Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Which Detroit Future?

Preparing for my Weimar keynote, I came across a swell American Prospect article that details two possible futures for Detroit: one illustrated by my YouTube video [below] called Detroit Dirge, and another that is much more hopeful.

Once the fourth-largest city in America, with a peak population about 1.85 million in the 1950s, Detroit's population has now dropped to 713,777 residents - roughly the same number of residents as lived there 100 years ago. But as the article describes, Detroit is more than a city of vacant lots. There's also plenty of hardscrabble start-up spirit transforming the Motor City into a center of U.S. post-industrialization.

The changes sweeping across Detroit stretch from new lifestyles to new industries. The city is no longer composed mostly of single-family homes; a complex assortment of hybrid types is replacing the old model. And as grass grows through the cracks of crumbling boulevards, farming abandoned city blocks is a fast growing industry. This new Detroit offers hope to a population shellshocked from decades of declining fortunes.

This new future requires a balance of unbuilding, rebuilding, and new-building. Thus a process of triage is underway, saving some neighborhoods and razing others. Understandably, many community members are fearful about being forced from their homes. They hear Mayor David Bing announce, “We will repopulate some neighborhoods. We will depopulate some neighborhoods," and they prepare to fight back.

Following community outcry about Bing's initial plans, the city’s Detroit Works program appears to have revamped its approach, opting for short-term ground-up projects over central planning. Still, Detroiters question whether Mayor Bing has caught the bootstrapping vision or whether he’s still determined to control things from city hall. Right now the future is uncertain, but one local organizer offers a philosophical summary of the situation: “Mayors come and go. Detroiters stay and stick.”

Read moreAmerican Prospect The Death and Life of Detroit

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