Sometimes it’s fun to sit with Detroit’s movers and shakers and see how they think Detroit’s transformation is coming along. The recent Downtown Detroit Partnership annual meeting offered that opportunity.
Headline: Downtown is making great progress.
There are more people living and working downtown, more residents, new apartments and new retail are on the horizon and the M-1 RAIL is set to begin construction. Plus there are more restaurants, parks and entertainment venues downtown were people can play. In short, Downtown is becoming a great neighborhood well on its way to being a terrific, premier destination that will be the envy of other big cities. Still, much is left to do before Detroit reaches that goal.
Subhead: All Detroit’s neighborhoods need to be livable and loveable.
Perhaps that subhead should be the headline. The good news is much of what is being done Downtown can be transferred to those neighborhoods as they address safety, blight and the need for jobs, better education, more retail and more green spaces.
That’s what I took away from a panel discussion that included Detroit Police Chief James Craig, Ken Cockrel, the newly appointed head of Detroit Future City, and Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation.
As a quick reminder Detroit Future City is a 350-page framework to stabilize and improve Detroit’s neighborhoods while creating jobs and making the city’s systems more efficient. It’s a hand-in-glove plan to help make all of Detroit successful. “There is a potential for the rising tide in downtown Detroit to float all boats,” Cockrel said, emphasizing that everyone needs to think more about what is good for the whole city, not just their space.
The Kresge Foundation has poured millions into Detroit … $150 million for the Detroit Future City project alone as well as mega dollars for Detroit police cars, the M-1 RAIL and numerous other projects.
We need the vitality, energy and talent of a vibrant downtown to fuel transformation in the neighborhoods so they realize their full potential, Rapson said. Great progress has been made in neighborhoods such as Midtown, Southwest Detroit, Eastern Market and Livernois/McNichols, but much more needs to be done. The answer is to better connect downtown’s progress with the fate of the neighborhoods.
“We must have the economic base downtown as well as feel a sense of community in all our neighborhoods,” Rapson said. “That close interconnection will make Detroit the truly great city it is becoming right now.”
First and foremost, residents in all of Detroit must feel safe and secure for the city to be economically vibrant. Progress is being made, Chief Craig said. Crime has been dramatically reduced. In the first quarter of 2014 there have been 10 homicides in Detroit, the lowest rate since the city stated tracking the numbers in 2001. In addition, there were only three or four very small incidents on Opening Day for the Tigers. “Detroit is coming one of the safest downtowns,” Craig said.
Those numbers should continue to come down with the M-1 RAIL, Rapson pointed out. When that comes on line there will be more eyes on the street as more engaged citizens move through the city’s streets.
There must also be eyes on the street in Detroit’s neighborhoods.
There are success stories. Two years ago the Detroit Police Department and the Grandmont/Rosedale neighborhood launched a program aimed at preventing crime by creating a trusting, bond between residents and police officers. Police officers were encouraged to interact more with residents … drive by in the patrol car and saying “hi” or chat with people out walking or doing yard work. The program ran 120 days and there were 32% fewer home invasions in the area compared to the same time the year before.
Another program that is moving into the neighborhoods is Project Lighthouse, a neighborhood watch patrol program originally designed to keep residents, employees and visitors safe in downtown Detroit.
Today the police are teaming up with the community to create safe spots at gas stations across the city. Each gas station will have a green light indicating it’s a safe place to seek shelter any time of night or day. Those green lights, along with Project Lighthouse logos and banners, are at gas stations crisscrossing east and west side neighborhoods.
Keeping street lights on is also essential to safety. We have a long way to go before every neighborhood has its lights on but progress is being made. The Public Lighting Authority of Detroit is approximately two-thirds completed installing new light emitting diode (LED) street lights in two demonstration areas on the east and west sides of Detroit. More than 3,200 lights are up and working and are the first of 50,000 new LED streetlights that will be installed throughout the city before the end of 2015.
This is all terrific progress but the ultimate answer is engaged and vibrant neighborhoods in all of the city. That means changing behaviors … one of the most difficult challenges Detroit faces.
Here are some suggestions from the panel:
- Build bridges that help people find rewarding work … change their station in life. Here’s an idea … more businesses could adopt a school and ask employees to mentor the children and help them gain the positive attitudes and skills they need to compete in the global marketplace.
- Detroit has 150,000 vacant parcels in 20 square miles … the size of Manhattan. Turn much of that into open spaces. Done correctly open spaces raise property values, show affluence and enhance the appeal to residents and tourists. Adopting programs such as the Business Improvement Zone currently being voted on by downtown Detroit property owners to the neighborhoods would help immensely. That program could bring in $4 million to pay for street cleaning, landscaping and other services downtown.
The things being done to create a vibrant, energetic downtown Detroit have enormous potential to make all the city’s neighborhoods livable and loveable. We need to crosswalk the solutions.