Detroit Future City Read: Part 2

Detroit Future City Part 2

This is part of an ongoing series examining the Detroit Strategic Framework Plan. View the other entries in this series here.

On this entry we’re going to dive into the 12 imperative actions set out by the framework plan. If improving Detroit is the “why” of the document, these actions represent a very abstract version of the “how.” It’s important to note that each of these actions do not represent specific outlines or implementations, but instead are the direction and mission of any work done in the framework.

1. We must re-energize Detroit’s economy to increase job opportunities for Detroiters within the city and strengthen the tax base.

Economy, jobs, and taxes, right off the bat! This is obviously the most critical point out of any of these, and it forms quite a difficult chicken-and-egg situation. It’s hard to bring in new investment into a city with such high unemployment because it means citizens have lower spending power. Bringing any form of jobs or employment comes with substantial up-front risk because local economic benefits from new wages are going to take awhile to show improvement. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just takes people with patience.

2.We must support our current residents and attract new residents.

This goes back to the party analogy from last time. And at first glance, this is quite the contradictory remark. More importantly, it represents one of the biggest challenges that planners will face: how do we build new tax revenue without alienating existing residents? In my opinion, it means spreading out initiatives across the city. And while it might not seem like it sometimes, there’s a lot more to Detroit than the 3 miles around downtown. The M1 rail line might be an exciting and potentially beneficial project, but let’s not forget about the Gratiot bus line. We might have a bright new arena complex going in soon, but we need to make sure that we can keep street lights on out Grandmont-Rosedale.

3.We must use innovative approaches to transform our vacant land in ways that increase the value and productivity and promote long-term sustainability.

With 40 Square Miles of vacant land, there’s a lot that can be done in the city. And while urban agriculture is always the first thing on our minds when we see so much underutilized space, there’s also plenty of other uses. Here’s a few off of the top of my head: Phytoremediation– a process that uses plants to suck heavy metals and pollutants out of the soil. Swamps and Marshland– a close cousin to phytoremdiators, marshlands act as nature’s kidneys; they clean out our water and support healthy local ecosystems. Open parklands and habitat spaces–If you want to go green, you need to bring back local plant and animal species to maintain a sustainable ecology.

4.We must use our open space to improve the health of all Detroit’s residents.

Green space can mean better air, better water, and a better quality of life. Better park spaces can also mean more people are outside being active. Listen to your mother for once–Go outside!

5.We must promote a range of sustainable residential densities.

One can write a book on the efficiencies of high-vs-low density housing. However a lot of it comes down to caring for personal and family history. This city has a long and tumultuous relationship with eminent domain and reshuffling of neighborhoods (See Blackbottom). It should be everyone’s right to live where they want and receive adequate services regardless of if they live downtown or in Delray. This leads nicely into…

6.We must focus on sizing the networks for a smaller population, making them more efficient, more affordable, and better performing.

It’s nice for me to say that everyone should be able to live where they want, sometimes it does come down to dollars and cents decisions regarding city services. However, what this means is that some creative thinkers need to come up with some new ideas for proving efficient and const-effective solutions so that everyone can be treated equally. Anyone have any good ideas?

7.We must realign city systems in ways that promote areas of economic potential, encourage thriving communities, and improve environmental and human health conditions.

Here is a great recognition that public systems and services can do a lot to revitalizing a local economy. Imagine what could happen out on Fashion avenue if the city wanted to invest in new roads, sidewalks and storefronts. It’s an area that has already has a lot of vitality and vibrance, but only needs visibility and care.

8.We must be strategic and coordinated in our use of land.

You might have heard that the Detroit Land Bank is about to take on 7,900 properties left over from the 2012 tax auction. But that’s just some of the properties. The Michigan land bank also has control over nearly 7,000 properties in the city as a result of foreclosures and vacancies. And there are tons of private owners and large real-estate investors holding on to huge chunks of land in the city. The more coordination in activities, the more effective they can be by matching key developments together. For more information about Detroit land ownership, I turn that over to Loveland Technologies’ “Why Don’t We Own This.”

9.We must promote stewardship for all areas of the city by implementing short- and long-term strategies.

This is so key: The actions we take are not going to cause changes overnight, they take time. However, they also require movement now for long-term payoff. It’s like they say: invest early, retire early.

10.We must provide residents with meaningful ways to make change in their communities and the city at large.

This is probably my favorite one. Real change is going to come from the ground up, and unless we provide ways that everyone can feel like they’ve made an impact, the change won’t be long lasting. Investment in a changing city comes from seeing the impact of one’s work, and unless everyone has an opportunity to chip in, or at least be heard, it’s going to be a very hollow and unsuccessful campaign.

11.We must pursue a collaborative regional agenda that recognizes Detroit’s strengths and our region’s shared destiny.

Detroit is not just the area south of 8-mile. This whole region shares in the success of this plan and of this city. Unless we tear down the walls of suburb vs city, there’s going to be little (if any) resource sharing and shared commitments. There’s tons of tension built up from generations of conflict, so it’s not something that’s going to change overnight. Hopefully, we’ll see something happen, soon.

12.We must dedicate ourselves to implementing this framework for our future.

Finally, the biggest action: Actually doing it. And with that,  I’ll leave you with David Kelly of IDEO and an important message: Stop Talking and Start Making.

David Kelley from General Assembly on Vimeo.


Next time: Detroit Today

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