Seeking the vision for a revitalized city
Published: November 17, 2010
It's all about the "re-" these days when people talk about the city's future:
Reimagine Detroit, journalist John Gallagher urges in his recently released book title.
Redesign the crumbling, outdated city infrastructure, the planners say.
Realign the city departments and services to save money, the fiscally minded clamor.
Mayor Dave Bing has dubbed the effort the "Detroit Works Project," a simple if vague moniker to describe his administration's goal to re-build, re-shape and re-position Detroit.
Bing has charged city leaders and an advisory committee to craft a plan he and City Council can use to guide future decisions about city programs, development, mass transportation planning and other urban efforts.
Having held five sometimes contentious community meetings this fall, attended by about 5,000, Bing's team will conduct dozens more workshops this winter. Residents will speak. Planners will plan. City business will continue, but sometime next year, after the input phase has been completed, the mayor promises to share what his administration's vision will be to restart, redevelop and perhaps eventually repopulate the city.
They will all try to match city policy with the current reality: a city with far fewer people that can't rely on the fruits of the automotive industry and needs to reinvent its future.
Here's what all involved hope will be produced: a plan that honestly addresses Detroit's problems and the conditions of the people who live here, and offers solutions that both government and the private sector can provide.
This week, Metro Times brings readers a selection of conversations about the eventual plan, the process and some of the factors that will determine or be affected by its success. From interviews with academics, city officials, neighborhood leaders and advocates of particular, relevant issues we bring perspectives, philosophies, opinions and researched realities to further discussion about what Bing and his people face.
If they pull it off, a new Detroit could emerge. If not, well, we'd rather not re-flect on that.
The three women leading Mayor Dave Bing's Detroit Works effort bring both local experience and national perspective.
One, Marja Winters, is a long-time Detroit city employee, another, Karla Henderson, is a relative newcomer to the city's administration but has experience in Highland Park and Ann Arbor.
The third, Toni Griffin, is a national leader in urban planning and has been credited for successes in the revitalization of areas of Washington, D.C., and Newark.
They admit to being surprised, if not completely blindsided, by the angst and occasional hostility they've faced, especially during the five well-publicized community meetings held to seek community input about a future plan for the city.
"We were ready to have a conversation about what Detroit should look like in 2030, and there were some citizens who needed to talk about the challenges we face today," says Henderson.
As Bing's group executive for planning and facilities, she works with Winters, deputy director of the city's Planning and Development Department, and Griffin, the Harvard-affiliated "hired gun" whose Kresge Foundation-paid salary has drawn ire from some who see the private funding of her work by the suburban-based group as a symbol of outsiders trying to take over and profit from the city.
Still, the women have embarked on an ambitious project: create a new plan where none has succeeded with at least the two previous mayoral administrations to address the city's shrinking population; redesign city operations to match the financial realities of the city's troubled budget, currently facing a deficit of between $85 million and $125 million; stabilize neighborhoods for the people who continue to live in them; attract economic development through existing and future projects; and craft guidelines for how to manage Detroit's roughly 40 square miles of vacant land within the city's 139-square-mile footprint.
Their next step is the 40 community forums planned through January, where residents will again have a chance to vent their frustrations. Still the trio hopes to focus that energy on the plan for the future.
"We're kind of flushing through some of these ideas, but we know we need to continue to create a dialogue about some of the near-term challenges that our citizens are facing," Henderson says. "But that's a function that theoretically, practically the city should be performing anyway. So the other half of the discussion is this project."
Metro Times talked with Griffin, Henderson and Winters and heard about some aspects of the project.
Metro Times: What's happened since those five famous meetings?
Henderson: What's happened since the last five meetings is that we got a ton of information. We had to kind of absorb all of the information and be able to put it into some categories. We had comment cards. We had people on video giving the messages. We had the scribes going on. We need to take all that information and put it into something, a summary. And we want to make sure we are responding to what the citizens' needs are and what their desires are about this process.
Winters: We're looking at how to get the longer term buy-in of the plan and the mobilizing — to have people thinking longer term and about implementation, the longer end of the plan.
Henderson: We need to create a space for people. That was loud and clear.
MT: Beyond the meetings, what's the hope of getting buy-in on the project?
Winters: I think the first is related to the everyday essence of what we have to do in government. We talk about this whole idea of building trust and building confidence from the residents. Once we have a plan, is it going to be implemented? So sort of along the way we think that making sure we do a good job of delivering city service on a daily basis and being responsive builds that confidence and that trust and fuels people's passion and hope to be engaged in this process. Something that can actually come forth and be fruitful and productive for the city.
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