I went to Detroit with my friend that I travel with to check out cities and food for 48-hour jaunt.  It was a fantastic trip on so many levels.  The last time I was in Detroit was probably when I was a kid.  I spent three years of my childhood in Ann Arbor (roughly 6-9/7-10) when my father taught at University of Michigan.  I definitely plan on returning and spending a few extra days and making my way back to Ann Arbor as well.  Will have a few posts in the next couple of days.

Detroit is a huge city, 139 square miles to be exact.  The history is long as the city was founded in 1701 and was the first city to file for bankruptcy in 2013.  The city had been in decline since the riots of 1967 from poor leadership to the two gas crisis’ that had a direct impact on the car industry.  Fast forward to now, there is growth, development and massive change happening in Detroit.  What is the right balance to create a robust city and community that is overwhelmingly poor that live in homes on top of land owned by the city?  Is it possible to create the city of the future where there are good jobs, a robust K-12 education system, social responsibility for those who are in need and a myriad of faces that live together in each neighborhood?  It is certainly a challenge and all eyes are on Detroit to watch what if that can happen.

We had the good fortune to talk to a few different people who are involved in redeveloping the city.  All of them are thinking about these issues.  Most of the developers are concentrating on the 7.5 miles that is the hub for downtown Detroit.  If the city can hum, then the long tail of that is that the residential areas will hum too.  Here is a hand drawing of the city of Detroit to see how it is laid out from the CEO of The Platform

This gives you an idea of the demographics of the city.  Something one developer told us he looks at every day to keep this in the front of his thoughts.  Purple is the majority of the city and the red is mostly in the outlying suburbs.  One of their most interesting developments is called Fitz Forward.  They are attempting to revitalize the Fitzgerald neighborhood in Detroit as a public-private partnership building a new paradigm for a neighborhood.  Rebuilding the homes that are there and bringing them into this century with efficient energy systems and rebuilding lots that are empty to be small farms manned by the community and a brand new parks.  It is a big idea and a smart one at that.  I am cheering for the success of this plan.

We also talked to someone working with Dan Gilbert, who grew up in Detroit and with the success of Rock Financial and Quicken Loans among other things, he has put a stake in the ground with Bedrock, where he is transforming downtown Detroit.  All of these buildings with orange rooftops are part of Bedrocks development from renovating old buildings to creating new ones.  It is a win for the city of Detroit as downtown is humming with people working and the numbers increase daily.  Both of the developers we talked to are excited to be part of what is happening and I don’t blame them.  It is a challenge, and building almost from ground-up is exhilarating.

Then we also talked to the man who drove us around the town who grew up in Black Bottom, a predominantly black area of Detroit when he lived there, whose family owns a BBQ place and some real estate.  His take on the changes seem to be consistent with others we chatted with outside of developers, which is mixed.  Thrilled to see the city coming back and change taking place but cautious of where it is going particularly for the black families that have lived there for decades and most in poverty.

I believe that everyone involved here wants to do the right thing for the people of Detroit and that is the best news coming out of every conversation we had.  I keep thinking about the City and am looking forward to going back.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Pointsandfigures

    Got a few friends there. Detroit went through hell. Many parts of the city are still uninhabitable. No city should have to go through that. Horrible public policy, political corruption contributed mightily to the decline when the auto industry changed.Thanks to Dan Gilbert they might have light at the end of the tunnelThere is a bit of a rivalry between Detroit and Ann Arbor which is 40 min away.One interesting thing about Detroit came out of the book Fizz by Ted Wright. Artists are moving there because it’s so cheap. It’s a second tier “influencer” city in B2C marketing.

  2. Guest

    EVERYTHING Democrats/liberals touch, turns to garbage. Detroit is one of many examples!

  3. lauraglu

    Bridgeport, CT filed for bankruptcy in 1991 (my parents are from there).

    1. Gotham Gal

      Wow. Did not know

  4. ET

    Thanks so much, J, for taking the time to record your experience and impressions. No matter how much we see about Detroit in the blur of daily media coverage, it’s great to have a personal account to add a bit to our understanding of the city.