I’ve seen the future, and it is Detroit.
That statement may seem audacious for anyone who’s read about or visited the city recently. The storied epicenter of the automotive world — America’s richest city just a half-century ago — has traveled a bumpy road for decades. Since the turn of the century it suffered the financial default of General Motors and Chrysler, the exodus of tens of thousands of residents and businesses, inept or corrupt city officials, exploding debt, a declining tax base and, in 2013, the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy.
Today, the city of 700,000 — down from 1.8 million in 1950 — has 90,000 vacant lots and 70,000 abandoned buildings as well as a 36 percent poverty rate and 23 percent unemployment rate, both the highest in the nation. Motown is, arguably, a city that has run into a ditch.
So, why am I hopeful? There are hundreds of initiatives, from tiny startups to massive public-private partnerships, aimed at jump-starting the beleaguered city and putting Detroit squarely on the road to recovery — not as its former industrial self, but as a hub of innovation. It is a model for how to retrofit a city as a hotbed of sustainability — economic, social and environmental.
That’s my conclusion from a recent visit there to speak at Powering Progress Together, a daylong forum convened by Shell Oil, part of a series the energy company has produced to highlight the nexus of people, mobility and technology in cities. (I also spoke at a similar forum two years ago, in Houston.)
The Detroit event brought together 250 or so business, civic and nonprofit leaders to discuss how the combination of technology, social innovation and government leadership can effectively address sustainability challenges in cities.
This isn’t just academic. Shell Oil Co. president Marvin Odum pointed out that by mid-century, the world will be adding the population equivalent of two new Detroits every week, 75 percent in urban areas. How we build new cities — and retrofit old ones — will influence how people live in a growing, evolving and adapting world.
Detroit was the perfect canvas to paint a portrait of what’s possible.
“A lot of big changes are happening,” Dan Kinkead, director of projects at Detroit Future City, told me during an interview in his office in the city’s New Center neighborhood, a few hundred feet from the historic Fisher Building and the former General Motors headquarters.
Why Motown is poised to come roaring back
Joel Makower, April 20, 2015, GreenBiz.com
The DFC Implementation Office’s Ideas for Innovation is a six part series to accelerate thinking around DFC’s five strategic planning elements and advance collaboration around the implementation of the DFC Strategic Framework. Each Ideas for Innovation event will be followed by a publication that outlines actionable recommendations identified during the events. The funding partner for Ideas for Innovation is The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the media partner is Michigan Radio’s “The Next Idea”.
“Using the DFC Strategic Framework Plan as their starting point, Ideas for Innovation panelists will discuss critical issues impacting Detroiters and the next steps to grow, stabilize and transform the city to improve the quality of life for everyone,” said Kenneth Cockrel, Jr. “This type of dialogue will help to activate transformative strategies and ultimately create a better Detroit.”
Michigan Radio is posting a series of reaction essays by speakers or panelists from each event. The first essay by Kenneth Cockrel, Jr. can be read here.
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The city needs a master plan to guide future development, but also needs to take a regional approach to revitalization, Detroit’s Chief Operating Officer Gary Brown said Tuesday.
The Cobo Center authority, the “grand bargain” that helped resolve Detroit’s bankruptcy, the Detroit Institute of Arts millage and the new Great Lakes Water Authority are all examples of regional cooperation that are moving Detroit forward, Brown said.
Population numbers in the city will continue to drop until Detroit can solve its crisis in education and public safety, Brown told a crowd of nearly 300 people at “The Making of a Great City,” the first of six community meetings by Detroit Future City.
“Get over the numbers that we’re not growing,” Brown said. “Let’s manage the city well. Let’s find regional approaches to fixing the problems as opposed to doing it all by ourselves.”
The event drew nearly 300 people mostly Detroit residents — to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
Regional approach urged to move Detroit forward
Jennifer Chambers, April 14, 2015, Detroit News
The city’s future — and how to get there — is the focus of a community meeting in Detroit on Tuesday that is drawing speakers from around the country.
“The Making of a Great City,” the first of six community meetings by Detroit Future City, is from 6-8 p.m. at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
Experts like Roxanne Qualls, former mayor and City Council member in Cincinnati, say there are key ingredients to a city’s success: strong civic leadership, alignment around a shared vision, and community participation.
Qualls, who is one of the speakers, served three terms as mayor of Cincinnati in the 1990s. During that tenure she focused on revitalizing neighborhoods, increasing home ownership and redeveloping Cincinnati’s central riverfront.
She acknowledges that Detroit is much larger and more diversified than Cincinnati, yet both cities share many maladies, such as blight and population loss, as well as the need to rebuild its image and brand.
“These things take time. That’s why the vision and the plan and the people are so important. It doesn’t happen overnight, or in five or six years in big projects,” Qualls said. “It will take time and you have to stick with it.”
Additional panelists are Dayne Walling, mayor of Flint; Gary Brown, Detroit’s chief operating officer; and Khalil Ligon, southeast Michigan outreach coordinator, Alliance for the Great Lakes.
