sharing of information and is a type of distributed ledger. Blockchain eliminates the need for middlemen, third parties and wasteful spending. Blockchain allows for the permanent, immutable, and transparent recording of data and transactions. This, in turn, makes it possible to exchange anything that has value, whether a physical item or something less tangible. Pontiac has long had issues collaborating with the private sector, and Blockchain is the solution to merge these sectors. Pontiac has the chance to be one of the cities at the forefront of using Blockchain in the following ways:

1. In elections, a Blockchain-based application can serve as an underlying infrastructure for tracking and tallying votes and prevents electoral fraud, including fake voters and forged votes. The city and voters can track record storage by tracking ballots on the Blockchain, preventing human mistakes.
     2. (Accounting and Auditing) Blockchain offers many advantages to Accountants like improved efficiency, reduced errors, easier reconciliation, reduced cost, reduced fraud, improved regulatory compliance and reduced auditing. City resources can be tracked in almost real-time, and misappropriation will be eliminated. Four of the biggest firms in America now are implementing Blockchain, such as KPMG, Earnest & Young, PWC and Deloitte.

These were just a few examples of Blockchain usage, which can be also applied to real estate, transportation and alternative energy sectors. Everything on the Blockchain is public, in turn this will also allow the local government to re-gain the trust of its residents, who justifiably have disdain for the city’s history of dysfunction.

The Waterman and Greimal administrations have purposefully or ignorantly hindered city growth by stalling economic catalysts like Blockchain technology, smart city infrastructure allocation and recreational cannabis. Also, they need to be more in touch with implementing these new strategies in the 4th industrial revolution, which its citizens, the majority of whom are the poorest in the county, can use to help themselves and the city stimulate economic growth. What city, charter, or municipality leader would not fight tooth and nail with the state that has Pontiac in a headlock to the point of having to get state approval on any expenditure over $400,000, which is very problematic and has not even been addressed by the current administration as if it is part of a larger strategy? This means any vision city leaders may have for their city, with inclusion from its poorest residents, like incorporating Blockchain technology and smart city development such as AI-assisted parking in downtown as a new revenue stream, where you can reserve parking at your desired time for events. These advances would be hindered by partisan state ideologies and agendas that benefit non-residents and big businesses with large pockets. Where are the mavericks within the city council? Where are the maverick politicians and lobbyists within the city? Where are the think tanks? Most citizens of Pontiac are at a pivotal stage in the world's history, which is a transition from old-world manufacturing, over-dependence on political leaders, centralization, lack of financial literacy, outdated school systems, and group think now trending towards remote jobs, A.I., WEB3, Cryptocurrency, Defi, Automation and NFT's. A new world in which algorithms, data collection, carbon credits, and social credit scores will dictate human interactions and steer consumer relations.

To say it plainly, the citizens of Pontiac have become a permanent underclass along with their children generation Alpha, and there will be no escape unless there is adoption and acquisition of new skills. It is also important to recognize that citizens of Pontiac may have unique strengths and resources that can be leveraged to overcome these challenges. It is important to approach social and economic inequality issues with an understanding of the complex factors at play and a commitment to finding fair, inclusive, and sustainable solutions. Currently, the barrier to entry into the Blockchain sector is relatively easy, but that may change as adoption goes mainstream. Digital societies are in their infancy, and here are some ways residents can capitalize on this new emerging market:

1. Due to the lack of resources that have plagued several generations of low-income individuals, certain fears have developed within the residents of Pontiac, who have yet to show a tendency to embrace cryptocurrency even thou the societies are trending towards digitalization. Not realizing that Blockchain made it possible to create these digital currencies, the first of which was Bitcoin in 2009. Smart contracts are coded instructions that don't require a 2 to 4-year degree and can be learned with a simple Bootcamp coding class which could take 1 day in person or online for low as $150 or free on some platforms. So basic coding skills and smart contract development should be prioritized over traditional trades like nursing, CNA, patient care tech, entertainment careers, cosmetology, CDL truck driving, and culinary arts.
     2. Most major brands have made announcements that they will use NFTs. NFTs or nonfungible tokens are digital certificates of ownership representing a digital or physical asset. Revenue from NFTs could exceed $130 billion by 2030, and NFTs could advance the digital economy. Photographers and Videographers can now sell their one of kind images direct to consumers without the cost of marketing in traditional ways. The resale value of items owned publicly and validating their provenance empowers consumers by boosting resale values. Real estate NFTs are growing in adoption, and one can invest in fractal shares of properties. Also, virtual properties have exploded in value, and you literally can own the house you live in, in the Metaverse, or own land in worlds like Decentral and sandbox and others.
     3. Certified Blockchain Expert training: Many schools worldwide are now offering in person and online courses in all aspects of Blockchain, Metaverse, and web 3.0. These certificates will lead to opportunities to create your own Blockchain, Blockchain applications, and developing smart contracts, including providing consulting services to companies looking to incorporate Blockchain technology into their business. Lecturing, Mentoring including YouTube channels focused on Blockchain-related topics have skyrocketed with no end in sight. Decentralized applications or (dApps) is another area in its infancy with opportunities not seen since the early days of Microsoft and other web 2.0 applications. This provides alternatives to traditional avenues usually explored by those escaping poverty. New entrepreneurs must be strategic and creative with their startups ideas so that they don't start and end with BBQ stands on every city block corner. This step alone should keep the person with the expertise, capitalizing from multiple new streams of income for years to come. 

