What Is A Future Detroit Built On?

Cover of Detroit Future City Plan.  Source: Detroit Works Project.
Everyone is talking about how Detroit became bankrupt.  No one is talking about what the elements of a new Detroit should be.
I’ve spent a lot of time studying my hometown from afar, and I’ve come up with some reasonable ideas (at least on the physical side) on why Detroit is what it is today.  I will admit that developing a set of reasonable ideas for its future is far more difficult.  However, I’ll be brave enough to make an attempt at some ideas that Detroit could use to establish a new and more sustainable economy, and a stronger social and cultural infrastructure.
Before I start, I want to state some caveats and a few explanations.  I acknowledge that the ideas I propose below will NOT generate immediate results.  Indeed, my goal is to consider long-term strategies that can promote prosperity for the city and region, making Southeast Michigan a far more sustainable region.  For decades, Detroit leadership has chosen to implement what I would call “paste” solutions rather than work toward the more necessary wholesale changes.  This attempts to move in that direction.  I also propose ideas that allow the city to build on current assets, so that the post-industrial transition is as easy as it can be, and the city can build on its already strong brand.  Third, some of the ideas proposed admittedly are pie-in-the-sky proposals, but I think most are aware that if Detroit is to have a future at all, it must dream big.  And lastly, because Detroit’s collapse is as much a social phenomenon as it is an economic or political one, so I propose ideas in that regard as well.
At this time I can only offer the proposed strategies with very short explanations, but here are twenty strategies that, if I were King of Detroit (or Emergency Manager), I’d work toward implementing:
Existing Assets to Build On
  • Traditional Manufacturing (the base of Detroit’s economy, not going away anytime soon)
  • International Trade ( greater trade cooperation with the largest U.S. trade partner in Canada)
  • Middle Eastern Migration Center (Detroit metro has the largest Middle Eastern population in the nation)
  • Education and Health Care (foundation for growth in the rapidly growing Midtown area)
  • Workforce Development/Skills Building (invest in building job skills for an undereducated populace)
New Strategies to Implement
  • Advanced Manufacturing (merging technology with manufacturing to create new businesses, not simply in the service of the Big 3)
  • Craft Manufacturing (building a base of small-scale manufacturers building niche products)
  • R&B/Techno Music Center (build on the Motor City music heritage to enhance music performance and production opportunities)
  • Neighborhood Identity Program (build neighborhood identity through stronger commercial districts, signage)
  • Urban Agriculture
  • Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Center (turn Detroit into a national model for minority entrepreneurship)
  • Urban Laboratory (allow Detroit to become the experimental test grounds for innovative urban initiatives)
  • Green/Blue Infrastructure (implement sustainable practices — stormwater retention, permeable road surfaces — that utilize excess land)
  • Become a Tourism Gateway to Michigan’s North
  • Create effective City/Suburb Partnerships
  • Upgrade Public Transit to connect job centers
  • Develop a private research university with a technical focus
Social Strategies
  • Strengthen Civic Infrastructure (greater cooperation and leadership from Detroit’s corporate, political and philanthropic communities)
  • Detroit Alumni Program (reach out to the Detroit Diaspora, possibly through social media, willing to stay up-to-date on Detroit activities and potentially support local projects/initiatives)
  • Racial Reconciliation Project (possibly modeled after the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission, provide an opportunity to publicly heal the Detroit area’s deep racial divide)
This is admittedly a scatter-shot approach to a possible future for Detroit.  But the ideas exist, and it’s time to start the conversation on the city’s future.

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