Press Release

Detroit Future City Team Receives Scholarship to Assist with Development of Vacant Property Strategy

The DFC Implementation Office, with other key stakeholders, is one of the recipients of the Center for Community Progress’ second round of the competitive Technical Assistance Scholarship Program (TASP), alongside groups of local leaders in Dallas, Texas; Gary, Indiana; and Trenton, New Jersey. Through TASP, the Center for Community Progress (Community Progress), a national nonprofit, will help local leaders develop new strategies to address property blight, vacancy and abandonment.

Community Progress’ work in Detroit will focus primarily assisting the Detroit Future City (DFC) Implementation Office and other partners, including city government, with the early development of a citywide open space plan. Community Progress will help to identify long-term land ownership models, financing strategies for land reuse, and existing examples of open space networks in other cities.

“The Center for Community Progress has been an important partner in several of our initiatives, and we are thrilled that the DFC Implementation Office and the city will continue benefiting from their support through the Technical Assistance Scholarship Program,” said Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr., executive director of the Detroit Future City Implementation Office. “The Center for Community Progress team can lend expertise and national best practices that will be critical to the DFC Implementation Office and our partners, as we work with stakeholders to develop an innovative open space plan for Detroit.”

Detroit was chosen through a competitive Request for Applications (RFA) process. Through the application process, cities requested assistance in one or more of TASP’s key issue areas. These include topics such as strategic code enforcement, data and information systems, and vacant land maintenance and reuse strategies. Proposed projects are reviewed on a range of criteria, including the potential for innovation that other cities can learn from, demonstrated leadership to implement reform and overall need.

“The team in Detroit demonstrated strong leadership and a heartfelt commitment to developing new approaches to problem properties,” said Tamar Shapiro, president and CEO of the Center for Community Progress. “We’re just as committed to supporting their efforts and excited to deepen our existing partnerships in the city.”

Each selected city will receive assistance from a team of national experts. Technical assistance will take place throughout the first half of 2015 and may include, for example, staff training sessions, legal and policy analysis, and tailored reports with recommended changes. In addition to its work in Detroit, the Center for Community Progress will assist Dallas with policies related to code enforcement and advise both Gary and Trenton on property data and information systems. Grant funding from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation provides the majority of the program’s support.

“Many of our country’s great cities struggle to find effective solutions to the blight that stands in the way of their recovery,” said Janis Bowdler, senior program director for community development at JPMorgan Chase. “With support from JPMorgan Chase Foundation, the Center for Community Progress will provide advice and assistance to help these cities develop customized plans to stabilize and revitalize their neighborhoods.”

In addition to TASP, the Center for Community Progress is bringing its national Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference to Detroit on May 19-21, 2015. The conference is expected to draw 800-1,000+ professionals from around the country to Detroit to explore the latest tools to combat vacancy and move beyond neighborhood blight.

Since its founding in 2010, the Flint, Michigan-based Center for Community Progress has provided technical assistance to more than 100 communities across 22 states. Community Progress launched TASP in early 2014 in response to two needs: first, the need to develop fresh approaches to problem properties that could become models for cities to replicate, and second, the need to provide individual cities with affordable, high-quality guidance in the fight to remediate blighted, vacant properties.

More information about the Technical Assistance Scholarship Program is available on the Center for Community Progress website.

In the Media

Feedback: Detroit Future City sets the record straight

The team at Detroit Future City wanted to set the record straight regarding several statements made about the think tank in our Jan. 7 cover story about efforts to rebrand a Southwest Detroit neighborhood as “Springwells Village.” The following comes in from DFC executive director Kenneth Cockrel Jr.:

The Detroit Future City (DFC) Strategic Framework does not recommend “moving people from less-populated areas into denser ones” as was stated in a recent article published by Metro Times. Nor does DFC recommend creating “enclaves” that receive investment while the others around it do not, which the article also stated.

DFC recognizes the challenges people face in all areas of the city. Our organization has identified opportunities for strategic reinvestment that can improve quality of life, reduce overall costs for services, improve service delivery and fulfill long-term opportunities for land reutilization to generate energy, food, advanced systems, and jobs.

The DFC Implementation Office is working daily with many stakeholders, including residents and community partners — from all areas of Southwest Detroit and across the city’s 139 square miles — to activate these opportunities, and offer information and resources to all Detroiters.

