I was born and raised in the city when Detroit was a top-five city in terms of population.
Talk about a precipitous fall.
With that said, I keep wondering why other, older industrial cities (Chicago, Philadelphia, et. al.) haven’t fallen as far and as fast Detroit and what will it take to stop the continued depopulation of the city?
Clearly, this is a start.
It’s great news that there is new construction dotted across the landscape–most notably, Midtown and Downtown. But, the reality is Detroit is 139 square miles and until revitalization efforts infiltrate across the entire city, it will never fully recognize a total renaissance. Look beyond the glitzy buildings going up or being rehabbed downtown and other parts of the city, for example, and spend time in the neighborhoods.
The fact is, as you drive along certain thoroughfares and through various neighborhoods, you will note the abandonment and neglect.
But this thought kept gnawing at me. I grew up in the city when it was 1.5 million and was fortunate to experience life in the Motor City when commercial retail was abundant and DPS had over 200k students. What will it take attract people, including families, et. al.?
First, let’s accept the fact that Detroit, unless the unlikely event of annexation of suburbs takes place or there’s a major influx of residents, will probably no longer be a part of the million city club.
As the city continues to evolve and define its future, it’s important to develop realistic expectations goals and a plan based on being a smaller, more-efficient city providing a quality of life worth living and pursuing. I’m not an urban planner, but a business person who’s a visionary and strategic thinker.
- Long-term Vision and Planning: The Mayor discussed his vision for Detroit. It needs to continued to be clearly defined and effectively communicated across the city, region and state. It also must be realistic. I’m not suggesting it’s not, but it’s essential the plan is fluid, transparent, realistic and executable.
- Continued Education Improvement: There’s a major push towards advanced technology and STEM, for example. Many people in the city are not educated in these areas because we’ve been a major manufacturing hub for so long, the belief was you could graduate into a job on the assembly line which is no longer the case. In other words, there’s a significant gap between today’s job expectations versus what people have been trained to do. The overall curriculum needs to be reassessed to ensure young people are the central focus and are being educated where future opportunities will exist. Same with those believing they’ve been left behind.
- Neighborhood Strategy: Yes, there are many announcements regarding revitalization, blight-removal efforts and job creation, Flex ‘N Gate, for example. However, what is the overall strategy supporting job creation and reallocation of people, if necessary? Without jobs in the neighborhoods, it will be a challenge to extend revitalization efforts. Therefore, a plan focused on neighborhood job creation needs to be developed and implemented which connects job creation across the entire city in sync with a transportation system which links residents with jobs.
- Public safety: Turn on any local news station and the first ten minutes are “doom and gloom”; specifically, crime and other similar types of stories. Sometimes, it reminds me we are the “wild, Wild West”, Detroit-style. Chief James Craig and the DPD team are doing an excellent job under the circumstances–however, I’m sure one might say DPD is resource constrained.
- Regional Cooperation: Clearly, with 1700 business leaders in the audience at MPC last week, many were opened to the Mayor’s ideas and willing to become more engage, I believe. There continues to be a heightened sense of interest in Detroit’s revitalization efforts, but the interest needs to continue to translate into action.
Metro Detroit is the population center for the state with nearly 50% of the state’s population residing in SE Michigan while Detroit is the largest and most recognizable city.
I believe in our city and its future, however, the city needs to continue to aggressively confront its challenges, redefine and effectively articulate expectations outward while continuing to push for jobs. Additionally, by adopting a consumer-centric and inclusive approach, Detroit’s future will continue to evolve positively.