MALIK GOODWIN|Detroit Economic Growth Corporation
Detroit Future City, the planning framework created by the Detroit Works Long Term Planning Committee after two years of research, extensive community engagement and thoughtful consideration, offers almost 300 pages of exceptional ideas for re-thinking and re-building our city. It is available online at www.detroitworksproject.org.
In our extensive dialogue with people who live and work in Detroit, re-energizing the city’s economy emerged as the most important of all the imperatives the planning team identified. Media often mention how many people Detroit has lost over the last 40 years, but the real issue is how many jobs have disappeared. Jobs and people tend to disappear together. On the other hand, economic growth brings people to a city and keeps them there, and according to Detroit Future City, Detroit has only 27 jobs per 100 residents. The thriving city of Portland, by contrast, has twice that number.
In spite of that stark reality, Detroit does have significant economic development assets, and Future City advocates building on those assets as a foundation for growth. For instance, most of Detroit’s economic activity takes place in seven major employment districts and five other concentrated areas. According to the framework these take up 15% of Detroit’s land, and a significant amount of that area is either contaminated or holds vacant or deteriorating structures on it. Furthermore, 81% of the vacant industrial parcels are less than one acre in size. Just aggregating properties into sizes suitable for redevelopment is difficult, and that’s only the beginning when old buildings or contamination needs a cleanup.
Those facts are challenging, but they also represent an opportunity. Future City envisions Detroit as place that over the long term concentrates people in fewer, denser, more walkable neighborhoods connected by greenways and mass transit as well as traditional city streets. In the same vein, it makes sense to more immediately concentrate certain kinds of industrial and commercial activity as well.
Several of Detroit’s traditional industrial districts line up along railroad right of ways, for instance. Food-related firms find the Eastern Market a good hub for an industry cluster, and we already have significant growth in technology and creative companies along Woodward Avenue through greater downtown.
DEGC is already moving quickly ahead with strategies that align very well with the recommendations in Detroit Future City. Our business development team is engaged with companies and special programs in the key growth sectors identified in the report:
At the same time, our project management team has worked on many of the infrastructure projects that must be done to support the transformation Detroit is making: rebuilding streets, creating public greenspaces, supporting mass transit.
In short, we are glad that Detroit Future City confirms much of what we already know and are doing, but because of the deep civic engagement behind it, we are confident it will continue to guide us as we move forward.
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