Blog: Scott Clein

Scott Clein is an Associate with civil engineering firm Giffels-Webster Engineers where he manages the firms’ Detroit office. A graduate of both U-M and WSU, Scott has spent much of the last 14 years working to improve the region’s physical environment. He'll be writing about the redevelopment of Metro Detroit.

Post No. 1

I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking. You surfed over to Metromode (like the loyal reader you are) excited to see who would be the next guest blogger.  You read my bio and said: "I didn’t think engineers could write."   

I respond to this blatant stereotype by saying that, well, you’re right. Most engineers don’t like to write, mostly because they can’t without including a Greek letter and a mathematical symbol or two. You’ll have to be the judge of whether I break the mold, starting with today’s discussion of the resurgent urban core. 

If you’re a regular visitor to this website you no doubt have heard the growing chorus of people who have discovered an interesting change in the country’s demographics. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) projects that by the year 2030 approximately 70% of the residential households in our region will not have any children. Add to that the increasing life expectancy us younger folk (and yes I still include myself) will enjoy due to advances in medicine, and you’ve got something interesting brewing. 

As life expectancy increases to well past 80 and the number of households with children shrinks, the percentage of a person’s life dedicated to raising a child will also shrink. A recent Urban Land Institute (ULI) study suggested that fifty years ago 40% to 50% of a person’s life was spent in this endeavor while by the year 2030 it will be closer to 25%. Think about what that means for a second. By the year 2030 nearly 75% of your life will likely be spent pursuing your agenda. 

I think that it is the relationship of these statistics, as much as anything, that is leading to the recent resurgence of our nation’s urban cores. Unfettered by the responsibilities of parenthood, many professionals (young and old alike) are flocking to residential developments in larger cities. Even in today’s market, Detroit is leading the region in residential permits. Have you wondered why it seems like every single building in the City of Detroit is being converted into condominiums?  

Living in a dense, urban center can provide immediate (and non-motorized) access to any number of needs. The ability to walk from your home to stores, restaurants, museums, bars, etc. is an amenity that many are finding they can’t live without. It’s even rearing its head in the suburbs, as communities like Royal Oak and Birmingham have seen very stable or increased residential absorption near their central business districts in spite of the recent housing slump. 

Detroit has a great opportunity to capitalize on this phenomenon because of the magnitude and architectural importance of its available building stock. As Joe Posch blogged in October on this very site, "…the City of Detroit has an opportunity to become something really exceptional; a place unlike anyplace else in look, lifestyle and culture…" Preach on. 

Many developers have caught on to this fact, as indicated by the number of new condominium developments announced in the last few years. As much as the City has improved significantly in the last decade there are still innumerable opportunities that can, and need, to be exploited. 

Over the course of the next four days I’ll touch on a few of these opportunities, along with a few development trends that my co-workers and I have noticed. I’ll also hopefully provide you with an insight that you might not have access to regularly. As a design engineer working on the implementation of some of the projects you read about, you’ll get to hear my thoughts on what it takes to actually go from concept to construction, and where our community leaders might better support the economic redevelopment of the region.