Can Duggan change history of failed master plans?

February 26, 2015

Now that Detroit has emerged from Chapter 9 bankruptcy, said good-bye to emergency manager Kevyn Orr and seen elected leaders Mayor Mike Duggan and the City Council returned to power, a palpable sense of hope, or at least optimism, has returned to the Motor City.

People are talking up plans for M1-Rail, plans for blight removal, plans for new housing, a new hockey arena, a new bridge.

There is even talk of — dare I say it? — a new Master Plan.

Mere mention of that term may send shudders down the spines of folks who recall a series of master plans that were ignored, ineffectual or never completed during the 60 years of economic decline that culminated in Detroit’s bankruptcy.

The one I remember best was delivered in 1985, just as the city struggled to recover from the last severe recession of the 20th Century.

Coleman Young was mayor, Corinne Gilb was Detroit’s planning director and Joe Stroud, a genteel son of Arkansas, was the esteemed longtime editorial page editor of the Free Press.

Here’s what the usually gracious Joe, who retired in 1998 and died in 2002, wrote on July 28, 1985 about that master plan:

“I don’t mean to be unduly charitable, but it is a piece of garbage. It is incoherent. It fails to offer an intelligible implementation strategy. It does little to set priorities.

“It tries to be all things to all people and winds up being not much of anything for anyone.

“Its strategy for economic development is, in essence, a ritualistic and underdeveloped incantation to the great god High Tech. One cannot possibly imagine Coleman Young and Emmett Moten, the mayor’s development guru, sitting down with this plan and coming up with a strategy that offers real hope of putting block upon block until the city’s economic foundations are put back in solid condition.”

Whew. Joe’s fears, of course, were fully realized.

I sincerely hope I do not ever find myself feeling the same way about whatever Detroit’s current leaders decide upon as the next blueprint for the city’s revival. But the path to a coherent plan is littered with pressures and dangerous temptations to satisfy a disparate and often vocal set of constituencies.

Some of the key players in pending discussions about Detroit’s economic game plan include Duggan; his group executive for jobs and economy Tom Lewand; new planning director Maurice Cox; Detroit Economic Growth Corp. CEO Rodrick Miller; Detroit Future City executive director Ken Cockrel Jr.; and Carol O’Cleireacain, deputy mayor for economic policy.

Can Duggan change history of failed master plans?
Tom Walsh, February 26, 2015, Detroit Free Press