Story after story, comment after comment these days seem to say all eyes are on Detroit. That may be true but too often those eyes fail to see the whole story.
That’s the problem Detroit faces, Cindy Pasky said in a speech to the Center for the Study of Citizenship at Wayne State University. Pasky is president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions and chair of the Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP).
“Yes, Detroit filed for bankruptcy,” she said. “Yes, we have some serious financial challenges. Yes, we must rid our city of the estimated 78,000 blighted buildings. No, that is not the whole story. Reality is very different.”
Pasky used this story illustrate.
The first blind man reached out and touched the elephant’s side. “It’s a wall,” he said.
The second blind man walked up and felt the tusk. Jumping back he exclaimed, “It’s a spear.”
The third blind man took the trunk in his hands. “It’s snake,” he screamed, jumping back.
The fourth found the knee and was certain he had found a tree.
The fifth man touched the ear and thought it was fan.
By this time the elephant tired of the game and turned around so when the sixth man reached out he grabbed the tail. “It’s a rope,” he said.
Not one of them had the whole picture.
“Too many journalists, visitors … and yes … even some Detroiters who live outside the city … parachute in look at the train station, the Packard plant and the approximately 78,000 buildings that need to come down and take away that picture of Detroit,” she said.
“Perception is a thing … it is not everything. We can change it if we know the realities about Detroit,” she said.
First the business, educational and religious communities, foundations, and everyday people are vested and invested in Detroit.
There is much work going on. In the past two years there has been more than $11 billion in new private economic investment and development that’s helped transform downtown’s buildings, businesses, and riverfront into a lively and appealing urban center.
For its part DDP has an action plan to bring more people downtown and develop more places where people can live, work and play by 2016. Here’s a quick synopsis of the outcomes of the plan:
- Bring 15,000 new employees downtown, bringing that total to 100,000. That will result in a fully occupied commercial district by Campus Martius Park and the advancement of other job centers downtown
- Bring 1,200 new residents downtown, which will bring the total downtown population to 7,000
- Have walkable, defined neighborhoods in Capitol Park, Grand Circus, the riverfront and along Woodward … and more.
- Support more retail along Woodward, the expansion of the sports and entertainment districts and placemaking in the parks downtown
DDP is made up CEOs from Detroit major companies and organizations as well as the faith-based community.
- In the Entertainment District, Ilitch Holdings will develop residential, retail and office facilities as well as a new Red Wings arena.
- DTE Energy has renovated its headquarters and will transform three parcels of blighted land it purchased in its neighborhood.
- Rock Ventures owns or controls more than 30 properties in downtown Detroit. More than 80 companies … including Twitter … have moved into Rock Ventures-owned buildings in downtown Detroit, and the list is growing.
- A three-square block area of former low- to mid-rise office buildings in Capitol Park will become a robust Downtown residential neighborhood with 750 residents and 25 retail storefronts and it will become an art district with galleries at the street level.
- The G.A.R building will have creative businesses and restaurants as well as a new park that will help improve the walkability and desirability of Grand River and Cass.
- Construction started this spring on the $82 million conversion of the David Whitney into retail, apartments and an upscale Aloft hotel.
- The Broderick has been renovated into apartments and office space. It will house a new training institute to meet the ever-growing need for technology professionals in our growing digital hub.
Green space downtown is growing. For example, Compuware Corporation turned a half-acre vacant lot on W. Lafayette and Shelby into an urban garden and relaxing green space in Downtown. The half-million-dollar project has funky sheds and places for visitors to stop for lunch or take a stroll.
The parks are also playing a key role.
Did you visit the beach, basketball court and food trucks and listen to the music in Campus Martius this summer?
Have you seen the working fountains in Grand Circus Park? Have you seen the artwork in Capitol Park? Did you go to any of music festivals and afternoon and evening concerts in Paradise Valley?
Have you walked the riverfront?
The Riverfront Conservancy has developed 3 ½ miles … 45 city blocks … and development continues west to the Ambassador Bridge. They are in the final construction phases along the east riverfront and additional projects have begun on the west riverfront.
Construction is underway to transform the Globe Drydock to a DNR center … which is expected to draw 1,000,000 visitors a year … and funds are secured for the start of a planned extension of the Dequindre Cut Greenway.
If you merge all these things with Midtown’s growth and vibrancy “you will find they are quickly becoming not just individual points of light but creating a major, unified downtown Detroit neighborhood,” Pasky said.
All that is well and good but while downtown is growing and evolving “we know we cannot truly have a great Detroit without great neighborhoods and jobs,” she said.
Investment and commitment is on the rise there as well.
- Projects managed or assisted by Detroit Economic Growth Corporation in 2012 are expected to lead to $486 million in private and public investment in the city of Detroit when they are completed. That investment will generate new or save 5,000 jobs in the city.
- DEGC’s REVOLVE program partners with community leaders, building owners, entrepreneurs, and artists to activate vacant storefronts with transformational businesses and art installations. The goal is to foster the evolution and vibrancy of Detroit’s neighborhood business districts.
- The Kresge Foundation recently committed $150 million to the implementation of Detroit Future City. That framework re-imagines the city’s land use and is a roadmap for investments that will strengthen existing areas of vitality and convert underutilized or abandoned land to productive use.
- GM created the General Motors Student Corps. Assisted by 60 GM retirees and 11 GM interns this group spread out all over Detroit to do community service this past summer.
Many individuals are transforming Detroit as well. Pasky mentioned the jewelry project Amy Peterson and Diana Russell have created to help the homeless. Right now, they are making the jewelry themselves but plan to begin hiring homeless women to help design and produce the pieces. Detroit Unspun wrote about this project a few months ago.
The Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program on the eastside has found a ray of hope for 7 to18 year-old boys and girls, boasting 100 percent graduation and a clear path to success in the classroom and in life.
On just about any given Tuesday in Northwest Detroit, a barber shop doubles as the Better Detroit Youth Movement (BDYM). That day students of nearly all ages gather to discuss, go through problem-solving exercises and hear how they can do more with their lives, as well as give back more to the community in tangible ways.
And there are many, many more examples of individual commitment to redefining Detroit.
I hope this helps everyone see the whole elephant.