Thoughts in Process

One of the things that keeps me from writing more frequently on this blog is that I’m usually trying to publish fully-developed ideas.  I think an awful lot about planning, but my thoughts aren’t always ready for public consumption.  But I began to realize that hey, what’s a blog for if not for publishing half-baked thoughts?  So beginning today I’ll start putting things out there that capture what I’m thinking in planning.
Take earlier this week, for example.  I read much and often about events and happenings in many of the major Midwest cities, probably focusing on Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and St. Louis (I know, I need to broaden my horizons).  While reading about Detroit recently, I came across an article about the eleventh annual Tour de Troit, a bike tour of city neighborhoods that this year attracted more than 5,000 riders.  The tour started in Roosevelt Park in the city’s Corktown neighborhood, and the 30-mile route went through all corners of the city.  The tour was actually preceded earlier in the day by a metric century (62 mile) ride for more experienced riders.  This year, for the first time, the City accommodated the riders by actually blocking off streets so bikes would have free rein.
As I read this, three thoughts emerged: 1) Detroit has viable core that can change the future prospects of the city; 2) the core is not unlike what you’d find in many other cities nationwide, and 3) what is different about Detroit’s core is that it is growing at a glacial pace.
Let’s take the first two thoughts together.  I know the meta-narrative about Detroit is one of decline and collapse, and as the deal to save Belle Isle Park falls apart, one realizes there is a lot of truth to that narrative.  However, there is a core within Detroit that is forming the building blocks of the next city.  I haven’t been in the D since last year, so maybe others can confirm this for me.  But I’d say that core starts in downtown Detroit, includes Corktown and a few other areas to the southwest, takes in the Midtown and New Center areas north of downtown (maybe even up to Boston-Edison), and travels east to include Indian Village, English Village and maybe even East English Village.  I’d say it’s generally within this area that a “new” Detroit is forming – one that is currently more diverse and more highly educated than the rest of the city.  Again, I may be wrong on some or even all points, but if someone wants to correct me on it, I’m all ears.
I’d also say this core is not unlike those in many other cities nationwide, but they’re all at vastly different stages of development.  For example, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to think that Detroit’s current core is much different from Washington, DC’s core 20 years ago.  Of course, a different and more powerful economic engine pushed change in DC at a greater pace, but the similarities are there.  Also, I’d bet there are current parallels between Detroit and St. Louis.
Now for that third thought.  Detroit’s core is in place, but it is taking hold and expanding at a snail’s pace.  The collapse of the economy is largely to blame for this, but I think the social stigma that Detroit developed over the last 50 years contributes to this also.  There are great people doing fantastic things in Detroit – both within and beyond the supposed core – but there needs to be more of them, with increased support from public, private and nonprofit sectors, helping to increase the pace of progress.
Just a few quick thoughts.

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