Feedback: Detroit Future City sets the record straight
 January 28, 2015, Metro Times

In the Media

Detroit Knight finalists think outside the box

Erin Kelly is looking for a few good men — and women — as long as they cut hair or cut grass. She’s working on a plan for them to work on the same clients: vacant lots in Detroit.

The thirtysomething landscape architect, who works for Detroit Future City, submitted a proposal that is among 126 finalists for the first Knight Cities Challenge, which solicited ideas to make communities better places to live and work. In April, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will reveal the winners of grants from the 126 finalists announced last week. Detroit had more finalists than any other city.

“I’ve been working on issues related to vacant land in Detroit since I moved here,” said Kelly, a former Detroit Revitalization Fellow who relocated from Olympia, Wash., after the program. “There’s so much you can get out of the haircut. If you want to feel better about yourself, and you can’t afford a new outfit, a new hairdo is more in reach. The riding lawnmower is much larger than clippers but they’re fundamentally doing the same thing.”

Her project, called the Buzz, partners barbers and landscapers to create possible neighborhood patterns.

Detroit Knight finalists think outside the box
Rochelle Riley, January 22, 2015, Detroit Free Press

In the Media

Here Are the Knight Cities Challenge Finalists

Launch a floating, sustainable farm in Miami’s waters. Invite artists to treat Charlotte bike lanes like blank canvases. Watch fixed benches evolve in public spaces in Columbus, Ga. Offer a new urban babysitting service that aims to get people out in downtown Akron. Pair barbers with landscape contractors to transform overgrown vacant lots in Detroit. Build warming stations where Philadelphians can build community in the chilly winter months.

These are just some of the 126 big-dreaming, city-changing ideas that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced today as finalists in its first Knight Cities Challenge. The foundation says it received more than 7,000 submissions describing visions that would benefit its 26 target communities (all places where the Knight family has run newspapers) from individuals, government (even mayors), and nonprofit groups looking for a slice of funding from the $5 million total prize.

“The challenge has introduced us to a host of new ideas and people who want to take hold of the future of their cities,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives, in a press release. “Through these new connections we hope to grow a network of civic innovators to take on community challenges and build solutions together.”

Though Knight communities range from big to small, the proposals highlight many of the challenges facing urban America today. The word “vacant” appears in 18 of them. Several deal with schools and education. Finalist and former Next City Vanguard Lindsey Scannapieco submitted “South Philly’s Stoop,” envisioning a community living room around a closed Philadelphia school that her firm has been hired to redevelop.

Current trends are also reflected in the ideas: The words “pop-up” and “mobile” appear frequently; parks, food and community gardens play a prominent role. There’s more than one wish to make bus stops more enticing.

There are plenty of nods to longstanding city traditions too. Many ideas center around gathering in public spaces. The City of Charlotte and the region’s transit authority proposed an ambitious citywide festival to bring “together the diverse fabric of neighborhoods, business centers and hidden gems … that would use bike-share programs, transit and walking to encourage people to move between venues.”

From the press release, here are some of the innovative finalist ideas from cities around the U.S.

Akron, Ohio

• Better Block International Hostel and AirBnB by Team Better Block (Submitted by Jason Roberts): Strengthening the city’s sense of place by turning a vacant property into a cultural hub and hostel centered on a specific immigrant population.

• Downtown Babysitters (Submitted by Kurtiss Hare): Creating a new urban babysitting service in Akron to serve the needs of young talent and encourage more activity in Akron’s downtown core.

Charlotte, N.C.

• 21st Century Office Access in Charlotte and Beyond by Charlotte Center City Partners (Submitted by Allison Billings): Opening up underused office space in the city to startups and small-scale entrepreneurs through an online platform and creating a model for a business space cooperative that would give companies the flexibility to expand to untested markets or to grow or shrink their workforce according to demand.

• Art on the Asphalt (Submitted by Francene Greene): Redesigning bike lanes as blank canvases for local artists to create visuals that depict Charlotte life, history and diverse culture.

• “Porch” Swings in Public Places by City of Charlotte (Submitted by Tom Warshauer): Installing porch swings at bus stops and in other public spaces to encourage community interaction and use of public spaces.

• Take Ten Initiative by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, City of Charlotte (Submitted by Alyssa Dodd): Bringing people together by challenging municipal workers to take 10 minutes every week to connect with a new city resident and ask for their feedback.

Columbus, Ga.

