The Future, According to a Non-Prophet Organization
Today, I am officially middle aged. No longer one of the touted
21-34 year olds who are our inevitable future, I fall into the august
company of those who have writ the present. Overcome by my newfound
gentility, I feel compelled to expound to my younger brethren on their
role in building our region, and securing my comfortable retirement. At
35 I have seen a lot. Why, when I was born . . . no, enough of
that. Rather that retrospection, let’s look forward to tomorrow.
Here then, my friends, is what I urge: Defy the separatist legacy of
generations and build a future on the promise of clasped hands and open
Give us Metropolitan Solutions to Old Challenges
It would be foolhardy to carry on the notion that we can somehow
make a better world for ourselves by ignoring our neighbors. After all,
what good would the road be if it stopped at your city’s border? Water
flows downhill. Wind carries the smoke from your chimney through your
neighbor’s window. We are inextricably interrelated. Raise the call for
practices and policies that take problems out of the hands of the few
and recognize that solutions must be found on a metropolitan level.
Take, for example, the things that really bind us together: roads,
water lines, sewers the mundane but essential skeleton of our
region. Across all of Michigan’s metropolitan areas, infrastructure
maintenance is a major concern. Billions of dollars worth of road,
water and sewer upkeep have been deferred over the past thirty years,
in exchange for increasing investment in new construction. This system
is not sustainable over generations, and already we are starting to see
the consequences. We cannot continue to sacrifice what benefits us all
for what serves a select few.
Be bold and seek to understand what years of working independently have sacrificed.
Insist on Collaboration and Unity in the Face of Adversity
Michigan is one of the most governmentally fragmented states in the
nation and, while our fragmented system offers many benefits like
smaller, more accessible governments, it often results in local
interests superseding the welfare of the region. Cities everywhere are
facing shrinking revenue streams and struggling to provide municipal
services. By working together and sharing resources, local governments
can maintain and even improve essential public services like fire and
Cooperation is essential to building more cohesive regions and
making more efficient use of limited funds. Distributing revenue
regionally will encourage neighboring governments to work together to
enhance future revenue rather than to compete for tax base.
Consolidating services where appropriate will allow their more
economical and effective delivery. More importantly, the exploration
of these options – even if fruitless – reminds us that this nation was
made strong original on the premise “e pluribus unum.”
Be creative and find new ways to lean on each other to build community.
Transform our Insular Culture to One of Inclusion and Equity
We have found so many ways to hide ourselves from each other. I
contend that racism motivated the birth of many of Detroit’s suburbs –
not just black and white divisions, but the more subtle and equally
pervasive discrimination among competing white cultures. Our natural
human inclination to group with people who are like us and oppose those
who are different was amplified by public policies that allowed us to
concretely – and semi-permanently – define the borders of our
cities. Families that feared integration in Detroit public schools
gravitated to communities that could incorporate independently and form
their own school districts. Investments into “urban” communities
declined as suburbs grew. The fragmentation and segregation that this
system supported has caused our economy to collapse in on itself – not
because we have separate cities, but because we have evolved into
separate peoples. Our division must end.
We should strive for personal prosperity for everyone, by providing
housing, health care and education second to none. We should
economically stabilize our cities so every family has a strong
community to depend on. And we must proactively support those
strategies that reduce the racial and economic walls between our
communities that have been raised over the course of our nation’s
Be fearless, I urge you, and embrace everything that is different from what you know.
you are a visionary, academic, pragmatist or poet, yours is the voice
that will transform our region. Give us all your dreams. Give us your
insight and analysis. Give us your business plans. Give us your
song. We stand on the edge of disaster . . . or enlightenment . . . and
you can help us fly.
Thanks for reading.