“Detroit Future City” Outlines Plans for a New Detroit

3.28.2013 | Detroit is in the news with its new emergency manager set to begin work. A first step by be reading  Detroit Works Project’s “Detroit Future City“– a plan for rebuilding Detroit. It has a lot of good ideas–from people on the ground in Detroit itself.

As ICIC writes in their March e-newsletter:

Three years ago, Detroit’s public, private and philanthropic stakeholders embarked on a journey to rethink Detroit’s future. An extensive public process included over 30,000 resident participants and hundreds of civic leaders and technical experts who helped to craft a new long-term strategic framework for the city’s equitable growth and sustainable development.

The report focuses on five key elements of change: economic growth, land use, city systems, neighborhoods and land/building assets. These elements are driven by the resounding call from residents to focus on quality of life: health, crime, neighborhood quality, education, jobs.

I was in Detroit last spring to see for myself this decline of one of America’s great cities. It was sobering to say the least. I came away thinking that the only way to fix Detroit would be to shrink its footprint, while taking care to not bulldoze and displace like the 1960s “urban renewal” did. Detroit needs to focus on sustainable density. The amount of vacant land in Detroit today is nearly equal to the size of Manhattan. 700,000 people live in Detroit, down from 2 million in its heyday.

Columnist James Melton of “Detroit News” seems to agree:

“The Detroit Works Project’s “Detroit Future City” plan is a good framework for re-making the city. The plan recognizes that Detroit’s physical footprint is too large for its current population and offers good ideas for turning a weakness — surplus land — into a strength. It deserves to be taken seriously, even if – like most plans of its kind – it is not implemented exactly as written.”

Melton goes on to recommend another idea near and dear to our hearts here at BRR:

“Also, because Detroit is far from the only local government with budget problems, we should use this moment to create a region that works better. I think that means being willing to blur — or even erase – the line between some city and county governments. For example, should Detroit and WayneCounty continue to be distinct entities? Do we need a regional police force that can deploy officers and resources across jurisdictions where needed? Those are things worth exploring.”

Indeed. Perhaps Detroit, on its way up, could be a model for smart regionalism with a strong metro at its heart.

The plan, in fact, begins by recommending a regional transportation plan be in place by 2030.

A new public transit loop will create a ring through the middle of the city, intersecting each of the key radial boulevards to provide more– from light rail to bus rapid transit, to mini-buses. The boulevards themselves will be the right size to accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians, transit, and motor vehicles   from pollution, and aid in the overall image of a green, sustainable city.

It’s good to see a smart plan taking shape. But no one is pretending the solutions will be easy. But it’s imperative to not give up on a great city, especially one as central to American life as Detroit. Charlie LeDuff writes in his brilliant and tough book “Detroit,”

“And it is awful here, there is no other way to say it. But I believe that Detroit is America’s city. It was the vanguard of our way up, just as it is the vanguard of our way down. And one hopes the vanguard of our way up again. Detroit is Pax Americana. The birthplace of mass production, the automobile, the cement road, the refrigerator, frozen peas, high paid blue-collar jobs, home ownership and credit on a mass scale. America’s way of life was built here.”

In the meantime, tune in to ICIC’s webinar on the Detroit Works Project on Wednesday, April 17, from 2:00-3:30 p.m. ET

The webinar will describe:

  • The four key economic growth pillars that offer the most promise for job and business growth—and how Detroit plans to align these cluster strategies
  • How Detroit will use place-based strategies to create core investment in employment corridors
  • Ways that the city can transform its land into an economic asset through the use of tools like land banking and master-planned industrial hubs
  • Lessons from the integrated planning process that can be applied in cities nationwide 


Comments are closed.