For supporters and enthusiasts of Detroit’s revitalization, the city is poised to be a “model for the future;” but in order to make a comeback, it will have to start with fixing neighborhoods and attracting more people.
Though the city has seen a 60 percent population decline, a 90 percent industrial job loss and amassed 23.4 square miles of vacant land, its recovery will center on a strategy of innovation. On June 2, nearly 125 community members were issued a call-to-action to become innovators in the movement to revitalize Detroit.
The two-hour event, held inside the Packard Plant building on the east side of the city, was the second in Detroit Future City’s (DFC) three-part Innovation Series, and included a presentation of the DFC’s Strategic Framework plan and panelists who shared their stories of innovation.
A 347-page urban planning document released in 2013, the Detroit Future City Strategic Framework details a variety of initiatives and projects that intend to stabilize and improve the city. The framework resulted from a 24-month process that drew on input from Detroit residents, civic leaders, and representatives from the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. The framework is being overseen by the Detroit Future City Implementation Office, a leadership team formed by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, which is tasked with coordinating stakeholders to fulfill the objectives of the framework. The Framework is being supported by the Kresge Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, all working in collaboration with the City of Detroit.
The Framework is divided into five elements, including economic growth, land use, city systems and environment; neighborhoods, and land and buildings assets. The Economic Growth elements propose five strategies to grow Detroit’s economy, support Detroit’s economic sectors, and attract new residents and businesses. It also includes supporting economic sectors that have already shown success in job creation, specifically digital and creative jobs, education and medical employment, industrial employment (both traditional and new technologies, large-scale and artisanal, manufacture and process), and local entrepreneurship.
The framework plan was presented by Dan Kinkead, director of projects of the DFC Implementation Office; and he emphasized the need to drive density and equitable growth in Detroit through residential living and employment. He proposed using old, abandoned industrial facilities throughout the city to employ current residents, particularly in manufacturing jobs.
He also spoke about how Detroit’s physical transformation will address the iconic problem that has plagued the city—miles and miles of vacant, uninhabited space. According to Kinkead, “reclaiming land for employment growth” and transforming open spaces in the city will be key to resident employment. Detroit’s vacant land can equal jobs in food production—specifically through urban farming and CDER (construction/demolition/engineering/repurposing). He cited examples of innovation in urban agriculture, including Keep Growing Detroit, a resident network that uses vacant land to support the growth and consumption of fruits and vegetables within city limits; and Recovery Park, a nonprofit organization that utilizes vacant land to grow food locally while providing employment to Detroiters. Under economic development, Kinkead highlighted Lift (American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute), which is using vacant industrial buildings and skilled workers to build a new manufacturing center for lightweight materials; and the Eastern Market Corporation, the nonprofit that supports the historic Eastern Market and the city’s food economy.
By using place-based strategies to create investment and employment centers, the framework also focuses on seven employment districts (Downtown, Midtown, Southwest, McNicholas, Mt. Elliott, Eastern Market and Corktown areas) where job growth is already occurring.
Focus HOPE says it is also leasing space and employees to Android Industries, which provides assembled motor vehicle modules to GM Detroit Hamtramck. According to Crain’s Detroit Business, Android is expected to invest $16.5 million to expand on Focus: HOPE’s campus. The expansion is expected to create as many as 200 new jobs by next year, said Jones.
In keeping with the theme of innovation, two local community leaders—William F. Jones, Jr., chief executive officer of Focus: HOPE, and Lydia Gutierrez, co-founder and president of Hacienda Mexican Foods—shared their stories. Focus: HOPE, an organization dedicated to solving problems related to hunger, economic disparity, inadequate education and racial divisiveness, is working to revitalize the neighborhoods surrounding its campus through its “Keep It 100” program. Under the initiative, from July 16-18, the organization will partner with an expected 15,000 volunteers for a revitalization project within the 100-block HOPE Village neighborhood. The project will consist of vacant lot clean up, boarding abandoned homes, tree and garden planting, and installation of public art.
Gutierrez stressed that local entrepreneurship would equate to job growth in Detroit. Starting her company in 1994 with her late husband, Gutierrez’ Hacienda Mexican Foods has grown to employ approximately 70 people, operating out of three buildings in southwest Detroit.
“We need you to bring your great ideas,” said Gutierrez. “We need your active participation in bringing Detroit a kind of CPR to give it life.
“There’s no better time to start a business; there’s such opportunity here,” she continued. “Even if you hire one resident, that will change that home and change our community.”
(Photo: Michigan Municipal League via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)