by Laura Berman|The Detroit News
If it succeeds, the Detroit Works Long Term Planning framework will outlive most of the people working on it.
The project, with its 50-year timeline and an urgent need to prove its usefulness, won’t infuriate anyone right now.
But will this decades-long vision make a dent in the city’s zeitgeist?
Energy, dollars and number-crunching prowess have gone into this high-minded project to realistically devise strategies for the city’s re-build — but the lurking danger is that the “framework” won’t be adopted.
“I think everyone understands the stakes are really high, and that it’s time for bold and transformational action,” Dan Kincaid, planning leader, told 50 community residents at an east side forum last week.
The “long-term planning” process, funded by the Kresge Foundation and other grantors, accumulated reams of hard data, touched 75,000 people and connected more directly with 11,000 urbanites who came to meetings, played online games, showed up in the Eastern Market “home base” office or otherwise engaged in what Dan Pitera, University of Detroit Mercy professor and design center director, describes as one of the largest community engagement planning projects ever undertaken.
These latest forums were held in the same venues where, two years ago, thousands of angry Detroiters showed up to fight perceived efforts to shut down neighborhoods or move people.
What began as a conversation about land use and depopulation has evolved into a new recognition that jobs will ultimately determine the city’s future — and any realistic planning process has to look at economic development.
“We came to a realization that job growth is more important than population growth,” said Kincaid, describing how economics will drive land use.
Newly drawn “employment districts” will encourage economic development.
The long timeline enabled the planners to imagine new kinds of neighborhoods, incorporating ponds and other “blue” fluid improvements.
The framework envisions areas for food cultivation and forests, created to be harmonious with sparsely populated neighborhoods.
Like charter schools, neighborhoods can become “compact, distinct and competitive” — tailor-made to the residents’ needs and interests, enabling the city to develop new kinds of neighborhoods while retaining its quirky presence, from the Heidelberg Project to community gardens.
What the proposed framework lacks — an action plan with funding, for example — enables flexibility and openness. It’s a vision that anyone can see by walking into the long-term planning home base at Eastern Market, 9 to 5 weekdays.
“People are really optimistic and hopeful,” says Charles Cross, a co-leader on the civic engagement project.
The next step is a push for funding 10 pilot projects — work that can be started soon and can quickly produce results. Skepticism is justified, sure — but so is the optimism that surrounds this massive effort.
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