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March 19, 2014 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-03-19

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m Wednesday, March 19, 2014 // The Statement

I6Wenesdy, Mrch 9, 014/ heStteen 3--3



How long does it take to revive a city
burdened with nearly $20 billion in
debt, unfunded liabilities, a steadily
declining population and over 70,000 aban-
.,doned structures?
According to Detroit Future City, many of
these problemsowillibe alleviatedby 2065.
By then, Michigan's biggest city will look a
lot different, if everything goes according to
plan. Transportation systems will be improved,
vacant space will be repurposed for public use
and Detroit will become a beacon of environ-
mental friendliness.
Re-organizing the city is a tall task, consid-
ering the Motor City's dwindling population,
but it's a challenge that's not too daunting for
the Detroit Works Project.
The project began in 2010 under former
""Mayor Dave Bing's administration to rethink
the land-use policies that affected Detroit's
future. In the fall of 2011, the Detroit Works
project was divided into two components -
Short-Term Actions and Long-Term Planning
- and independent contractors were hired
to separately develop long-term strategies for
After a three-year-long process detailing the
challengesand possiblesolutionsfacingthe city
of Detroit, the Detroit Works Long-Term Plan-
ning initiative, rebranded as Detroit Future
City, released a 347-page strategic framework
in December 2012 that suggested innovative
policies that would reinvigorate the city.
By focusing on five planning areas - eco-
nomic growth, land use, city systems, neigh-
borhoods and building assets - the outline
pinpoints areas of potential improvement and
suggests short-term and long-term solutions
that ease the city into transformation.
In some aspects, the Future City frame-
work reflects a page out of an Economics 101
textbook. Since it operates on the premise that
there willbe very few resources available from.
the state, the framework considers how to best
allocate its scarce resources among the differ-
'"ent regions of Detroit.
"It should be shocking in some respects,
but it's also understandable once you under-
stand the logic of the report," said Wayne State
University Law Prof. Peter J. Hammer, who
teaches a course on reimagining development,
calling the trade-offs made in the framework
"defensible, logical triage choices."
Though the Detroit Works Project plans to

improve the city community, it struggled to
receive input from the citizens it would affect
most in the earliest stages of development.
While early city planners looked to develop
the framework around long-term land-use
strategies, citizens who attended early civic
engagement meetings were more interested in
how the government could address their short-
term needs - such as improving neighborhood
safety and demolishing abandoned households
- June Thomas, centennial professor of urban
and regional planning at the Taubman College
of Architecture and Urban Planning, said.
As a result, 24 "Process Leaders" were hired
to incorporate civic engagement into the plan-
ning process. The Process Leaders comprised
leaders from organizations that ranged from
local churches to nonprofits and aimed to
equitably reach out to all their constituents for
input. They collectively held over 30,000 one-
on-one conversations, Charles Cross, former
Process Leader, said.
The Process Leaders developed a series of
innovative tactics to reach out to the commu-
nity. Such tactics included creating an Eastern
Market Home Base - where citizens could
attend regular open houses to clarify some of
their inhibitions surrounding Detroit Works'
Long-Term Planning - and setting up Roam-
ing Tables around different areas in the city to
spread awareness.
"Part of the Process Leader concept was
that it shouldn't be a few people talking to
many people, it should be many people talking
to many people," said Cross, who is currently
a landscape and urban designer for the Detroit
Collaborative Design Center. He added that the
goal was to showcommunity members that the
Future City process was "authentic and trans-
parent," while ensuring that the input received
was "meaningful."
"This was to help develop a way to engage
community and one of the ways we looked at
this was not through the lens of 'OK, we have
got to have a community meeting, OK we can
check that box off,' " he said. "We looked at
community engagement or civic engagement
as growing relationships. Through these rela-
tionships we then created dialogue."
Thomas, who attended the early commu-
nity engagement meetings, saw the disconnect
between the citizen's parochial requests for
their neighborhood and the project sponsor's
long-term ambitions as one of the project's

weaknesses, though she added that the project
addressed issues that impacted a large number
of citizens.
"Itwas the economic growth that seemed to
have the most public interest," Thomas noted.
"People would stand in front of the posters
for that particular element (of the Future City
engagement process) because people recog-
nized that a lot of Detroit's problems (are) relat-
ed to its economy."
Through the 347-page strategic framework,
the Process Leaders embedded images of sil-
houettes and thought-bubbles that reflected
the comments of the community pertaining to
the issues addressed.
"I distinctly remember one woman coming
in and she was reading different things on the
wall and she said 'Hey, I said that. That's my
comment,' " Cross recalled. "We have to make
sure that people can see themselves in the doc-
Despite Future City's extensive civic
engagement efforts, Thomas said she believed
the project prescribed recommendations for
the city at a macro-level, and did not entirely
reflect the exact desires of a citizen for the
development of their neighborhood.
"When queried about this, the lead plan-
ner said that essentially they were doing this
because they were looking at the broader scale
and later, neighborhoods could be planned
within the framework," Thomas recalled.
"Because in some ways, the beauty of the docu-
ment and its polish and its professional quality
is a weakness. It didn't have the time to build
from the ground-up, it built from the top-down
in terms of the expertise being flown in to pre-
Although implementation projects for the
Future City framework have just begun, the
Process Leaders who lead the community
engagement for Future City are no longer con-
tractually hiredby the organization.
"The big push for citizen engagement is
likely over," Thomas said. "There's a discon-
nect between the citizen engagement and the
issuance of these priority areas and I wondered
because they've released the staff that were
essentially charged with citizen engagement;
they've been off the job for about a year."
However, Cross said that though he was no
longer on the Future City payroll, the Process
Leader continually meet to consider ways in
which they can provide the Future City with

