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PHOTO CAPTION: Abandoned Detroit train station emblematic of city's sad decline since 1950.

'Right-sizing' Detroit Plan Unveiled

Plan explodes with a new kind of urban optimism, a Detroit Future City that does not depend on economic growth but instead centers on creating high-quality places for people and nature

Published: 28-Feb-2013

Last month, Detroit’s leaders unveiled their Strategic Framework Plan, affectionately referred to as "Detroit Future City". Two years in the making, this plan is nothing less than a watershed moment in the history of cities. The plan's right-sizing approach is a bold and powerful way for this city of 714,000 people to address its future, untethered by decades of growth-based policy commitments. While not without its flaws, the plan explodes with a new kind of urban optimism, a Detroit Future City that does not depend on economic growth but instead centers on creating high-quality places for people and nature.

The plan does three important things in acknowledging and responding to massive population decline (a 60% drop since 1950) and over 100,000 vacant lots. First, through an impressive public outreach process, city officials and their counterparts at the Detroit Works Long Term Planning office reached thousands of residents to ascertain what they want for the future of their city. This outreach employed novel strategies, both hi-tech and low-tech (some of which I helped to study as a contract researcher) using an online game, an oral history film project, and a “roaming table” that has appeared all over the city and generated more than 5,000 encounters. The citizen engagement helped planners arrive at the goal “to move toward a more efficient and sustainable city and improve the quality of life and business in Detroit” (p. 6).

Second, by sifting through 70,000 comments generated by these outreach strategies, planners operationalized these vague concepts of “efficient”, “sustainable” and “quality of life” to focus on enhancing “access to jobs, safety, education, human health, and neighborhood appearance” (p. 9).

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