|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
- 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.