For my fifth and final post here, I want to address a concept which has not been discussed nearly as much as it should: a borough system for Metropolitan Detroit. What does that mean exactly? Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties would be incorporated into one mega-city of five million residents with each former county being a borough - much like New York did in 1898 and Toronto did as recently as 1954. This is not a new concept, but it has never been seriously considered, primarily because of the social-economical-political-racial rift between the more economically powerful suburbs and the core City of Detroit. This rift was not created by, but is perpetuated to this day by small-minded folk jockeying for power in both places.
It's a given that neither side would want to share political power with the other. The mental fortresses built of fear are too strong. But imagine if you will, a Detroit with the diversity and economic power of the entire region - shared services, shared infrastructure and shared tax base. The transition may be more difficult than the joining of East and West Germany, but I truly think it would be in the best interest of all parties and all the residents of the region in the long run.
In theory, the former geographic City of of Detroit would share tax revenue from the entire the region, while the outer suburbs would be absorbed into a newly defined Detroit City with a revived core. The economic advantages seem to be clearly in the former Detroit's favor, but the social and political power would shift to the outer boroughs (due to population figures)... at first. Think twenty, fifty years in the future, after the most stubborn politicians have long since retired. Imagine a unified Detroit that extends as north as the neighborhood of Ortonville and as far west as Canton Village. Imagine five million people sharing the responsibility for 3,913 square miles, rather than their individual enclaves. Before you say this sound like a communist plot, this is exactly how many real, vibrant cities in the North America work.
As one city, many of the social divides that tear us apart would be rendered irrelevant. A singular metro Detroit municipality will not solve the social and economic problems we face, but it would remove some of the barriers which help them thrive. There would still be richer and poorer neighborhoods, but posturing would be pointless. The point is: we'd all be in it together. Royal Oak, Ferndale, Corkrtown and Midtown would all be neighborhoods of Detroit, much like Greenwich Village, Williamsburg, Astoria and Midtown are neighborhoods of New York. We wouldn't lose the character of any area, but we would lose some of the mental boundaries which keep us apart. A real metropolitan mass transit system could be a reality for the first time, without municipalities blocking bus service for thinly veiled racist motives.
A true metropolitan City of Detroit would take time - probably a generation or two to really work, but it would be worth it. Re-drawing city lines won't solve the "us vs. them" mentality, but it would be a huge step in the right direction. It would also return Detroit to it's status an economic and cultural powerhouse. In the eyes of the world, Detroit could be one of the greatest cities in the U.S. once again. (In my sick version of justice, there would some satisfaction in seeing all who fled to the farthest reaches of the area being forced to take responsibility for the city that provided their existence, as well as forcing those within the city to acknowledge the importance of the surrounding communities.)
This macro outlook addresses some issues, but a micro outlook is needed as well. What makes today's Detroit strong and relevant is not big industry, but its entrepreneurs and DIY'ers. In this hypothetical mega-city of the future, we must more than ever foster and promote the diversity and individuality that makes our place unique.
Andy Malone is a life-long Detroit resident, artist, architect, community leader and DIY'er. I've been fortunate to be a close friend and professional colleague with Andy for some twelve years, to serve on the CAID board of directors and co-curate The Other Auto Show with him. On the topic of Detroit entrepreneurship, Andy says, "Detroit necessitates an entrepreneurial spirit that creative people thrive on. Almost every Detroiter I know has done (or valiantly attempted) extraordinary things. It's not unusual to run into someone who started their own magazine, painted a mural, opened a restaurant, started a poetry festival, or shot a feature length movie (sometimes simultaneously.) In other cities, the creative resources are jealously protected by the established community. Detroit is about sharing. We have no choice."
He continues, "Apathy is my least favorite aspect of Detroit. From political corruption to litter on the streets, apathy is the root of everything that's wrong with the city. There are so many neighborhoods that are at a tipping point right now. As trite as it sounds, the smallest improvement could have a lasting impact. The best way to improve Detroit is also the most basic: Create a close-knit network of positive nodes throughout. Slow's and CAID are good examples of businesses that moved into neglected neighborhoods and challenged people's perception of Detroit."
From a network of positive individual actions to a metro-area wide sense of shared responsibility and pride, the combination of creativity, passion and midwestern hard work are the keys to a better metropolitan Detroit for everyone. If we can open our minds and remove fear and apathy from the equation, there is no limit to what we can do and what we can become.