First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for reading and responding to my blog entries. The purpose of a communication such as this is not to attack one another, to tell someone their opinions don’t count, or to say people have no right to voice their observations about Detroit -- it’s to create a dialogue. To help dispel myths, or at least spark conversation between individuals who have a passion for something.
With that being said, I wanted to talk about what Detroit can do to make it more attractive to the younger generation. How the City can, as one commenter said, get residents who want to "roll up their sleeves and commit to Detroit."
Unfortunately we can’t put the cart before the horse -- we do need committed, voting, engaged people living in the City, but that’s not going to happen when potential residents are looking for things Detroit isn’t offering right now. Most (not all) people aren’t willing to make the committed to downtown until downtown is committed to improving for its people.
When I first started at the Chamber, I became involved with Fusion, a young professionals organization and program of the Chamber. Fusion’s goal is to get young professionals to live, work and play in Detroit. Last September the director of Fusion and I attended a summit where we heard Rebecca Ryan, author of Live First, Work Second: Getting Inside the Head of the Next Generation, speak of seven factors that make a city attractive to new and current residents – things that make people want to be a part of a particular city. Of course this is just one way to measure Detroit’s strength, but it makes sense.
The indexes are: vitality, earning, learning, social capital, cost of lifestyle, after hours and "around town."
Vitality refers to the City’s commitment to the environment – which can mean air and water quality, as well as green space. Basically, it’s a city that puts the environment first, and creates spaces that are conducive to recreational activities, as well as reliable city services.
Certainly Detroit does extremely well in some of those areas. We have farmers markets, parks and rec space, but the City could do a better job at keeping certain areas safe, clean and up-to-date – including important City services.
Earning just doesn’t mean how much money a person is paid, it refers to the breadth and depth of occupational options, as well as how friendly a city is to new start-up companies. It can also include the diversity of the local economy.
I think Detroit definitely has a diverse workforce. Lawyers, bankers, IT professionals, broadcasters, writers, designers, chefs and countless other professions are represented in the City. Detroit is fairly attractive to larger companies (in terms of tax incentives), and they seem to do well with attracting younger start-ups as well.
However, the job market in Detroit, as with that of the entire state, could be much better.
Learning, as the term implies, refers to the available educational opportunities. It doesn’t jut include universities, community colleges and technical schools, it also means yoga, dancing, art, cooking and foreign language classes. The index also looks at the percentage of community graduates from high school, college and postgraduate institutions.
Clearly Detroit has a leg up on some of these learning opportunities. We have Wayne State, Detroit Mercy, College for Creative Studies and a smattering of other college satellite campuses in and around the City proper. The new YMCA centers offer various exercise classes, while community centers offer cultural and vocational classes.
One area where Detroit needs definite improvement is with its education system. Between 2001 and 2007, the DPS student population fell by nearly 55,000 kids (from 159,768 to 105,000). In 2006, the school board approved a $1.4 billion budget, which seems huge, but was a drop of about $44 million. The shortfall resulted in the elimination of 800 jobs, a decrease in salaries, school supplies, per student spending…and ultimately, a loss of nearly 9,000 students the following year. It has been said that by 2009, the Detroit school system will have closed nearly 110 of its more than 220 schools due to declining enrollment, or for lack of meeting federal test guidelines.
Social Capital is a term used to describe the value of diverse urban neighborhoods. It not only refers to the diversity within a community, but the level of each resident’s engagement in that community.
There’s no use in having ethnic enclaves in the city if those residents aren’t actively involved in Detroit. Of course I’m not saying the people living in those diverse neighborhoods aren’t ever engaged in what’s going on, but resident’s need to feel empowered to immerse themselves into each facet of Detroit’s cultural diversity.
Cost of Lifestyle is pretty simple – it compares the cost of living in the city to the wages. It’s not just beneficial for a particular city if cost of living is lower than most areas, the wages must be competitive too, or else it’s a wash.
I’m not sure how many single professionals making $45,000 a year can afford a $250,000 loft, but they seem to be popping up everywhere throughout Detroit. Instead, construction companies could put their money into rehabbing architecturally beautiful homes, pricing them to be attractive to first time homebuyers.
Perhaps the City could provide housings credits or incentives to young people to create a draw for people to buy in Detroit, rather than in other suburban areas. Most people of our generation want homes with character, and if the price is right (and we don’t have to spend money or time fixing it up), we’ll buy.
After hours is another pretty straightforward concept – how many things are there to do "after 5 p.m.?" Maybe it’s a sports, wine, or martini bar - people of the younger generation want to live in an area where there’s a lot of choice when it comes to unwinding after work.
Certainly Detroit does well in this area with its plethora bars, restaurants and bar/restaurant combos, accommodating the after work crowd. And depending on the season, people can catch an opera, show, ball game, hockey game, or one of Detroit’s many special events after work and on the weekends.
Finally, around town takes a look at the accessibility or physical connectivity of a community. It includes such things as the proximity of the next big metro area; reliable transportation systems like trains, highways and subways; the community’s friendliness to runners, bikers and pedestrians; and whether the community has rush hours or rush minutes.
Obviously Detroit is near other large cities, and it’s very easy to connect to those areas – but the City is lacking an effective public transportation system. Detroit could also do a better job at catering to the "weekend warrior" by creating more hiking and biking paths.
The basic premise is: the higher a city scores in each of these areas (and there’s some scientific formula involved, but it’s too much to outline here), the more attractive the city is to young talent and new residents.
Hopefully we all recognize that continuing a dialogue between residents and non-residents is extremely important. We all have our opinions on what’s wrong or right with the City, and we all have personal of professional reasons for thinking the way we do. People can’t be afraid to speak up about the positives of the city, while others need to be prepared to hear about the negatives, no matter how many times they’ve heard them before. Each interaction is an opportunity to promote Detroit. Everyone knows change takes time and things won’t happen overnight, but as one blog commenter said, "every little bit helps."