Thursday, July 23, 2009

Working on a new Detroit

I spent some time recently with a bunch of community development folks at a gathering to talk about reimagining Detroit. The focus was to come up with ideas for creating a new Detroit that was more appropriately appointed for its current population, given the fact that we have been bleeding residents for decades. We are down from well over 2 million people to about 800,000.

I have long held the view that we should close off parts of the city and allow them to return to a forest-like state. Not necessarily parks, because parks have to be maintained. I'm talking about moving residents out of, say neighborhoods off Gratiot on the east side, shutting down power and water, razing the homes and letting grass, trees and even weeds to take over -- complete wilderness, in our urban midst.

The forum was put together by Community Development Advocates of Detroit, and I appreciated the opportunity to participate, on behalf of the MorningSide Neighborhood Organization, because it gave me a chance to kick around ideas with a group of development professionals who are on a similar wave length.

Imagine a Detroit that is no longer overburdened with caring for an infrastructure designed for a population nearly three times its current size. It would be a city with forestland where blocks occupied by one or two houses once stood -- decaying. That Detroit would be much easier to manage, to protect and to serve. Of course some people would have to be dragged from their homes, kicking and screaming, but if progress were easy, we would have had it already.

The prospect, in my mind, isn't that far-fetched or over dramatic. I had a conversation not too long ago with a colleague about the topic, and she suggested we don't really even need two sides! Now getting rid of either the east side or west side is dramatic (and who chooses anyway?), but razing and foresting (I made that word up) parts of say Brightmoor or the Osborn area by comparison is a relatively sound strategy.

Organizers of the event are planning additional sessions with the goal of crafting a usable plan. I'll keep you all posted. Until then, imagine the possibilities.

No more sending children down blocks of vacant homes. Just tell them to stay away from the woods. No more police patrols of nearly vacant neighborhoods. Just let the forest ranger take care of it. Instead, we could allocate resources to the well-populated areas where residents who need services could finally get them.


Ursula said...

This is the first time I have heard of such an idea and, I have to say, I like it. Unfortunately, it makes way too much sense, so the likelihood of it actually happening are nil. But, still, what an innovative idea...

Rodd Monts said...

I hope you're not right. This can't be another plan that sits on a shelf.