Repopulating Detroit as the priority

In an interview with the New York Times, new Detroit mayor Mike Duggan said: “Everything that we are doing, from the time we get up in the morning, we’re thinking about: How are we going to build the city where the population is growing again?” Mr. Duggan said. “And that’s ultimately what’s going to define this: Do more people want to move in, or do more people want to move out?”

Great news! Its exactly the approach the city and state needs. Mayor Duggan is defying the conventional wisdom that the city needs to shrink to survive. Growing the city’s population is the only strategy that can lead to the vibrant Detroit that everyone says is critical to the city’s, region’s and state’s success. For Detroit to be that vibrant city, it must move from a managing the decline agenda –– which is what most everyone has wanted from the city’s leadership –– to a growth agenda.

I laid out the reasons why a growth agenda matters and what needs to be done in an April 2011 post:

… the city of Detroit should focus on growing, not shrinking. … Detroit’s problem is not that there is no demand for central city living. The last two decades have seen a rebirth of urban neighborhoods that were written off as dead across the country. They have largely been revitalized by a combination of immigrants and college educated households – mainly young and without children. Detroit’s problem is that it has not participated at any scale with these trends. Detroit needs an agenda to take advantage of the renewed demand for city living.

… Governor Snyder was both courageous and right when he campaigned across the state with the message that Michigan cannot succeed unless Detroit succeeds. The reality is there is a clear pattern across the country: the most prosperous states are either rich in energy resources or are anchored by an even more prosperous big metro with a vibrant central city.

The revitalization of Detroit that is enabling growth has been led by foundations, anchor institutions, business leaders and community development organizations. The Hudson-Webber Foundation and Dan Gilbert have been particularly visionary in their leadership. As well as the energy and dedication of the young professionals who now call Detroit home.

It is time for city, regional and state policy makers to get more active. The region and state have a big stake in Detroit becoming a talent magnet. As we have written before the priority for city leadership is to be far more welcoming to all, development friendly and to provide quality basic services – starting with safety – and amenities. For the region and state the priority is to help with the investments that matter: starting with making Woodward light rail a reality but also finding ways to reverse the cuts in revenue sharing and the ending of historic preservation and brownfield tax credits. At the moment city policies and practices as well as regional and state policies are a headwind hindering Detroit’s growth. That needs to change!



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