community input. He further added that a
formal partnership with Future City was not
required to achieve the goals of the organi-
zation and he would continue to work with
DCDC to further its mission.
"We didn't have our contract renewed to
continue in a leadership type role because what
we think is that there is not only just one way
to be a part of Future City," he said. "You don't
have to go through and geta stamp of approval
from Future City, and we, as the Detroit Col-
laborative Design Center, can be a conduit to
do what we do and still be connected to Future
For Thomas, the Future City strategic
framework seems riddled with urban planning
irregularities. Not only does the framework
cover a longer planning horizon than what
most other planning projects operate under,
but it also lacks a concrete way to enact the
document's proposals.
"That's a little bit unusual because usu-
ally comprehensive plans try to do that and if
they're connected with city government they
try to find that," Thomas, who has written
several books on urban planning and the land-
scape of Detroit, said. "But this is disconnect-
ed, so it's not safe in that way. But then again,
people are beginning to use that, and the city
itself is beginning to fund areas according to
the priorities areas."
In late February, nearly a year and a half
after releasing the strategic framework and
rebranding as Detroit Future City, the imple-
mentation team responsible for executing the
proposals outlines in the framework released
their priorities for 2014-2015 and announced
the 31 projects they would work to support over
the next year.
James Canning, media relations spokes-
person for Detroit Future City, said the orga-
nization was now teaming with partners
throughout the city to coordinate their efforts
in line with the goals of their strategic frame-
work, and help partners "make the most out of
their budget."
"It's kind of really strange, it's a strange time
when thisunofficial documentthatwas funded
by foundations is beginning to reshape invest-
ment decisions but it can't g uarantee them,
fund them, or lead them," Thomas said. "It's
kind of an experiment."

W hen Detroit Mayor
Mike Duggan was a
student at the Uni-
versity in the '80s, he used to
organize a group of friends to go
down to Tiger Stadium for open-
ing day every year. For many of
those students, the annual trip
was their only exposure to the
city. According to Duggan, young
people didn't want to settle down
in Detroit or even road trip there
- they had New York, Chicago or
Los Angeles on their minds.
Now, Duggan looks out his win-
dow everyday at Woodward Ave-
nue from the Mayor's Office. On
the surface, the mayor faces many
of the same problems that made it
a foreign and unappealing place
to many of Duggan's college peers
- deindustrialization, depopu-
lation, high unemployment and
With the start of Duggan's
time in office comes a new chance
at reversing these longstanding
problems to bring the city back
to the prosperity it experienced
in the 1950s. Duggan is the first
white mayor of Detroit since 1974,
winning 55 percent of the vote in a
city that is over 80 percent Black.
His campaign platform centered
around crime reduction and finan-
cial and economic turnaround.
Two months after that message
landed him in office, Duggan met
with President Barack Obama to
discuss how to make those ideas
a reality.
"The conversation was about
how do we bring jobs to Detroit
and how do we train Detroiters
for jobs," Mayor Duggan said in
an interview with The Michigan
Daily. "It was totally focused on
creating opportunities."
He declined to say more except

that there was no conversation
about "writing a check for the
city of Detroit," something many
are hoping for in light of its bank-
Though they're keeping quiet
about the details of their con-
versation, the report President
Obama asked Duggan to give him
in 90 days should include a lot
more than repairing streetlights
and working out a viable budget
plan with the state-appointed
Emergency Financial Manager
Kevyn Orr.
And besides the well publi-
cized issues, Duggan admitted
that some of his conversation with
the President included Detroit's
longstanding public transporta-
tion problem. It's an issue that
has taken a backseat to bankrupt-
cy, but which is vital to bringing
Detroit up to par with the likes
of some of the cities his college
friends decided to settle down in,
many of which to feature efficient
transportation within, as well as
back and forth from their city lim-
its - whether it be subway, rail or
"A piece of (the solution) is that
we have to get people to the jobs,"
Duggan said.
To date, Detroit's primary pub-
lic transportation service comes in
the form of two bus systems - the
Detroit Department of Transpor-
tation (DDOT) and the Suburban
Mobility Authority for Regional
Transportation (SMART). Each
morning, DDOT tries to field 220
buses to meet'the needs of the
city's residents. DDOT buses are
old and in poor condition, Dug-
gan said, so on a warm day, 180
make it to their routes. On a cold
day, only 150 do. While the city is
working on maintaining the buses

