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Investing in Detroit’s Future

All eyes are on Detroit, including ours. CEOs for Cities will host our national Opportunity Dividend Summit in the Motor City next week with our partners at the United Way of Southeastern Michigan. And last week, Detroit's transit initiative, the privately funded M-1 line along Woodward Avenue, received a $25 million TIGER Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Recently Smart City was able to interview Matt Cullen, who is leading the M-1 initiative, about the impact he believes light rail can have on the city's redevelopment ambitions and why investing in Detroit now makes sense.

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The Fall and Rise of Detroit

Time leads this week with a cover titled "The Tragedy of Detroit: How a great city fell -- and how it can rise again."  It is the beginning of a year-long series on Detroit from multiple angles by magazines in the Time stable.  The piece is generally fair, blaming the city's decline on the riots of 1967, subsequent white flight, the 20-year reign of Mayor Coleman Young and the deep friction he created with the suburbs, the auto industry and the UAW, and the politicians (particularly Rep. John Dingell) who enabled the industry to fight off higher standards that would have made them more competitive with foreign brands.

The result is a city of 900,000 residents, down from 1.85 million, spread over 138 square miles.  The city is literally falling down, and there is little hope in the near-term of filling the city's many vacant, crumbling buildings.

Time's solution is to convert Detroit into the "Arsenal of the Renewable Energy Future."  Arrgghh!  Let's hope the reporting gets more sophisticated than this.  A silver bullet for Detroit?  There is no such thing -- for Detroit or any other city.  Instead, it will take a combination…

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Biking the Motor City

Could the bicycle take over in the Motor City?  Could the emergence of a greater biking culture re-enliven and re-use the city’s landscape in new ways?

Toby Barlow in this article makes the case for Detroit as a biking city. “With the legendarily affordable real estate and without needing to pay for car payments, gas or insurance, bicyclists could rebuild Detroit into a model of a two-wheeled economy. They could pass laws promoting bikes over cars and designate entire avenues motor-free zones, which, given the state of many of them now, wouldn’t be so much of a stretch.”

“Our abandoned landscape suggests an opportunity that alternative-transportation proponents should consider: instead of raging against their cities’ internal combustion machines, they might consider a tactical retreat to the city that cars have pretty much abandoned.”

The increase in cyclists and thriving new bicycle businesses give cause for optimism.

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Dreamers in Detroit

This story is a must-read.  Detroit's cheap housing is attracting (at least three) artists and dreamers who are then attracting friends.  "But the city offers a much greater attraction for artists than $100 houses. Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished."

It's only anecdotal (and modest at that), but it's a start.  And it's lovely.

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Detroit vs. the Metro Nation

Detroit is a wonderfully complex city.  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of Detroit civic leaders (members of the CEOs for Cities City Cluster) who are working to bring 15,000 college-educated young adults to Detroit by 2015.  And they are focused on making Detroit an appealing place for them to locate by focusing on the vibrancy of downtown and Midtown along the Woodward corridor.

The Midtown area has a lot going for it.  Two major hospitals, Wayne State University, the College of Creative Studies, the newly renovated and reinstalled Detroit Institute of Art, along with multiple other cultural institutions.  What is obviously missing is the concentration of and connections among these assets.  But they are now working on it.

In fact, Detroit is positioned to become one of the first cities (along, perhaps, with Cleveland) to get its anchor institutions working collaboratively.  And in Detroit's case, most of the impetus for collaboration is emerging from the institutions (rather than from a monster funder).

Dave Egner and Katy Locker, both with Hudson-Webber Foundation, are the instigators of 15:15, and they are supremely talented convenors and very smart thinkers.

What a pleasure it is to sit around the…

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How Much Talent Does It Take?

At his always interesting blog, The Bellows, Ryan Avent poses the fascinating question, How many talented people would have to move to Detroit to create a tipping point that becomes a self-sustaining movement?  What started as a Twitter joke ("Let's all go buy a mansion for a $1.") turned into an interesting thought experiment.

In certain rare cases, such as in the creation of a famous artist colony, a very low population will suffice -- maybe 5,000 or so.   "Similarly, should I manage to open up a university of sufficient quality and amenities, then we could probably make it with anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 people," he concludes, and he figures the same is true for a "unique natural attraction."

"But," he writes, "if we’re hoping to create a true industry center, either tech or media oriented, or both, then the necessary population of professionals is probably much higher — I’d guess at least 100,000."

Why?  Because cities are complicated economic ecosystems.

Read the rest of post here.  In fact, scan his entire blog.

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Do the Collapse

The Urbanophile blogs about the Midwest.  Always provocative, today's post reviews the auto industry's options and what that means for Detroit.  Definitely worth a read.

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Detroit Aerotropolis Takes Flight

One of the best blogs on local economic development and politics continues to be Smart City Memphis, written by good friend and colleague Tom Jones.  Today he's written another incisive post on the Aerotropolis strategy being pursued by a number of cities.

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Great minds converging in Detroit

With creative cities strategies increasingly gaining the attention of city leaders around the world, the Creative Cities Summit being hosted in Detroit October 12 – 15 will engage leaders with ideas on how to “rethink and redesign our cities for this age of innovation, knowledge and creativity”. 

By hosting this event Detroit hopes to draw from the expertise that will be shared through the conference and inspire “cities shaped by the industrial revolution that now look forward to a new, vibrant creative economy” in their endeavors.

The extensive line up of speakers and sessions includes a discussion between “The Creative Big Three” Charles Landry, John Howkins, Richard Florida and our own Carol Coletta.

More information at the Creative Cities Summit website here.

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Smart Mayors Meet Millennials

Good for Detroit's suburban mayors.  They are launching an experimental venture called Millennial Mayors Congress, in which mayors and emerging civic leaders will collaboratively develop action-oriented solutions to regional challenges.  If it works, promoters believe it could break some serious SE Michigan barriers: increasing the access that young(ish) people have to decision making about their communities and crossing over the walls that prevent much-needed regional cooperation.  According to GLUE's Sarah Szurpicki, "Those are two really large birds to hit with one ambitious stone, but, to cite a favorite GLUE descriptor: we’re nothing if not ambitious!" 

So when will Detroit's new mayor join in?

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