Detroit: A City Reclaiming Itself

Everyone is talking about Detroit – and the rebirth of the city that only a decade ago was dismissed as beyond repair.

I must confess that I’ve never been to Detroit, but I’ll be there at the end of June as PLACE sponsors the International Downtown Association’s Midwest conference. PLACE invests in IDA because it is an international association of BID managers and experts, and a trusted source of information and resources. And we couldn’t be more excited about personally experiencing the Detroit of today. We know that Detroit, like many cities, hooked its star to one industry, and when the American auto manufacturing sector began to decline, so, too, did Detroit. The ensuing white flight to suburbs and the population loss had a devastating effect on the city’s tax base, impacting basic city services such as water, fire, police and trash, and straining the city’s ability to provide a quality education, support its cultural institutions, ultimately resulting in Detroit declaring bankruptcy in July, 2013.

While I’ve never visited Detroit, I’m fascinated by the city’s history and the determination and grit of its residents and community leaders, and have loved reading about its resurgence. The Detroit of today boasts new talent, loyal and committed residents and leaders who stayed and fought for the Detroit they knew could be reclaimed, and an influx of investment and capital. The story of Detroit’s successful emergence from bankruptcy is one of compromise, cooperation and collaboration, words that don’t often get used when talking about elected officials, business leaders, unions, community activists and foundations. Detroit has also used big data in a new and powerful way to understand its current situation and where and how to prioritize limited resources; check out Motor City Mapping. The use of the data was the basis for the watershed report issued by the Detroit Blight Elimination Task Force. A new Business Improvement District in the heart of Detroit’s Downtown also deserves credit. The Downtown Detroit Business Improvement Zone, or BIZ, is overseen by the Downtown Detroit Partnership. Established in April, 2014, it encompasses 140 city blocks in a 1.1 square mile that stretches between three major highways and the Detroit River. The 573 commercial properties in the BIZ contribute an aggregated $4M annually to fund programs and services that keep downtown clean, green and safe.

I hope we’ll see some of you there next month as we learn first-hand about Detroit’s spirit, tenaciousness and promising future. Some of the featured speakers include Dan Carmody, President of the Eastern Market  and Rip Ripson, President and CEO of the Kresge Foundation. I have a feeling we could all learn a thing or two from the city that people once wrote off. It still has a long way to go, to be sure, but I wouldn’t bet against Detroit. No way.