So, how does one make sense of all these intangibles? What can be done
to provide immediate solutions? What can be done to provide long-term
Accessibility. As I mentioned on Friday (Post 2),
Detroit is underground; it is the great hidden city. Though this
underground nature can be leveraged as an asset, it can also be an
impediment. How do we counter these impeding effects?
Information is one part of the solution.
new resident, the future resident, the casual visitor and the curious:
all need a one-stop source for gleaning information regarding all
things Detroit. A cost-benefit analysis, per se, complete with average
housing costs, insurance costs, utility costs, tax information, crime
statistics, school rankings, etc. Such a source would be a realistic
approach that discloses both the benefits and detriments to living in
the city of Detroit; it would be a legitimate view that would enable
individuals to make an educated decision regarding moving here; a
transparent site that would provide information for busting myths and
quelling rumors; and an inclusive site that connects the numerous
online and physical resources geared towards retaining current and
attracting new residents.
Developers in Grand Rapids, Michigan,
have used such an approach in many of their marketing materials. These
marketing materials break down the costs of living in the city. They
include monthly mortgage costs, based on income; association fees; and
property taxes. They include information regarding local businesses,
school stats, crime stats and population and economic trends. This
information enables the potential buyer - the potential resident - to
envision and understand what living an urban lifestyle entails.
applied to Detroit, this source could be a quick and relatively
inexpensive solution to the problem of retaining current and attracting
new residents. It could be part of changing the attitudes discussed in
Post 3. It could use factual evidence to underscore Detroit’s unique
sense of opportunity (Post 4). All it needs is a champion.
An urban agenda is the other part of the solution.
Friday (Post 2) I made the case that, dense, warm and inviting urban
areas are also accessible. Unfortunately, Detroit lacks an urban agenda
that addresses its fundamental shortcomings in this regard.
the city has a master plan. Sure, the preservation community has a
long-term vision document and strategic mission. Sure, numerous
charrettes and studies have been commissioned in an effort to sustain
and support urban growth. Nevertheless, a comprehensive grassroots
campaign to transform our city into a true urban place has yet to be
seen. And, until one is created, individual interests will pursue their
specific agendas without regard for a unified urban vision of Detroit.
this could be a quick and relatively inexpensive solution to the issues
of creating urban place, changing attitudes and presenting opportunity.
And, again, all it needs is a champion.
So, be that champion.
Join a community group that you believe can promote these ideas.
Advocate for information transparency. Advocate for a unified and
inclusive urban agenda.
Most importantly, be an engaged
resident and enlightened citizen. It’s up to us to build the type of
community we all want to see.
The optimist in me believes that Detroit has not an, but the advantage in opportunity.
is different in that it is very local. People know each other here.
People support each other here. They want to see each other succeed and
make a difference. The opportunity to join such a close-knit community
rarely exists in regions the size of Detroit. Those that know the key
to leveraging this local sense of community are successful. And they
have the opportunity to create more than an idea, more than a business:
they have the opportunity to create a meaningful impact. This ability
to define and shape a city and region’s future should be a key
component to any economic initiative.
Compared to competing regions, Detroit is also inexpensive.
Space is relatively cheap. Housing is a steal. Sure, auto insurance is
high. Sure, taxes are more than they could be. Sure, you’re not going
to get 20,000 square foot storefronts on Woodward Avenue for bargain
basement prices. Still, Detroit offers a high value for
those who have the ability to relocate; those who have the desire to
open a business; and those who have the edge to innovate and change an
economy. This value can be leveraged regionally, nationally and
internationally in an effort to inspire and attract new talent, new
leaders and new ideas.
often, Michigan gets caught up in the "woe unto me rustbelt mentality."
And, yes, there is no denying that our state has experienced tough
economic times. But to focus merely on problems and structural issues,
without consideration for this region’s unique opportunities, is to
miss the solution to addressing Michigan’s fundamental economic
problems. Any solution to these problems; any vision for
urban growth and density; and any plan geared towards attracting new
talent must whole-heartedly feature these notions of opportunity and
value as unique and distinguishing factors.
are different in and around Detroit. Notions of entitlement and
mediocrity prevail. For Detroit to be a vibrant urban place and a
powerful economy that competes regionally and nationally, attitudes
have to change. And for attitudes to change, leaders must lead, both on
the grassroots and conventional level, to change these attitudes.
the casual observer, it would appear that prevailing regional attitudes
can be divided into two categories: the armchair quarterback and the
armchair booster. Though both may be well intentioned, their efforts
fall short of real solutions and real leadership.
Armchair Quarterback Syndrome: We all know an armchair quarterback –
the person who always has a comment, usually negative, about the state
of things in the city and region. Unfortunately, neither a solution nor
any tangible action follows this opinion. Online message boards,
chatrooms and forums are chock full of these people. They justify their
opinions by proudly asserting that they care enough to add to the
dialogue. They believe they are entitled to real, tangible solutions to
the issues they raise merely because they’re joining in the dialogue.