• Death of the Bench (Submitted by Brian Phelps): Replacing fixed benches in public spaces with mobile tables and chairs that can be arranged in multiple configurations and monitored by sensors in real time to improve community engagement.


• Brand Camp Pop-Up: School Branding Businesses in Detroit Neighborhoods by Brand Camp University (Submitted by Hajj Flemings): Assisting startups and entrepreneurs in underserved neighborhoods with branding their companies and ideas through a multi-day training and mentoring program that helps them tell their stories and establish a digital presence.

• The Buzz by Detroit Future City (Submitted by Erin Kelly): Pairing barbers with landscape contractors to transform overgrown vacant lots through facilitated design workshops that teach mowing and pattern-making techniques.

• Information Supergreenway by Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (Submitted by Jan Shimshock): Providing continuous public WiFi along Detroit’s RiverWalk, Dequindre Cut and Eastern Market to break down digital divides, connect neighborhoods and support area entrepreneurs.

• Why Would Anyone Want to Live in Detroit by LIVE Detroit (Submitted by Rachel Perschetz): Attracting and keeping talent in Detroit by creating a one-stop shop for information about neighborhoods and living in the city.

Here Are the Knight Cities Challenge Finalists
Next City, January 12, 2015, Next City

In the Media

Why the Motor City’s 50-Year Plan Should Be a Blueprint for Other Urban Areas

Detroit is riddled with problems. As the struggling city climbs out of bankruptcy and rethinks a revitalization plan, community leaders and nonprofits are banding together under a 50-year plan to transform the Motor City into the thriving urban area it once was.

Detroit Future City (DFC), which found its inception in city hall, has grown into a local think tank situated downtown with 15 members devoted to putting a strategic framework into place over the next five decades. The plan was born out of the Detroit Works Long-Term Planning initiative, founded by former Mayor Dave Bing. In 2012, after two long years of community meetings and input, the initiative announced a 347-page outline and rebranded itself as DFC.

Through five planning areas including land use, economic growth, neighborhoods, city systems and building assets, the 50-year plan provides a look at how to leverage Detroit’s many assets to reboot the city. But the plan is not just focused on the long-term outlook; it also includes short-term goals to keep the city on track.

Why the Motor City’s 50-Year Plan Should Be a Blueprint for Other Urban Areas
Courtney Subramanian, January 9 2015, NationSwell

In the Media

Detroit, a living example of positive business

Lately in my conversations with journalists, there have been two questions I am asked. They first comment about our mission at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, which is to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world. They are interested in our focus on positive business and ask if there are specific examples of this working in the real world.

Secondly, they ask if I see it as a benefit for our school to be in Detroit and its surging entrepreneurial activity.

My answer to both questions is always yes.

I often cite Dan Gilbert’s investment in Detroit. Through the revitalization of the city, he and several other key business leaders, such as Michigan Ross alum Christopher Ilitch, are initiating many development projects that stand to be both excellent financial investments and greatly beneficial to the community.

It’s an example of a point I often make: To solve the world’s toughest challenges, business must be involved, in partnership with government and civil society organizations.

What makes this even more relevant for students is our school’s commitment to engaging with organizations and leaders in the city of Detroit.

While we are a global business school with far-reaching connections, from India to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Manhattan, our proximity to Detroit provides our students, many of whom are from different cities around the world, with high-quality learning experiences and community engagement opportunities in one of America’s greatest cities.

Our annual Ross Leadership Initiative Impact Challenge is a great example of this type of action-based learning with a purpose. Each year for the past 20 years we have engaged incoming MBA students with community service projects in and around Detroit during their first days on campus.

Last year, we hosted a back-to-school fair in Eastern Market for 3,000 Detroit-area school children. This year we worked with our students to create and launch a startup venture to support youth entrepreneurship in Detroit.

Our hope is that this project will bring long-term value to the community and further strengthen our connection with the city.

This type of student engagement goes even deeper through Ross’ student-led Revitalization and Business Club. This group connects University of Michigan students with Detroit’s evolving business landscape and promotes the city’s assets to encourage students to discover, engage with, and commit to the city’s revitalization.

In 2014, our students put their minds and passion to work to “Drive Positive Change in Detroit,” which was the theme of our annual Social Impact Challenge. This year, student teams worked to develop strategies to improve transportation access for Detroit neighborhoods, in partnership with Detroit Future City.

Detroit, a living example of positive business
Alison Davis-Blake, January 8, 2015, Detroit News