‘Great City’ meeting in Detroit will focus on future
Jennifer Chambers, April 13, 2015, The Detroit News
The making of a great city. A new program to help Detroit reach it’s full potential kicks off Tuesday April 14th at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History. It’s all part of a series called “Ideas for Innovation,” and it includes six big events. Watch the video for JoAnne Purtan’s interview on 7 Action News at Noon: She speaks to Ken Cockrel Jr. the Executive Director of “Detroit Future City.”
“The Making of a Great City” – New program to help Detroit reach its full potential
April 13, 2015, WXYZ Channel 7
When we hear the term “perfect storm,” the image that generally comes to mind is one of a high-level disaster.
The phrase is relatively new, though its use as the title of the 1993 Sebastian Junger novel which inspired the 2000 film of the same name has accelerated its use in the cultural lexicon. However, no common dictionary definition for it exists.
Building a better Detroit where everyone can live, work and play is the ultimate goal, says Ken Cockrel Jr., executive director of Detroit Future City. Building a better Detroit where everyone can live, work and play is the ultimate goal, says Ken Cockrel Jr., executive director of Detroit Future City.
Instead we must turn to that trusted source of information, Wikipedia, which describes a perfect storm as “an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.”
Detroit can be model for how to do things right
Kenneth Cockrel, Jr., April 13, 2015, Michigan Radio
The Detroit Future City (DFC) Implementation Office is launching a new initiative, the “Ideas for Innovation,” funded by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a six part series, to accelerate thinking around DFC’s five strategic planning elements and advance collaboration around the implementation of the DFC Strategic Framework Plan. Each “Ideas for Innovation” event will be followed by a publication that outlines actionable recommendations identified during the events.
“Using the DFC Strategic Framework Plan as their starting point, ‘Ideas for Innovation’ panelists will discuss critical issues impacting Detroiters and the next steps to grow, stabilize and transform the city to improve the quality of life for everyone,” said Kenneth Cockrel Jr., executive director, Detroit Future City Implementation Office. “This type of dialogue will help to activate transformative strategies and ultimately create a better Detroit.”
The first “Ideas for Innovation” discussion, The Making of a Great City, will be held on April 14,, 2015, 6-8 p.m. at the Charles H. wright Museum of African American History During the event there will be a panel discussion with innovators from Detroit and the Midwest as well as a keynote address by Roxanne Qualls, former mayor and city council member, Cincinnati
During Qualls three terms as mayor of Cincinnati in the 1990s, she focused on revitalizing neighborhoods, increasing homeownership and redeveloping Cincinnati’s central riverfront. She returned to city council in 2007, and subsequently served as Vice Mayor. She led the effort to adopt the city’s new Comprehensive Plan and to develop tools, such as a form based code and complete streets policies, so neighborhoods could achieve their visions for livable, healthy communities.
“My passion for urban planning and design, has led me to use my time in office to focus on underserved neighborhoods and create a more viable and globally local competitive economy in my city,” said Qualls. “I am thrilled to visit the City of Detroit to share my experiences and collaborate with some of Michigan’s greatest minds, together I believe we can advance the conversation about Detroit’s future at the ‘Ideas for Innovation’ event.”
Scheduled panelists for The Making of a Great City are:
- Dayne Walling, Mayor of Flint
- Gary Brown, chief operating officer, City of Detroit
- Khalil Ligon, southeast Michigan outreach coordinator, Alliance for the Great Lakes
- Roxanne Qualls, former mayor and city councilmember, Cincinnati
The next five “Ideas for Innovation” events will be:
- Opportunities for Innovation | May 2015
- Strengthening the City’s Neighborhoods | June 2015
- The Case for Open Space | July 2015
- Equitable Growth | September 2015
- The Making of a Shared Regional Vision | October 2015
Each discussion will take place at a different location in Detroit. For more information about The Making of a Great City or future discussions, speakers and topics, visit www.detroitfuturecity.com/events. Engage in “Ideas for Innovation” series on social media using #DFCIdeas.
Michigan Radio is an “Ideas for Innovation” media partner. Participants from each of the six events will author an essay that will posted on The Next Idea website, Michigan Radio’s new project devoted to the new innovations and ideas that will change our state. Learn more by visiting http://michiganradio.org/programs/next-idea
The Kresge Foundation has awarded $1.6 million for 18 projects run by nonprofits working to strengthen Detroit neighborhoods.
The Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit grants are the first to be awarded as part of a three-year, $5 million initiative announced by the Troy-based foundation last October. They align with the Detroit Future City strategic framework, a long-range blueprint for city and neighborhood revitalization in Detroit introduced early in 2013.
Eleven of the new Kresge grants are for implementation or “shovel ready” projects that must be completed within 12-18 months, and seven are planning grants for efforts that must be completed by the end of August, in time to to apply for the second round of funding in the initiative. The grants were chosen from more than 100 grant proposals, the foundation said.
Kresge Foundation gives $1.6 million to strengthen Detroit neighborhoods
Sherri Welch, April 1, 2015, Crain’s Detroit Business