Yet, in many circumstances, these people shy away from being part of
Armchair Booster Syndrome: We all know the armchair booster, too. This
individual recognizes the importance of a vibrant urban core and
appreciates urban growth and density. This individual supports
businesses within the Greater Downtown area, volunteers and spreads
positive goodwill about Detroit. Yet, the armchair booster does not
live within the city of Detroit. Like the armchair quarterback, the
armchair booster also suffers from a pervasive sense of entitlement.
The individual believes he/she is entitled to a vibrant urban core
merely because of his/her good intentions. This individual’s efforts,
though well-intentioned and beneficial to the community, still falls
short of a real, tangible solution to this issue of vibrancy.
there is no denying that Detroit is unique and authentic. And progress
has been made at establishing its sense of place. But the city is at a
profound disadvantage because it does not have an urban core that
adequately competes with comparable urban products. For Detroit to grow its economy in the 21st century, it needs a definable central city that competes regionally, nationally and internationally.
put: to have the vibrant urban core that the armchair booster desires
and the solutions the armchair quarterback demands, Detroit needs more
residents. Engaged, taxpaying and entrepreneurial residents.
quarterback – if you want solutions to the issues you raise, move in
the city of Detroit. Be more than just another voice. Vote in
elections. Join civic groups. Join the thousands of active Detroiter’s
who are tackling citywide and regional problems.
booster – if you want a dense urban core, move to Detroit, open a
business in Detroit or, better yet, do both. Vibrant urban cores
consist of residents, business owners and entrepreneurs. Your energy is
needed twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to join the efforts
in growing this urban community.
The region is not entitled to a vibrant urban core. The region is not entitled to automatic solutions. Like most things in life, no one is going to do the hard work for us. Rather,
we must take ownership of these problems, confront the tough issues and
realize the level of commitment necessary to make Detroit a successful
and competitive urban place. In fact, it should be the foundation for any agenda of urban growth and density.
Let’s examine place in the context of
Detroit. Communities with a sense of place are authentic. They’re
gritty. They’re local and accessible. Detroit is different from its
competitors as it is authentic. Chain restaurants and stores do not
shout at the bystander from every corner. Rather, local haunts and
venues are intimate and welcoming.
But does this grittiness and
authenticity lead to a stronger city and stronger regional economy?
Authenticity, grit and intimacy are important elements of place, but
should they be defining elements? Authenticity and grit alone do not
make a vibrant urban place.
Equally important to place are the
elements of density and accessibility. To me, they are interchangeable.
A dense urban environment is an accessible urban environment – one that
is as inviting to the local insider as it is to the casual visitor.
Street level businesses and pedestrian activity lend to a sense of
comfort, warmth and belonging. They are the intangible elements that
people use when comparing Detroit to other cities and regions. And
though Detroit has made strides in creating this dense environment over
the years, it is still at a disadvantage when compared to other cities
For Detroit to be relevant in the 21st
century, it needs to further embrace urbanity and density as vital
components of its economic plan. The new generation of Detroiters value
place. They crave the authenticity of a truly urban community. To
continue to grow and attract this community of engaged, young and
educated individuals, local civic and government leadership has to
advocate for an agenda of urban growth and density. Similarly, this
same generation of Detroiters must convey that vision to the city and
region’s civic and government leadership.
Detroit is different. No doubt about that. As a city and a region,
our differences are a divisive issue. To the optimists, our
differences are our comparative advantage that sets us apart from
competing regions. To the realists, our differences – if not examined,
confronted and presented realistically – are our weaknesses. To the
pessimists, our differences are an excuse to leave.
know that Detroit and the region is lacking in many areas. These
points are pounded home in newscasts, in casual conversation, on online
message boards and at the water cooler. And, rightfully so. We are
obsessed with the differences between us and other cities and regions –
the disparities in education standards, crime statistics, job growth,
climate, downtown retail and public transit.
tries to compensate these differences with what are perceived as
comparative advantages: our grit, our authenticity, our attitude, our
history, our architectural stock, etc. The realist attempts to analyze
these differences and the statistics supporting them in an effort to
find solutions. The pessimist uses these differences as further proof
supporting their desire to leave.
Really, there is not much
more to say about these issues. They are discussed constantly:
solutions come and solutions go, resulting in a stale and tired
dialogue. And what has this tired debate between the optimists,
realists and pessimists achieved? Nothing tangible.
it is time that we shift our dialogue to the intangibles – the
differences that cannot be measured by exact statistics, by rigorous
scientific standards. What about the intangible concepts: what about
place, attitude and opportunity? Would maybe a shift in dialogue to
these theoretical concepts engage a new generation of Detroiters in a
more vigorous debate that challenges the fundamental ways that we view
ourselves as citizens of a city and a region?