Unbeknownst to most residents in Pontiac, cryptocurrency adoption is happening as this article is being created, and just because you don't see it does not mean it's not here. However, a very small minority of first-time entrepreneurs in the city are doing what their parents did not have time to do which is creating start-ups and exploring going into business for themselves. Still, sadly, most are having to do so on the outskirts of the city or neighboring cities due to classism. Experienced investors seeking to carve out generational wealth for their class and or ethnic group have recognized this trend and have pounced in and gobbled up all the prime commercial downtown locations along with Huron, Perry, Chavez, Glenwood, and telegraph road, to the extent that if you can find a potential location for your new start-up, the property values are inflated beyond those even in prestigious cities like Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham. Pontiac had some of the earliest crypto adoptions in the country, with the Bronx deli accepting bitcoin in 2015 and Exxon mobile at M-59 & Woodward Ave in 2014 providing bitcoin ATMs. This continued trend will only bolster further mainstream adoption; however, for the permanent underclass, this will cause a further inescapable divide of the classes.

Pontiac was chosen to be the seat of Oakland County, and its re-emergence may not be appreciated by those with a lack of information on its importance. Most of the commercial property not owned by wealthy Chaldean and Middle Eastern investors, is owned by groups identifying as non-white from India, most of whom were educated in the United States and these investors have no affiliation, history, attachment to the residents or community in these areas. These investors recognized that Pontiac was a city of opportunity, especially in the recreational cannabis sector. They have strategically purchased in prime locations to be the first in line to qualify as non-white minorities with the resources and real estate portfolio monopolized to circumvent Michigan Cannabis regulations toward recreational licensure or to dictate who gets licensure through whom they lease/rent applicable properties to. Sadly, this will most likely not be native Pontiac residents, the majority of whom are African American, thus bypassing state equity measures which were meant to move longtime natives in low-income areas into positions within the Cannabis industry to create economic opportunities. It must be understood that this is not the result of racism but the effects of classism, and however one may feel personally, economic competition can never be a bad thing and should push the local permanent underclass population to focus more on creating economic think tanks and collaborate with entrepreneurs in cities such as Atlanta and Houston. These two cities are predominantly African American and have successfully found ways to get things done despite commercial, residential, and economic bias.

The commercial rents in Pontiac are also problematic, usually averaging $1200 monthly, which is not the worst part, the extensive vetting processes and scrutiny from landlords who are public about their biased views toward low-income residents, many of whom are transitioning from welfare into business for themselves for the first time in their family’s history. One of the largest commercial property owners in the city, Alan Bishop, formerly of Mr. Alan's shoes, which was a business built solely off African American sneaker consumers, had a very good marketing campaign advertised as two pairs of shoes for $50, to get you thru the door only to purchase higher priced sneakers in the end. This ingenious marketing campaign allowed Bishop to retire and reinvest in the city that made him. Bishop's daughter now runs the day-to-day operations of their real estate empire and continues the vision of exclusion. One of the Bishops properties, the former Oakland Press site, with offices currently for rent at high rates, still bears the same wallpaper, ceilings and interior features it had in the 70’s & 80’s with no renovation slated yet. Bishop recently stated, "that he only looks for professionals with business experience who have the capabilities and resources to operate a successful business that will not only help his property but the business district overall." Other property owners like Tim Shepard and Bob Waun are handpicking tenants they believe will create a safe and financially secure atmosphere. As mentioned previously, Pontiac natives are being priced out of the residential/commercial property sale/rental/lease sector. They are not being chosen or considered simply because they don't measure up to the standards in the minds of wealthy power brokers who have monopolized the city's commercial and residential properties. Shephard, owner of Riker properties, and Waun of C3 ventures envision a Haight-Ashbury vibe downtown, with yoga studios, independent restaurants, and specialty stores. The question remains whether Bishop, Waun, or Shephard will eventually give lease / rental opportunities to first-time African American entrepreneurs who may not have the backgrounds, resources, or vision like the one they idealize for Pontiac, like yoga studios and specialty stores. Collaboration with certain city officials with these private sector business owners behind closed doors appears to be taking place because when you look at the agendas in all magazines related to the future of Pontiac, the one element always present is the power brokers and certain city officials but the one element always missing is their African American constituents, residents, consumers and small business owners who make up a 51% majority, this exclusion is unrivaled anywhere else in the country. One can interpret from the evidence, that the mindset of these wealthy power brokers and their vision for Pontiac is simply to prevent it from becoming a safer and more secure African American boom town like Atlanta and more like Canton. We shall see what becomes of this class warfare.

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