Archive for the ‘Detriot’ Category

Reimaging Detroit – Opportunities for Redefining an American City

November 11, 2012

Back in the early 1970’s, my first planner job was to count the number of roof-tops shown on aerial photos for traffic zones for a small metro area’s first computerized transportation model.

The model was designed to provide a “base line” for origin and destination auto trip and inter-metro entry/exit commuting data.

This data, with our projection of where, when and the type of future development, would indicate the roadway improvements to correct existing deficiencies.

The transportation analysis would also show where future improvements were needed based on our projected pattern of future growth.

Good stuff!

We built the 25-year metro future land use plan and scheduled the timing and location of major transportation improvements.

Today, other than for a few road capacity and safety improvements none of the grand plans have been completed and the few where started, are not fully completed.

Population growth didn’t happen like local government interests projected.

John Gallagher, in his book Reimaging Detroit – Opportunities for Redefining an American City, chronicles this phenomenon.

This book should be required reading in every planning and economic development educational curriculum.

John sets the stage, not only for stagnate and declining metro growth strategy, but really calls out the pro-growth biased planning education taught to the planning profession.

This pro-growth bias is based on the notion that global and national growth will be distributed, somewhat equally, based on historical trends and propel current population counts upward over time.

This bias means planners must always expand the urban and suburban pattern of development to include land for new commercial, industrial and residential development.

But in many cases, the continuous upward population growth mentality isn’t correct for some metro areas, as John profiles Detroit where the pattern of development will shrink both in size and population count.

This is a must read for anyone interested in American city planning and metropolitan growth.

John Gallagher, a Detroit Free Press real estate journalist does a complete job of chronicling opportunities for remaking of depopulated cities; Detroit being his proving ground.

John asks the tough questions including –

1.  How do cities deal with infrastructure sized for 2 million folks being funded by user fees from ½ the users

2.  How does government provide services to a scattered less dense pattern of physical development.

3.  What do cities do with abandoned no longer needed – formally used but now vacant – land scattered among the depopulated urban pattern of development.

4.  What is the role of regional government cooperation in capacity building that results in new models of government service delivery based more on economic inefficiencies rather than political identity and governmental self aggrandizement?

5.  Is there a need for a new planning mantra, one that encourages economic sustainability by reduction in size and possibly abandonment of infrastructures no longer needed and affordable?

6.  Will there be community planning mindset change recognizing land reuse – a replacement philosophy that encourages rethinking of local government and urban boundaries with the new realities of demographic and population densities.

7.  Will the citizenry recognize the inevitable – that certain cities must adjust their land uses, abandoning no longer demanded or needed uses by current and future population but at the same time offering opportunity for increased open space and reclamation of lost natural amenities – wetlands, forest, agriculture, etc.

8.  How do cities change the populist fallacy that community cheerleading and platitudes cannot change the economic realities of economic dislocation due to lack of jobs and population growth.

9.  The importance of job growth, both the number and local proximity being vital to sustainability of a city……”jobs, like people die-off” and must be replaced by a new generation.  Failure to create jobs, at least at rates necessary to meet replacement quotas will ultimately result in stagnation and in some isolated cases death of the city.

10.  How to create community based economic entrepreneurship and new business formation programs coupling them with existing business inubators and accelerator efforts to ignite the entrepreneurial spirits within the metro area to make significant impact on the availability of jobs and increase personal wealth.

As John “points out” there is no simple one-way story of when the decline in America’s industrial Midwest began. The curse is here today for many Midwest urban areas, especially those somewhat smaller ones disconnected and isolated from the major metro centers.

He also states that today “it isn’t wise or practical to look at growth as our only definition of urban success….smaller can mean better”.

He emphasizes that both government and business leadership must capitalize on assets “in place” rethinking that growth solves all problems.  He advocates applying a new urban planning theory of “right-sizing” as part of the solution to reengineer prosperity.

To make such changes will not be easy. John quotes the Mayor of Turin Italy, who notes “the deeper the crisis the bigger the chance to do change and innovate.

The curse of many metro’s growth and prosperity surely indicates change and innovation will happen.

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