Detroit’s filing for municipal bankruptcy last week has brought into sharp focus the severity and enormity of challenges facing our city. While the painful process of restructuring will accommodate a real opportunity for Detroit to emerge stronger, and better-equipped to serve its citizens and businesses, it must also recognize and build on the positive actions already underway to address challenges we face each day.
It is within the context of these challenges and actions that Detroit Future City (DFC) was developed to ensure investments are strategically coordinated to maximize impact. Accordingly, the DFC Implementation Team will continue to leverage and catalyze the powerful potential of the Strategic Framework to inform decision-making, and to transform our city into a dynamic, attractive, and opportunity-rich environment that provides a true value proposition to its residents and businesses, while gaining and maintaining fiscal sustainability.
Detroit did not arrive at this point overnight, and while it will not emerge from its challenges overnight either, it is important to note a few of the many positive opportunities, developments, and actions that are already underway. In their own way they mark the start of our transformation:
This fall, a new Mayor and City Council will be elected. Due to overwhelming recommendations from citizens during the recent Charter Commission hearings, City Council members will be elected by district, providing greater representational advocacy and accountability. DFC has been participating in district-oriented voter information meetings, and we will work with all stakeholders to cultivate an informed and empowered electorate.
Both the regionally galvanizing support for the Detroit Institute of Arts bond measure, and the formation of the Regional Transportation Authority, illustrate the ways in which our region can and will work together. In a region split amongst 140 municipalities, such coordination is essential for our future. While DFC’s recommendations are clearly defined for the city of Detroit, the Implementation Team will establish broader regional positions, and be regional advocates for change.
Detroit’s economy is growing through unprecedented redevelopment in the Greater Downtown with corporate investment and stewardship unseen in recent history. It is also buoyed by tremendous investment and growth in and around our city’s strongest academic and medical anchor institutions, including Henry Ford Health Systems, Detroit Medical Center, College for Creative Studies, and Wayne State University. And today, redevelopment is beginning around the McNichols and Livernois Avenue educational anchors of Marygrove College and University of Detroit Mercy.
At the same time, emerging cultural, creative, and innovative small-scale companies are taking root throughout the city. In this emergent economy, shared goods, services, and knowledge are creating valuable network enterprises that foster resilience and depth, in contrast to the massive production economies that have dominated Detroit in the past. DFC is actively working with economic development stakeholders, including important collaborators such as the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, to foster new opportunities for innovative and equitable economic growth throughout the city.
The M1-RAIL streetcar line along Woodward Avenue from Downtown to New Center / North End will begin construction this year, creating a new rail line that provides necessary non-automotive transit for many living and working in Greater Downtown. The M1-RAIL is a product of thoughtful decision-making by a number of private, public, and philanthropic stakeholders achieving a shared, demonstrable investment that will provide an unprecedented level of confidence to future investors and entrepreneurs, encouraging them to establish businesses in the heart of the city.
Beyond M1-RAIL, longer range planning for transit along some of the city’s radial roadways has begun, including ongoing alternatives analyses for a Woodward Avenue bus rapid transit route from Detroit to Pontiac. More immediately, DFC has laid out clear and achievable strategic changes within current public transportation providers, including route designation changes, and innovative methods for service delivery in areas with high vacancy and poor access to transit. These strategic actions are supported by important multi-modal efforts to encourage and support bike transit throughout the city.
Significant green infrastructure investment and transformation is planned by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) this year to integrate parts of the city’s west side with a new resilient system to mitigate storm water runoff that ultimately requires millions of dollars in operating and capital costs each year, while also causing environmental harm to our Rouge and Detroit Rivers.
Earlier this year DFC endorsed a smaller scale piloting effort, also executed by SEMCOG and DWSD, in partnership with Greening of Detroit, and the Michigan Land Bank, in the Cody Rouge neighborhood. Here, 10 vacant lots were transformed into beautiful open spaces planted and structured to mitigate storm water runoff while stabilizing the neighborhood.
While the vacant and underutilized land throughout Detroit often remains a legacy of disinvestment, and a clear liability, many – including DFC – see a city that is land rich, with the unique land resources to develop innovative infrastructure systems that would be impossible for other cities. Moving forward, DFC will work to maximize the fiscal, environmental, and personal impact of new infrastructures like these.
Today, key leadership within the Detroit Land Bank Authority, Michigan Land Bank, Planning & Development Department, and Emergency Financial Manager’s office are working with DFC to understand how existing land and buildings ready for demolition may be utilized to stabilize neighborhoods, and attract future investment, through the Federal Hardest Hit Fund.
Given the importance of public landholders within Detroit, over the 18 months leading up to the completion of the Strategic Framework, DFC contributed to a convening of all eight primary public landholders in Detroit to ensure more strategic and coordinated decision-making could be rendered. Moving forward DFC is present in continued discussions with many of these landholders, and plans to release public landholders user guide later this fall.
Detroit Future City recognizes difficult days lay ahead with or without municipal bankruptcy, but we also know such restructuring will accommodate the opportunity to transform our city, and build on the remarkable actions already underway. Now is not the time for timid overtures, posturing, or hand wringing. Now is the time for innovative thinking, inclusive action, and thoughtful decision-making. It is time to render a new, more dynamic future for the entirety of our city and ultimately our region. DFC stands ready – as active participants in Detroit’s transformation – to assist all stakeholders in creating a city for our future.
If you are interested in learning more, please feel free to contact us at 313-259-4407
Dan Kinkead, Director
Detroit Future City
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