Blog: Conan Smith

Post No. 5

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 hearts.  
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 police protection.  

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 history.  

Be fearless, I urge you, and embrace everything that is different from what you know.
Whether 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.