Seeking the vision for a revitalized city
Published: November 17, 2010
MT: What framework or goals for the process do you have?
Griffin: One of the goals of the plan is to help the city be more strategically aligned and coordinated around how and where they spend their resources. As in using and looking at a number of other works that are going on, the work around the elimination of blight and looking at school capital programs as well. What we're hoping to do through this effort is to help agencies citywide better align and focus their resources in ways that leverage one another and help create more neighborhood sustainability and more neighborhoods of choice.
Winters: I think in essence the name describes it. When you think about the inefficiencies of how city government is run, much of that contributed to how the population is sparsely populated all over across the city. How can we get to a point of creating a better quality of life for the residents? And then also, how can we be a more efficient and effective government in response to the citizen population? Certainly we want a sustainable community in the city of Detroit. We want a functional and efficient government and we want to enhance the quality of life in neighborhoods across the city of Detroit. This process is the "how do we get there?" I think everybody brings different perspectives and thoughts to the table about how we get there, but I don't think we'll find lots of people who will disagree about wanting more green space or their quality of life enhanced.
MT: How much of this is focusing on the city administration and how to organize it?
Henderson: Right now we have a technical team on board that's looking at the majority of our operational departments, looking at things like, does it make sense to say, outsource forestry, for example. What are some operational things where we can get a cost savings and efficiency, provide a better services? What are some of those that we consider no-brainers? We are looking at operations of departments also.
MT: What efforts are going on now that actually are part of the long-term plan, whatever it turns out to look like or include?
Henderson: For me it's demolition, because we know we have structures that need to come down. We can plan all we want. And we are going to plan all these wonderful things for the city, but the blight is still sitting there. You've got to get rid of the blight so the opportunity to repurpose the vacant land can occur. We're going to be taking down 3,000 structures this year. We've identified (mainly federal) funding for 3,000 structures next year and hopefully we'll have some funding to get some of the commercial structures down along Gratiot and Michigan avenues. We believe we need to start addressing that so when the plan does roll out we're not then spending the next three years demolishing structures, that the land will be ripe for this new plan, whatever it may be.
MT: Two of the other headline-generating efforts are the Woodward Light Rail and the greenways that are planned and somewhat funded throughout the city. How do projects like that fit in with Detroit Works?
Winters: When you talk about Transit Oriented Development — and the Woodward Light Rail is the big one — how are strategies and investment aligning on that corridor? How do we think about land and the economic development strategy for that area? Greenways and open space are always huge considerations. The Parks Department is rethinking their master plan and thinking about, as there's a decline in resources, how do they decide which parks to invest in? So, as we start looking at information on which neighborhoods are strong and which neighborhoods are sort of disconnected from parks, that information will be helpful to them as we make these kind of decisions.
MT: What about regional coordination?
Griffin: Absolutely, but we're certainly taking the approach that the city wants to be a good regional partner, therefore wants to make sure it's operating on its highest efficiency, help create sustainability in government and for the city but we also recognized in this effort that we do need to have important regional conversations. Transportation would be an obvious one but looking at new economic opportunities is an equally important one.
MT: How detailed have you gotten with the plan so far, for example, on the issue of vacant land and green spaces?
Winters: Not to any degree and detail yet. I think when you have conversations about what to do with the underutilized, vacant land, people want to pit one use against the other. The reality is we have a lot of vacant land we can utilize for a variety of different purposes. It's not that we want to use it all to create green spaces. But if green spaces are missing from neighborhoods where there's going to be a strong presence of families with children, we need to think about that. Or to the extent that green spaces can be linkages from neighborhoods to downtown or links from one to another or to the riverfront, we're thinking about those things, but we're really not at the point of having detailed conversations of what those green spaces can look like. But it's certainly one of the things we're looking at for the underutilized vacant land.
MT: In addition to the public forums, how else is the city gathering data from which to create the plan?
Griffin: The team is going to be looking across nine technical categories: land use and land development, neighborhoods and housing, open space and ecology, environmental sustainability, urban design, historic and cultural resources, transportation, infrastructure, and public services. Right now the team is about midway through doing an initial assessment of what existing conditions are within each of these categories. And finding any challenges as well as any opportunities that can inform the plan. We are definitely looking at this planning framework as a plan for implementation. So it's very important in whatever we come up with that we understand the operations and implementation portion of it. Certainly getting a sense of how certain city services are operating and functioning currently, and the impact of having a city whose infrastructure is larger than its population is probably going to ever be again, how do things get reorganized and reformed to help match the vision going forward?
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