they have, Duggan said it needs to
purchase 50 new ones as well.
Meanwhile, some practical
improvements to public transpor-
tation have already begun. In Feb-
ruary, Mayor Duggan announced
that the city would be installing
cameras on all DDOT buses to
create a safer riding experience.
But buses are often a compli-
ment to larger, more efficient
modes of public transit. Detroit
has the Detroit People Mover - a
2.9-mile elevated rail encircling
the central business district -
but beyond its limited access and
the struggling bus system, the
city lacks a comprehensive public
transportation option.
According to Joe Grengs, asso-
ciate professor of Urban and
Regional Planning in the Taub-
man College of Architecture and
Urban Planning, more than a third
of Detroit residents don't have
cars. He attributed the city's car-
lessness to high levels of poverty
and comparatively costly automo-
tive maintenance and gas prices.
"The metropolitan region is
built on the assumption that you
drive to places, so it's a tremen-
dous disadvantage," Grengs said.
Public transportation often
becomes the only option for
Detroit residents, albeit an incon-
venient one. The city's low and
diminishing densities - i.e. that
buildings and houses are far apart
from each other - are a major
problem that has arisen from a
shrinking population and tax
"The great majority of build-
ings we're talking about are
single-family homes," Duggan
said. "That's what were going to
be selling and so we're going to
knock down the houses that can't

be saved."
With every transit trip comes
two walking trips: reaching the
boarding area and walking to your
destination after getting off. So,
when a Detroit resident gets off
a bus, they have to walk long dis-
tances to get to their final destina-
tion. Detroit is so low density that
it's becoming hard for residents to
reach that destination at all - to
the point that they choose not to
make use of it in the first place.
"By investing in public transit,
hopefully we can also in turn start
to attract new investments into
the city in a more dense way that
makes the environment a more
sustainable situation over the long
run," Grengs said.
Chris Mourgelas, an architect
for the United States General Ser-
vices Administration, commutes
into the city each morning from
Ferndale. He said that while
Detroit's public transportation
is much different than what he's
used to having grown up in Chi-
cago, the commute to work is
generally fine, though buses are
sometimes late and break down.
"I started riding the bus when
my car transmission failed," he
said. "With that, I decided I'd take
it into the shop and try the bus for
a day and it was fine enough that I
didn't replace that car. We're now
a one-car family. Have been since
Craig Regester, associate direc-
tor of the University's Semester in
Detroit Program, said he was also
fortunate enough to own a car
during the 20 years that he lived
in the city.
"I did bike a fair amount," he
said. "I rarely used public transit
mostly because it wasn't particu-
larly convenient as far as timing
and where I needed to go, frankly.
And the system itself has been
seriously challenged for a very
long time."
Regester - who spearheaded
the MDetroit Center Connector
that allows University students
to travel to the city - said public
transit is an issue for residents
who have to travel to the suburbs
to reach their jobs.
"While some (Detroiters) have
cars," he said, "many of them
probably do not and it's why
people have to get up two hours
before and leave on a bus two
hours before to get to where their
job starts."
But investing in public transit
to fix these issues is easier said
than done, especially in light of
the city's bankruptcy. What kind
of transit? Light rail? Heavy rail?
Bus? Bus Rapid Trpnsit? Street-

car? These are all options that
Detroit continues to explore.
The M-1 Rail has been one of
the largest projects of the last
five years. It began in 2008 as
a privately funded three-mile
streetcar running along Wood-
ward Avenue to accommodate
Super Bowl XL, and to stimulate
economic growth, but the project
was delayed and then expanded,
with vision of a faster Light Rail
Transit system stretching nine
miles to 8 Mile Road to allow for
easy commuting in and out of
the city. But the project proved
infeasible despite receiving a
$25 million grant from the fed-
eral government in 2009 because
Detroit still did not have the funds
to complete the project. In 2011, a
slower 3.3-mile streetcar system
was proposed in place of the Light
Rail and expects to break ground
this spring.
Despite its past failures, there's
also been talk of re-expanding the
project out to 8 Mile once again.
Critics have been quick to point
out that streetcars are slow, and
are better used for making fre-
quent stops in condensed areas.
To go all the way to 8 Mile, cov-
ering long stretches where almost
nobody would want to get off -
even with increased urban den-
sity - seems impractical.
"The M-1 Rail is a piece of a
plan," Duggan said. "Ultimately,
we need to build a rail line out to
8 Mile and out to Pontiac. But we
also need to support it with fre-
quent buses that run on time and
when you put those pieces togeth-
er, you have a real transit system."
According to Grengs, Detroit
has never had a "real" transit sys-
tem - one that comprises those
multiple modes of transportation,
operates on a regional level and is
controlled under one organization
that helps them interconnect.
"Everywhere else in the coun-
try, there's an authority that ties
all of (these modes of transporta-
tion) together" he said. "We don't.
We don't have that. We never have.
We've tried decade after decade
after decade ... (Cleveland) estab-
lished one in the late '70s and even
that was a little bit late. Here we
are all these decades later and we
can't get this together."
Duggan denied that these
repeated failures in the past could
come from institutional pressures
from competing industries in
the area like the Big Three auto-
makers. Instead, he agreed with
"The issue is that we've had a
lack of coordination between city
and transit for 40 years." he said.

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