The Greenbuild 2011 Conference in Toronto featured plenaries, summits, strategy sessions, tours and dozens of educational sessions. Conference attendees had a plethora of educational sessions to attend.
Being a native Detroiter, I was interested to hear how the city was positioning and marketing itself to the world. The session was well attended by hundreds of conference attendees interested to learn about Midwestern cities’ plans to turn themselves around, as the session was entitled: “From Rust Belt to Green Belt – Making the Midwest Sustainable”.
Throughout the Midwest, population, infrastructure, jobs and entire cities are in dramatic decline. The session examined the efforts currently underway in four Midwestern cities (Cincinnati, Dayton, Minneapolis and Detroit) to reverse these trends and redefine themselves as sustainable and equitable communities through green jobs policies, grassroots efforts, and “right sized” planning. Marja Winters, Deputy Director for the City of Detroit Planning & Development Department and Phil Enquist of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP spoke eloquently on the specific challenges facing Detroit and some possible solutions that may begin to resolve these longstanding city issues.
The magnitude of Detroit’s problems seems to overshadow other cities’ challenges: population decline to less than half (715,000 persons) of its former height in the 1950’s; over 100,000 vacant lots making up over 10,000 vacant acres; and 22,800 miles of roads and 138 square miles of infrastructure to maintain. Detroit has more single family homes than most other large cities and is the third least dense city of its size in the U.S. after St. Louis and Milwaukee. While the problems certainly seem overwhelming, city officials, business interests, non-profit organizations, citizens, block clubs, churches and others have been involved in creating a new vision for the city. This plan has been a “work in progress” for the last 2 years and is expected to be finalized and formalized in a speech by Mayor Dave Bing in 2012.
While Ms. Winters and Mr. Enquist rolled out ideas of what the plan may look like in the near future. However, some of the cornerstone principles in the plan give the world a glimpse of what may lie ahead for those in the region. Some of the building blocks of the plan include: Detroit needing to embrace its authentic and innovative self; Detroit taking the lead role in a region that acts as one; Detroit creating Green Jobs, enhancing green parks and developing wide expanses of greenbelts in the city; making the city safe and providing quality education to its youth; and most importantly, Detroit (and the region for that matter) rallying behind “One Plan.”
Other parts of the plan include working on downtown and the neighborhoods, expanding the successful urban farming on city lots, increasing population and planning for change by thinking flexibility and easily adapting to change. While there is much work to do, there appears to be renewed spirit that everyone can have a role to play in making the Motor City a catalyst for successful urban revitalization in our country. Let’s roll up our collective sleeves and get to work.
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Author: Robert E. Mattler, Green Agent Man, representing GreeningDetroit.com