Although Detroit faces a state takeover as soon as Thursday, Mayor Dave Bing is moving forward with his own longterm plan: a comprehensive effort to to reorganize the city to meet the challenges of shrinking population and a drastically diminished tax base.
Detroit Works, the city's planning project, is moving into its next phase and developing a strategic framework to guide city decision-making about services and resources.
Detroit Works backers say the long-term strategic plan will improve quality of life in the city by allowing government officials, businesses, nonprofits and community members to make coordinated, informed decisions about development, jobs, housing, health and safety.
"What our framework plan can do to is to help [city officials] think about different levels of service or alternative ways to provide service ... depending on land conditions and sense of population and density that exists," explained Toni Griffin, the the lead consultant for the Detroit Works long-term planning division's technical team. Griffin is also the Director of the Max J. Bond Center of Architecture at City College of New York and an urban planning consultant.
Everything is on the table. The plan could urge the city to adopt new laws regulating large-scale urban agriculture, for example, or it could help advise the city on public investments, like the best place to build, tear down or renovate a public school.
"Investing in a new school in an area where populations have been emptying out doesn't seem to make that much sense," Griffin explained, "but if we can think about how to focus those resources in places that are perhaps more thriving or have the potential ... to better stabilize that neighborhood, those are the kind of recommendations that we hope to make."
Detroit Works' final framework will be shaped over the next two months through a series of community conversations in four regions of the city. Organizers say residents will be able to share input and help develop priorities and strategies for dealing with issues where they live.
Detroit Works is looking to overcome past negative perceptions about the program's unwillingness to meaningfully engage the public. The project met with intense grassroots opposition following its launch in 2010. Critics resented what they regarded as a top-down approach to city planning and feared the city would cut off services to less-populated neighborhoods.
At a media roundtable at Detroit Works' Eastern Market headquarters Tuesday, speakers sought to address some of those concerns.
Dan Kinkead, an architect and urban planner involved with the project, stressed the plan would not abandon any parts of Detroit. "Every neighborhood has a future," he said, but admitted not every neighborhood would continue to receive extensive city services.
Sandra Turner-Handy, who works with the team's civic involvement effort and is a spokeswoman for the Michigan Environmental Council, told The Huffington Post she was an original critic of Detroit Works. She felt ignored during the program's initial phase, but said she became involved now because Detroit Works leaders have recognized the effort's past mistakes.
Turner-Handy said Detroit Works organizers are going out to grocery stores, barber shops and community meetings to discuss the project face-to-face with residents. "The community conversations will really help define this whole project and the process of engagement," she said.
Turner-Handy said public involvement is now central to Detroit Works and its decisions will be based on both technical and community expertise. "When you put those two together you get a real comprehensive picture of the city and where it can go," she added.
The project still faces an uncertain future. Mayor Bing could lose his power if Gov. Rick Snyder decides to appoint an emergency manager for Detroit, and the immediate need to resolve the city's fiscal crisis has placed any long-term planning in limbo.
But Griffin, the project's technical leader, said she believes Detroit Works will survive these challenges because its success depends on winning the support of businesses, nonprofits and other groups beyond the public sector.
"The stewards of this plan, [are not only] city government but a whole host of other actors," she said. "There will be things in the plan that other people can do, even while those kinds of issues are being sorted over."
Upcoming Detroit Works Community Conversations times and locations are as follows:
#1: Monday, April 16, #2: Monday, May 7 ,#3: Monday, May 21
Time: 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Northwest Activities Center
#1: Tuesday, April 17, #2: Tuesday, May 8, #3: Tuesday, May 22
Time: 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Serbian Memorial Hall
19940 Van Dyke, 48234, 1358 Abbot St., 48226
#1: Thursday, April 19, #2: Thursday, May 3, #3: Thursday, May 17
Time: 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m
I.B.E.W. Union Hall, 1358 Abbot St., 48226
CENTRAL/NEAR EAST Series
#1: Saturday, April 21 , #2: Saturday, May 5, #3: Saturday, May 19
Time: 9:30 a.m. to Noon
Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, 3606 E. Forest Ave., 48207
For more information see: www.DetroitLongTerm.com.