Detroit: Citizen-led growth
May 1, 2014
The former Motor City has come to epitomise urban decline in recent years. But it is now discovering a different kind of growth, led by its citizens and their love of place, as Dan Gilmartin and Sarah Craft report
Detroit is known to the world as a poster child of industrial decline. Finding articles on the Motor City’s challenges is all too easy. But there’s much more to Detroit than the stories of dramatic loss of auto-industry jobs, crime, race relations, significant population decline, home foreclosures, criminal mismanagement and challenged schools.
Behind these negative headlines is a story of perseverance. It’s a story of passionate people. It’s a story of innovation. When Detroiters have a problem, they don’t often wait for government intervention. Instead, they organise neighbours and solve the problem themselves.
It’s the passion that people have for the city of Detroit that makes it great. People say we’re gritty, determined, stubborn, boisterous, cantankerous, opinionated, assertive and defensive — and we’re just fine with all those adjectives. Just don’t call us dead because the people of Detroit prove day in and day out that we’re far from that. We may be knocked down, but we keep getting back up.
There are countless examples across the city of residents working together to improve neighbourhood safety, expand public art, develop youth, and activate vacant storefronts. Economic factors often forced local leaders to the sidelines, allowing for an active grassroots improvement movement across the city. The examples that follow don’t attempt to tell Detroit’s whole story, but act as a snapshot of how resident engagement can change the scene and attitude of the entire city.