I am fascinated with Detroit. Perhaps because I spent a few years of my childhood in Ann Arbor but more than likely it has to do with the demise of a city and with that the incredible opportunity to rebuild. How does Detroit become a thriving community again?
There have been a series of articles in the NY Times on Detroit.. There was one recently called The Path Toward Recovery. Fred and I were discussing how does Detroit become a blossoming community again.
In NY, Cuomo has created something called Start-up NY that gives tax benefits to new businesses. It sounds good but communities are not just built on businesses that are given incentives. There is no doubt that Detroit needs incentives to build businesses but to build real communities you need culture, restaurants, homes, services, grocery, education facilities and more. Tony Hsieh is working on this in Las Vegas. It is an impressive undertaking and a lot to learn from what he is doing. He is essentially building a community by touching on all of these things.
The Baltimore harbor was transformed through incentives. The city sold homes to people for a penny and gave them a year to start fixing up their homes. This took place in the late 70’s early 80’s. There are countless homes that have been abandoned or foreclosed in Detroit. What an opportunity for young people or young families to get homes for next to nothing and all they have to do is to fix them up. That could be a start.
There are countless people who are unemployed in Detroit who worked in the car factories and now are essentially unemployable. Why not create a job program for them so they can learn skills to work in a new environment. Then continue to follow-up with them as they get placed in companies like non-profits such as Prep for Prep does for underserved kids that are placed in schools to help them propel their lives forward through getting a good education. They follow them through K-12 and then continue to have a relationship with them in college and even post-college. They want to make sure they are succeeding. Give companies a reason to build by giving tax benefits such as if 10-15% of the work force they hire are people who are in a program that helps train these unemployed people to get jobs. They end up staying in the community and succeeding vs floundering.
Be strategic in planning. When NY city rezoned the area of lower Manhattan called Hudson Square it was transformative. There is now a balance of commercial, residential, education, retail and food facilities throughout the neighborhood. A booming community.
Give restaurant owners incentives to open. Bringing people in from the suburbs to eat in downtown Detroit creates a desire for more of this. Urbanization also creates a reason for their kids to return to the area that they grew up in and put down their roots.
Fixing Detroit is definitely not a one prong solution. There need to be reasons to want to return and build besides the young socially responsible people who are building farms and getting people engaged. That is one step but there are many more.