I feel conflicted.
Why? Because I’m beginning to see two Detroits emerge–one with the emerging vibrancy of a growing downtown, Midtown, Corktown areas and, conversely, a city where certain neighborhoods continue to struggle while others strive.
Thus, my conflict.
As a native Detroiter, I have fond memories of a city that was humming with people, jobs, traffic, and an abundance of shopping and neighborhood parks and businesses.
I have interviewed several people for my Small Talk radio show and while while the primary focus is of the broadcast is focused on small business development and entrepreneurship, the primary emphasis for growth appears to be in certain parts of the city.
Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the efforts of everyone who’s investing in Detroit and have brought jobs and economic develop to critical areas of the city and an emerging vibrancy unseen in years and possibly, decades.
For example, in a recent discussion with Lawrence Williamson, Director, Real Estate Planning, Midtown Detroit, Inc., shared that Midtown has 53,000 employees and a 98% occupancy rate and now with the M-1 project underway, Williamson is fielding more requests for businesses seeking to expand there and, as a result, demand and growth are expected to continue.
This is a phenomenal situation based on having a vision and strategy focused on targeting growth opportunities. This approach has led to increased investment and business opportunities which ultimately, translate into revenue, residential and business growth for both Midtown and downtown.
It’s also great to see the emergence of pockets of the city–thus, the source of my conflict.
To wit, I attended an event downtown recently and saw a diverse group of peoples enjoying a beautiful night in the city. This was music to my ears. In fact, everyone I spoke to was speaking in glowing terms about downtown’s progress.
Now, how can we take the downtown and Midtown experiences and permeate the excitement and vibrancy across the entire city, including its neighborhoods?
That’s a tough question to tackle and, by no means, am I an expert–just a person who was born and raised here and someone who loves the Motor City and wants to see it thrive in the future.
As I drove a major thoroughfare through the city, I was distraught to see the mass abandonment, trash strewn (in parts, not all) and swaths of street lights not working–even along a major stretch of the one of the most well known freeways.
While Detroit has a certain “buzz” and cache right now, it got me thinking about the following question. One I posed to Karen Dumas, the former Communications Director during Mayor Dave Bing’s administration and now a media consultant, on my radio show recently:
Post bankruptcy, where do we go from here?
In our wide-ranging interview, Dumas stated, ” My fear is Detroit is always on the come up… and the struggle has become our identity”. While the city has made significant progress, Dumas clearly points out the future is yet to be seen because Detroit has been hit hard over the years and “…it’s going to require a lot to become the city it can become.”
When asked about post bankruptcy, Dumas recognizes there have been positive changes and, she believes, things will continue to improve, She also believes addressing the existing infrastructure is critical and creative thinking is essential on a go-forward basis. She says, “More interested in (addressing) operational restructure” and whether Detroit will continue to make progress. In fact, she posed a thoughtful question, “Are we going to continue to do what we’ve done in the past or will there be creative ways to address issues today and into the future”.
With respect to her question, here are my thoughts where I believe Detroit needs to continue to focus as it emerges post bankruptcy:
- Infrastructure emphasis: Continue to focus on providing high-quality, basic services to its in a cost efficient manner to its citizens;
- Small Business Development: Focus on job creation in the neighborhoods via small business development and entrepreneurship while continuing to enhance investment opportunities downtown and Midtown, and other neighborhoods;
- Neighborhood Strategy: develop a realistic neighborhood strategy focused not only on retail development, but attracting companies willing to open satellite offices and/or facilities determined to hire local residents;
- Vacant Land as Source of Revenue: With nearly 40 square miles of vacant land (approximately the size of San Fransisco), in my opinion, consider selling or leasing the land to willing investors who have a viable plan along with tracking overall results. This will raise viable revenue for the city’s coffers.
- City Re-alignment: Develop a cross regional “think tank” or task force with primary emphasis focused on redefining city limits in alignment with present and future population trends and potentially “de-annexing” the swaths of empty land–or, re-position the land use as city and/or state parks with a revenue component which benefits the city and investor(s). Think about it, the current landscape housed nearly 2 million people in the 50’s, today the population has spiraled to approximately 700k and in some reports, is projected to decline another 50,000- 75,000 people before re-population begins in a few years.
Necessary? In my opinion, yes.
However, by doing so will create a stronger, leaner, robust and vibrant city and, in the process, will reduce my conflict.
What are your thoughts on Detroit: Post bankruptcy?