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Detroit has the building blocks to re-emerge

From: The Detroit News

By Rip Rapson

May 29, 2014

A veteran business leader recently observed that it was refreshing to see the focus of the Mackinac Policy Conference shift from “what’s wrong” to “what’s right” in Metro Detroit.

The Detroit Regional Chamber deserves credit for setting that tone, choreographing opportunities for the 1,500 attendees to explore the question of what kind of city Detroit will be, post-bankruptcy.

The story in progress is nothing short of astonishing. The path through bankruptcy involves every sector of municipal life — residents, the judiciary, city, state and federal government, foundations, labor unions, nonprofit organizations and the business community.

All are positioning Detroit to regain its place as a financially stable, economically vital and culturally robust community.

Not only will Detroit emerge from bankruptcy with its costs and revenues in balance and its long-term obligations re-calibrated, it will also be equipped with a clear strategy for renewal.

There are already tangible markers of progress — activities that promise to accelerate concrete improvements in the lives of Detroit residents.

Consider just a few:

■ The Blight Task Force report released May 27 gives the city a platform to remediate blight at a scale and at a pace that will enhance neighborhoods, improve public safety, and encourage investment.

■ The Detroit Future City Plan, which drew on the creativity of tens of thousands of Detroit residents, provides a roadmap for creating jobs, fostering economic growth, restoring underutilized land to productive use, and transforming neighborhoods into healthy, appealing, viable places for residents to live, raise families and recreate.

■ Midtown is bustling with construction, retail and residential activity, spurred by the tenacious effectiveness of the Midtown Inc. community development organization and anchored by education, health, and cultural institutions with deep commitments to their host community.

■ Hundreds of new small businesses are succeeding as a result of hard-working owners and the patient and persistent efforts of the New Economy Initiative, universities and business community — in Midtown and downtown and in neighborhoods from Corktown to the Avenue of Fashion on Livernois.

■ The M1 Rail line breaks ground in the next months, tying together all of lower Woodward Avenue’s economic, cultural, educational, health care, sports, entertainment and residential assets, stimulating billions of dollars in new development, and forming the first leg of a fully integrated regional transit system.

■ The city’s arts and culture scene is exploding, building a vibrant ecology of creative businesses and contributing to the community’s sense of energy and identity.

■ Private markets are discovering that — in Dan Gilbert’s words — if you aren’t investing in Detroit, you’re losing out.

This is not to say that there aren’t deep, abiding challenges.

Each of these measures of progress has to turn on how it can improve the life opportunities of city residents and restore a sense of hope. By creating new jobs. By making neighborhoods safer. By expanding mobility. By removing blight. By celebrating culture and broadening access to fresh food and natural areas. By giving children the quality of education they deserve.

Community members will face these issues down because that’s what Detroiters do.

What puts extra fuel in the Motor City’s tank is the army of community members who, over and over, step up to make difference.

From high-profile volunteers like Roger Penske to residents who quietly form neighborhood block clubs, fight blight, mentor kids, plant community gardens and make local nonprofits run with heart, with compassion, with skill.

There’s a reason the focus at the Mackinac conference is on opportunity: It’s right in front of all of us.

Rip Rapson is president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation