Blog: Kate Baker

Ferndale's progeny became this hip city's prodigy. Meet Kate Baker, director of development at Wayne State University Press and Ferndale city councilwoman. Kate, who goes down in legend as the city's youngest-ever elected official, will be writing about community development and culture in Metro Detroit.

Kate Baker - Post 1: Potential

Over the past few weeks, I've been happily browsing the Woodward corridor for shower gifts in my favorite local stores.  As I visit shops in downtown Ferndale, Royal Oak, and Birmingham, I'm reminded of what these places looked like a decade ago, when, college-bound, I decided to leave metro Detroit and never look back.  

Back then, some communities, like Royal Oak and Birmingham, had already cultivated unique retail and experience-oriented niches out of their historic downtowns through strategic investment and reinvestment.  Others, like Ferndale, were just beginning to revive a local, niche-retail downtown while trying to overcome major public and private infrastructure hurdles.  After graduation, I took a second look, and, thankfully for me, decided to come home and help cultivate the potential of the places I love.

Recognition of the potential of our traditional downtowns, walkable neighborhoods, well-kept public parks, and diverse housing stock, all of which contribute to the feeling of a cohesive, urban community, is what will ultimately allow our inner-ring suburbs to prosper in the coming years.  I believe the economics that made sprawl desirable – cheap land, cheap gas, greenfield industrial development – are revealing their real costs to the public in both dollars and environmental degradation and influencing individual decision-making about community life.

How we choose where to live is derived from complex and highly personal priorities.  Residents across the region are again valuing the amenities that cities like Ferndale have to offer with regards to location, culture, diversity, access to transit and community cohesion.  I'm proud that Ferndale has fared better than most during these trying times, and believe it can serve as a model for long-range planning, careful budget management and the cultivation of progressive, regional values. 

Yes, property values have fallen, but Ferndale's homes have held more value than almost any city in Oakland County.  Yes, retailers and other business owners are struggling, but Ferndale residents choose to shop locally, allowing our downtown to retain a high occupancy rate and many in our business community to weather the storm.  

Ten years ago, my 18-year-old eyes failed to understand the potential of neighborhood-based economic development as I headed east to Smith College with high hopes for a fulfilling future anywhere outside Detroit.  By the time I graduated, I had developed a much deeper understanding of community dynamics and economics, and found myself defending my hometown to fellow Smith students with a renewed fervor.  

I follow those classroom lessons with hands-on experience as a volunteer for the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority and strive to put them into action as a member of the city council.  Potential and promise exist in hometowns throughout our region.  I encourage other young Detroiters to participate in making their communities a place in which they want to live, raise their families, and develop careers.  If we're lucky, I'll wear out more shoe leather on Woodward Avenue, seeking the perfect gift to celebrate their milestones.