What is the Vision for Detroit’s Neighborhoods?

I recently wrote a blog focused on the importance of having viable neighborhoods across Detroit. In other words, without them, Detroit will not be a viable city as it once was.

And you responded.

I received comments, emails and messages from you sharing your thoughts. I’ve also been engaged in many conversations on this topic. In short, the overwhelming favorable response showed the importance of neighborhood development across the entire city and its importance to Detroit’s future.

Recently, I was watching a program that’s filmed in Detroit. While watching the broadcast, it struck me the dichotomy that cuts across the very soul of this great city. There were spectacular shots of the “hotspots”, including Detroit’s fabulous and famous skyline and, seconds later, there were views of distressed neighborhoods. I’m not professing all neighborhoods are distressed. Not at all. However, it did reinforce the challenges confronting the city’s neighborhoods.

In fact, other great American cities, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, et. al. have distressed areas as well, but they don’t seem to be chronicled like Detroit’s. There appears to be a fascination with Detroit when compared to other major cities because of its historical trials and tribulations and mostly recently, coming out of bankruptcy.

However, it did reinforce the notion something needs to be done and it needs to start with a plan–a strategic approach that’s focused on redevelopment, economic stimulation and providing jobs. Yes, I’ve listened and watched various local programs recently focused on neighborhood “development”–which is a great start. However, what exactly will this city do to address crumbling areas which were built and populated when the automotive industry was booming and have since drained themselves through fifty-plus years of economic and residential disinvestment?

I recently saw a published report where Detroit’s population declined approximately 68,000 from 2010-2014. While I’m confident the rate has slowed the last couple of years because of people moving downtown, Midtown, et. al., there are many factors still driving population losses. Besides public safety, and education I would contend, the need for job creation where people live is essential. Without jobs, residents will continue to look to live elsewhere.

Quite frankly and as I watched the program, I was struck by a different kind of “two Detroits” emerging. No, I’m not referencing recent discussions which have focused on the perceived lack of diversity downtown in light of new restaurants, retail and economic development. I credit those who have initiated a good dialogue this topic–as evidenced by articles, radio broadcasts (including mine) and a recent panel discussion on “two Detroits” as part of the recent Detroit Policy Conference hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber.

However, the “two Detroits” I’m seeing emerge are focused on the lack of economic development, stabilization and investment in certain neighborhoods versus other thriving areas of Detroit. If you haven’t lately (I have), drive up and down certain major thoroughfares and note the abandonment, empty lots and litter-strewn streets with unkempt lawns. Let’s be frank, some of those areas appear to be beyond repair–with houses barely standing–and, in some cases, maybe less than a dozen still standing on a block.

With this in mind, my question is: what is the vision for neighborhoods and what will they look like in five (5) years and beyond?

With a plan, the city can determine what to do with those areas most likely not to be re-populated. However, a strategic approach can be focused on “re-urbanization”. In other words, finding unique and creative ways to re-purpose those almost uninhabitable areas of the city. Yes, there’s talk of “urban farming” and the land banks but, those are tactics. Simply put, what’s the overall plan that ties it all together?

Yes and with significant credit, there’s been investment in the critical areas of streetlights, infrastructural enhancements and public safety–but my concern is more so focused on creating job opportunities where people live and work.

Money aside, without a neighborhood vision and a strategic and implementation plan with key milestone dates, the “two Detroits” will continue to emerge.

Until this happens, Detroit will continue to travel divergent paths and never truly reach the potential it can be. I, being a Detroit native who loves this city, believes it can and will continue its transformation successfully, but it has to be done in a thoughtful way with collaboration as part of a strategic plan. I realize it’s taken fifty years to to bring Detroit to this point, however, I’m confident and with a cohesive plan, the next fifty years will lead Detroit back to rightful place as a city of leaders, innovation and a post-industrial city which becomes the model for others domestically and internationally.

We can do this. Let’s start now.