A Tale of Two Cities
Detroit. It is a seven count y region that some five million people call home. It’s a region left behind by the industry that defined it. Detroit is where a once bustling economy was among the first to go bust. In 2011 we’re at a crossroads. The decisions made today will shape Detroit in the decade to come.
This is the tale of two cities – one flourishing, one failing. One of them could be Detroit 2020.
It’s make or break time in southeast Michigan. Things won’t get better in the “D’ until we can get from point ‘A’ to point ’B’.
Robin Boyle, Director of the Urban Planning Department at Wayne State University says, “We are a disconnected region. Perhaps one of my top priorities for Detroit 2020 would be better connect the region. Connect it physically, connect it socially and connect it in a cultural way.”
Improved physical connection may begin with the proposed M-1 rail– a light rail system that will travel down Woodward – first from the riverfront to Grand Boulevard. Then out to Eight Mile.
Boyle contends, in itself, that’s not a transportation system. “But it’s an important component of a broader system that many people see as important for Detroit 2020.”
If we build it, they will come – to work, to play, to visit. If this doesn’t happen – people won’t be able to get to jobs. Parking issues will keep suburbanites from downtown. And out of town visitors will stay out of town.
Sylvia Scott is a Detroit resident, “If we get transportation I think Detroit will be compared to Chicago.
We can go anywhere we want to if we have transportation we have jobs so they can get to the jobs.
A research project by the Knight Foundation shows that people in this region think their education is pretty good. But that view is largely due to the quality of our universities and suburban schools.
Student Rachel Simari says “People take their education and run with it, especially when they come here for University. So maybe to improve the education k-12 in the city and keep those students here so they can become more productive members of society and improve the economy and the city.”
Better education will lead to more stable neighborhoods, a bigger tax base and a better trained workforce.
Right now African American males in the city of Detroit have among the lowest graduation rates in the United States. If this continues into 2020, the city’s rebirth will be stalled.
For the city and its surrounding communities land use will determine whether Detroit 2020 is bright or blight.
WSU’s Robin Boyle told us, “There will be areas of Detroit, large areas that we don’t see development on over the next decade. But this is an opportunity. This is an opportunity to move individuals to encourage new community to develop in the city of Detroit where we can provide a better quality of life”We need more areas like midtown Detroit, which has its problems, but is focusing on its promise.
Susan Mosel, President of the University Cultural Center Association, told us “We’re very bullish on the future. I see a lot of our vacant lots having infill development, a lot of our buildings that are vacant, our wonderful historic buildings being restored and repurposed. A see lots of people riding bikes and taking our light rail and taking our greenway system and just enjoying our neighborhood.”
If we use our land more efficiently, we’ll be able to consolidate city services, feed our communities and have the space for new development. If we don’t make the hard choices now the blight will continue.
Visit the Detroit Works Project for more information in city planning.
If Detroit in 2020 is to be fiscally sound, there has to be an economic shift. There have to be more people like commerce township resident Rebecca Gill, who left a traditional job, to start her own business – Web Savvy Marketing.
She says, “We’re taking the skill sets that we had before and we’re utilizing those to make a better region and a stronger region. No matter how you look at it, that has to continue.”
Avalon Bakery opened in the Cass Corridor of Detroit 13 years ago. Co-owner Ann Perrault told us, “In 1997 my partner Jackie Victor and I out to try to make a place for the community to come and talk and meet, and as you’ll see here that’s what people do.”
The bakery now employs 45 people. And it feeds the bodies of its customers and the soul of the neighborhood.
Perrault explained, “There are four hospitals here. There’s a university her. This was totally a huge under-served population in Detroit. So we knew it was going to be a growing economy here. We just had that feeling that this was the place that we wanted to be.”
Detroit 2020 will be prosperous, if more people embrace the entrepreneurial spirit. If we spread jobs over many small and emerging businesses we will all be less vulnerable to the downturn of a single part of the economy.
If we look for a one industry to be our savior, we could be shuttering more businesses by the year 2020. And if Detroit as a region is to flourish, the city and its suburbs have to work together.
Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence agrees, “I think it’s extremely important for economic development, but I think it’s important for people to start thinking differently.”
That means removing barriers like race, class and culture.
“Now all of us are struggling,” according to Mayor Lawrence, “And we’re looking at things differently. How can we work together? How can your success benefit me? And how can my success benefit you? And in the end we all are going to move forward.”
As a region, we can work together to tackle, and conquer many of our common problems. And a stronger core city will lead to more prosperous and successful suburbs. If we use geographic boundaries to separate us, we will remain divided snd the entire region will be weaker. This is the time when we can all make a difference.