If you take all the anxiety about the changes unfolding in Detroit, and whether they will ultimately serve a privileged few or the aspirations of all residents, it truly boils down to one central question: How will Detroit’s revitalization secure both market growth and preserve long-term affordability, equity and opportunity for all who choose to live in this city?
In a nutshell, that’s Detroit’s moon shot.
Together, everyone I know working in Detroit is deeply engaged and committed to making Detroit a city where everyone can rise. Through years of experience and study, my sense is Detroit’s revitalization can secure the mutually desired market growth and long-term opportunity through the integration of 3 things.
First, we must harvest the accumulated knowledge of 50 years of anti-poverty programs and the “developmental science” around economic mobility: the fact that spacial integration among a range of income groups is the single most important predictor to ensuring someone that starts in the bottom 20% of has a chance to rise into the top 80% of earners. We have to emphasize programs, policies and projects that have proven results or are aligned with historical data. We have to forge strategies that promote mixed income districts, multifamily housing developments and the weaving together of different economic strata. This is not about forcing integration either, but creating attractive live and work centers where everyone that wants to be in that place has an affordable and meaningful opportunity to join in and be part of the community.
Second, we have to accept the synthesis of structural and cultural dimensions of poverty. Poverty creates adverse environments for opportunity to flourish; adverse strategies within families and communities to realize opportunity then reinforce denigrating cycles of inter-generational disadvantage. It’s not enough for our country to let this binary debate distract from the fact that poverty begets poverty and most egregiously so in areas of concentrated disadvantage. Instead, we must see the debate as an issue of sequencing our investments and strategies to intervene where poverty manifests and perpetuates itself across the county.
Third, and finally, connecting opportunity for all at its root demands we focus on collisions and community building.
Collision building is the logic of placemaking and economic development tools that secure vibrant mixed income and mixed use communities of choice. Collisions are the free exchange of people, ideas and resources. Collisions happen when we forge our programs and projects across systems and with multiple partners. It’s more about ecology development than transactional programming. More about a soulful approach to our opportunity strategies than purely algebraic economic development that X dollars leads to Y Jobs. Instead, it’s the X-factor of quality changes that encourage the flow and exchange of creativity and people to naturally develop.
Community building blends the collision frame and lifts up the process and methodology we employ as we aim to transform our cities. We must be as attentive to the process and the identity features of building those ecology’s’.
Above all else, we can’t be phony about it. Better to be transactional sometimes than execute a fake “community muscle” as we build these places, programs and projects. This is the pornography test (we know it when we see it) of quality community and economic development that differentiates meaningful inclusion, engagement and results (not necessarily in that order or with all the same ingredients every time) and when change unfolds in an misaligned fashion.
There should be no doubt, Detroit will rise again. These three ingredients: data integration; synthesis of structural and cultural poverty challenges; and ecology building for collisions and community to grow, can help our work meet the challenge of creating districts and cities that support market growth and long-term affordability, equity and opportunity for all here in Detroit.
The most urgent demand is that ours is an inclusive transformation. I believe, with all my heart and soul, that the folks working to make our streets more vibrant and our systems more empowering for Detroit residents carry this shared aspiration.
Although it will take more time than we’d like and will unfold imperfectly, if we commit to holding ourselves accountable to those three things, we will improve opportunity for all Detroiters. It will take patient tenacity, but our tenacity will be justly rewarded.