Blog: Matt Clayson


Let’s examine place in the context of Detroit. Communities with a sense of place are authentic. They’re gritty. They’re local and accessible. Detroit is different from its competitors as it is authentic. Chain restaurants and stores do not shout at the bystander from every corner. Rather, local haunts and venues are intimate and welcoming.

But does this grittiness and authenticity lead to a stronger city and stronger regional economy? Authenticity, grit and intimacy are important elements of place, but should they be defining elements? Authenticity and grit alone do not make a vibrant urban place.

Equally important to place are the elements of density and accessibility. To me, they are interchangeable. A dense urban environment is an accessible urban environment – one that is as inviting to the local insider as it is to the casual visitor. Street level businesses and pedestrian activity lend to a sense of comfort, warmth and belonging. They are the intangible elements that people use when comparing Detroit to other cities and regions. And though Detroit has made strides in creating this dense environment over the years, it is still at a disadvantage when compared to other cities and regions.

For Detroit to be relevant in the 21st century, it needs to further embrace urbanity and density as vital components of its economic plan. The new generation of Detroiters value place. They crave the authenticity of a truly urban community. To continue to grow and attract this community of engaged, young and educated individuals, local civic and government leadership has to advocate for an agenda of urban growth and density. Similarly, this same generation of Detroiters must convey that vision to the city and region’s civic and government leadership.