Detroit is experiencing a renaissance.
Or, is it really?
Yes, it continues to emerge, with a ways to go.
Clearly, there are significant signs of a rebound–with significant investments taking place downtown, Midtown, East Village, Corktown and other pockets of the city.
However, several neighborhoods are struggling and not keeping pace. With nearly (reportedly) 40 acres of vacant land across the city, blighted housing and commercial structures, high unemployment and educational challenges, the question is rather simple, but complex to answer: What will it take for the entire city to rebuild and blossom?
A lot of work.
To wit, look at the two photos as part of this blog. It can be in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York; however, it is the house where I spent my formative years in Detroit. One is the house I lived in in the 60’s and the second is the surrounding neighborhood. Notice the desolation and neglect which is evident in pockets across other parts of the city.
This neighborhood, which is on Detroit’s west side, has suffered from disinvestment and a lack of jobs over the last 50 years–not unlike the city itself. Additionally, the housing stock in that particular area is old and dates back to the 40’s and 50’s when people were moving to the Motor City in droves. However, in its current condition, the challenge is to figure what to do with it.
What is it going to take to address these issues, including keeping Detroit’s young people here and what should be key priorities for the city’s neighborhoods?
Jill Ferrari, CEO, Detroit-based, Michigan Community Resources, says, “United Way of Southeast Michigan is striving for 80% graduation rate of high school seniors. Then what? Where are they going? How many of those seniors are finding jobs in Detroit? How many are going to four year colleges and returning to raise families in Detroit?”
Ferrari continues, “The majority of students we speak with are leaving Detroit because of safety and lack of opportunity.”
With several thousand abandoned homes, like the one I grew up in, across the city, a systematic, interconnected strategic approach needs to be developed and implemented. Certainly, lowering taxes, offering homes through an auction and other neighborhood-specific efforts are a start.
But, is it enough? No.
First, stabilizing vibrant neighborhoods is critical. This will be done with job creation and, where appropriate, reallocating resources and residents from low-density areas to to parts of the city where services can be maintained and delivered in a cost-efficient manner.
Secondly, making residents, and in particular, children feel safe should be a continued top priority. When I was beingraised in the city in the 60’s and 70’s, we were actively engaged with recreation centers, summer internships, sports activities and generally, felt safe going to and from school.
Today, there’s certainly a challenge with resources. Many of the programs have disappeared due to changing demographics, lack of funding and a declining population–which ultimately, translates into reduced revenues for the city.
Ferrari believes there needs to be a concerted effort between the City administration, non-profits, and philanthropy to focus on safety–in going to and from school, at home and in the classroom. Ensuring there are safe routes to school, safety in the home, and safety at school.
There are opportunities for youth to participate in block clubs and neighborhood organizations to feel a sense of community and involvement. I would venture to guess not many young people see the value in understanding community block clubs, neighborhood associations. Therefore, it’s essential parents and neighbors encourage our young people to be involved.
When it comes to purchasing power in the neighborhoods, there’s a perception Detroit residents lack resources to spend. However, according to the 2011 Social Compact report, there is still potential purchasing power in the neighborhoods–whether for residential, retail or commercial uses.
What needs to be done to leverage this buying power?
- Strengthen the ecosystem of support providers for small business and entrepreneurs in the neighborhoods
Ferrari states, “Building small business and entrepreneurship in the neighborhoods requires a connected ecosystem of community based organizations, non-profit service providers, city departments, philanthropy and corporate partners that are focused on meeting the needs of underserved populations such as women, African-Americans and immigrant populations.”
- Focus on access and improve trust, access to information, resources and opportunity
There’s still a perception there’s a lack of access for those living and working in neighborhoods.
Whether real or not, this perception has led to a lack of trust between neighborhoods and the rest of the city. Certainly, programs like the Motor City match and other entrepreneurial-based neighborhood initiatives are helping to reshape the perceptions and beginning to reestablish the “trust” factor. There are other organizations such as, the New Economy Initiative (NEI) and Invest Detroit who are currently developing referral systems focused on small businesses and entrepreneurs of underserved populations.
- Support the role of place- based organizations in promoting small business, entrepreneurship and larger economic development efforts in the neighborhoods.
Ferrari believes the city should take a systems approach that includes an active role by place-based organizations in commercial corridors targeted for development. For example, utilize the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Redevelopment Ready Communities framework to establish specific roles and responsibilities for place-based organizations that can support and target the efforts of the City’s Planning and Development Department and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation as well as other economic development agencies.
When it comes to job availability and potential employee readiness, there’s a significant gap.
According to a recent JP Morgan Chase report as reported in a recent Detroit News article, “More than 71 percent of Detroiters with a bachelor’s degree are employed, but only 13 percent of Detroiters have attained that level of education. More than half of Detroiters without high school diplomas — 55 percent — aren’t attached to the labor force.”
Therefore, jobs for existing Detroiters should be a priority focus.
This includes having realistic expectations for workforce development. Should we be focusing on increasing the number of workforce members with bachelor’s degrees, or increasing the number of certificate and associate degree programs?
And if the answer is “both” – how are resources distributed to accomplish that? How do we encourage the development of social enterprises to employ existing Detroiters?
And when it comes to revitalizing Detroit’s neighborhoods, it’s critically important appropriate tools and resources are developed focused on supporting self-sufficiency.
Ferrari suggests that business associations, tax increment financing and special assessments such as Business Improvement Districts and Zones should be built and managed by the place based-organizations so that revenue can be generated to support their efforts. This earned income model should be developed in partnership with the city and philanthropy to ensure that the organizations can develop sustainable revenue models over time.
And when it comes to job creation, each employer should pursue opportunities to support residency within the City of Detroit, such as a match for 203k type loans to purchase and rehabilitate homes in the City. Programs like “Live Midtown” and “Detroit Live Downtown” need to be replicated in neighborhoods. This is currently happening in NW Detroit where Lauren Hood, Acting Director, Live6, estimates 75% of the commercial property on Livernois and Six Mile is currently vacant.
In fact, Hood states there’s an increased interest by individuals and businesses wanting to invest in the area. She believes this investment will lead to further stabilization in an area which is anchored by the University of Detroit-Mercy (UDM).
Finally, educational programs such as “Metro College” should be supported through state and local incentives. Metro College is a Kentucky partnership between UPS, The University of Louisville and Jefferson Community and Technical College. Participating students get their full-time undergraduate tuition paid to The University of Louisville or Jefferson Community & Technical College as well as book reimbursement money, bonuses and other benefits.
While there is work certainly underway to fully revitalize Detroit and the work seems daunting, at times, addressing these key challenges will provide the city with a solid foundation for its ever-changing and hopefully, its limitless future and will help like the neighborhood where I spent my early years.