CSY 2.0

Hello and Happy New Year.  I hope everyone who finds this blog has had a wonderful holiday season.
As this blog moves into its first new year (just ten months in the making), it’s time for me to reflect on where it’s been and consider where it’s going.  In recent weeks my posting on this blog has been a bit sporadic.  Part of the problem has been a lack of a consistent and coherent theme, which is something I’ve been striving to develop.  I may have mentioned it here before, but I heard an author once say that there are two types of writers: those who want to say something and those who have something to say.  I’ve always wanted to be someone with something to say.
What has been pretty successful here has been writings on my hometown, Detroit.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have pieces about Detroit published in newspapers and other websites.  In retrospect I think it’s been successful because I think I bring a combination of knowledge, authenticity and passion when writing about the Motor City, with a different perspective. 
What has been less successful has been my writings on midsize Midwestern cities.  I initially wanted it to be a primary focus of the blog, but after starting on it it seemed to be a narrow focus that would never generate a sustained following.  And after writing about Detroit, it too seemed to be constraining me to an audience more limited than I desire.
Throughout 2013, I’m going to broaden my research and writings to “shrinking cities”, a category to which Detroit and many midsize Midwest cities are firmly members.  
In many respects I feel this is the great lost opportunity in urban planning.  Detroit has garnered the lion’s share of attention because of its decline, but it is hardly alone.  Cleveland, St. Louis, Newark, Baltimore, New Orleans, Birmingham all have had similar declines.  In fact, there are 38 cities in America that achieved a population of at least 100,000 prior to 1970, but have subsequently lost at least 20 percent of their population since.  Some have developed robust economies that have brought them back to growth (Washington, DC, Boston).  Some have vastly improved their economic prospects while still experiencing population loss (Pittsburgh, Rochester).  But most continue to deteriorate, with few prospects for revitalization, or even a clear understanding of how to turn the tide.
As a profession I believe we have failed these cities.  Maybe fifteen years ago a nascent movement led by European (and later American) planners, architects and urban designers started to seriously look at shrinking cities around the world.  But once they started to apply shrinkage principles to cities, trying to get them to accept a different physical paradigm, it began to lose momentum.  In America, once we found simple answers don’t work, we planners looked to what appeared to be successful in the Portlands of the world.  We’ve still never successfully figured out how to attract growth to cities that have been in decline for so long.
I don’t want to know simply what can bring Detroit back from the brink.  I want to know what can bring Gary, Dayton, Baltimore, Buffalo and Providence back as well.  Why?  Because I remain firm in my belief that whatever plague affects these cities will ultimately affect others – Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and Las Vegas could all share a similar fate.
Lastly, I want to encourage more interaction on the blog.  I would welcome more comments from readers, and promise to respond as promptly as I can.  You think I’m way off-base on something?  Let me know.  You think I’m on-target?  By all means, let me know.  You have a totally different perspective on something, or new information that sheds new light on a subject?  Please, please let me know.  I want to make this more of a community that develops ideas and possible solutions, and that only happens with your involvement.
I have much more planned for the blog in 2013 as well.  Stay tuned and see what else springs forth.

3 thoughts on “CSY 2.0

  1. In cities which are currently thriving, it is near impossible for developers to find 'almost vacant', large pieces of open property near the central part of the city (e.g. NYC, etc.). If this land could be found within these flourishing cities, it would be highly valuable due to its near proximity to the center of the city itself. Due to current economic strains, Detroit not only has these types of 'almost vacant', large pieces of open property near the central part of the city (e.g. your picture above, etc.) but also due to real-estate declines these properties could be purchased cheaply enough (i.e. if the city does not already own most of them; a city of Detroit advantage). Also, the remaining dwellings thereon–unless historically relevant–could be cleared away easily enough, and the historic ones kept/renovated/incorporated. In addition to this, there are currently many government grants available to cities which are willing to convert to either green construction (e.g. electric monorail system (think Disney World), solar buildings, solar housing, etc.) or green energy (i.e. windmill power, 'solar power fields' outside of city suburbs, etc.). And though this type of green funding has been available to cities/states across America, very few cities/states have taken advantage of these grant/funding programs. This could allow Detroit to turn these 'almost vacant', large pieces of open property into '100% green' suburbs. (cont'd)

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  2. In keeping with this, due to the current rising trend of Americans who want to 'live green', this could be a huge opportunity for Detroit (and potentially some of the other cities you mentioned) to become known as “pioneers” in creating 'green' mini-cities within a city, thus populating these green suburbs with the many people across the country who would appreciate living within such environmentally correct/conscious communities. Other elements that would prompt people to want to live inside these 'green' communities of Detroit would be what Detroit already has to offer in terms of historical/cultural/metropolitan fare (i.e. stadiums (e.g. Lions, Redwings, etc.), museums, art galleries, theatres, Eastern Market, Detroit-distinct restaurants (e.g. O'Malley's Bar & Grill, Layfayette vs. American Coney Island, Motor City Brewing Works, etc.), historic architecture (e.g. Henry Ford & Thomas Edison mansions), shopping, etc.)…and 'all' within either 'walking' or potential 'monorail' distance of these newly 'green' suburbs. In essence, Detroit is sitting on a gold mine. This type of environmentally-conscious reconstruction of down-and-out areas within Detroit might also spill over into the rest of city as well if an overall 'green initiative' is continually held by the city whenever-and-wherever other future changes become necessary throughout, within following decades. Detroit could become known as “the green, clean city” along with continuing to boast the cultural varieties they've long-since had…an atmosphere almost likened to both NYC and New Orleans combined. Finally, a national PR campaign could inform the overall American public once exacting plans for this 'green' transformation were fully laid out, and clearing/building would begin. Non-residents/residents could put money down on 'green' commercial/residential properties they wish to buy within these 'newly green' Detroit suburbs. (cont'd)

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  3. The current difficulties suffered by cities like Detroit should not be viewed with a hopelessness but instead with an innovative curiosity, creatively considering how these 'seeming' disadvantages could be transformed into financial 'advantages' toward the city's eventual betterment. Finally, Detroit is a HUGE part of Michigan's (and America's) history and there is a deep sense of pride within its community of past/present residents and visitors. Detroit is definitely worth the investment. If Ford Motor Company can bounce back, why not Detroit? If there's one thing Detroit is known for, it's the grit and determination of its inhabitants. It simply requires a new way of thinking.

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