Don’t count Detroit out just yet
Editors Baltimore Times | 7/25/2013, 10:43 p.m.
The Detroit bankruptcy case is acting as a Rorschach test for so many challenges that bedevil older industrial cities such as Baltimore and throughout the United States. A common one: How do older cities rocked by deindustrialization and the loss of population and jobs redefine their economic function and find a new way to thrive in a shifting global economy?
Our famous football rival, Pittsburgh is a prime example of hope and gives us a roadmap for reinvention and renewal. With the collapse of the steel industry in the early 1980s, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area endured the loss of nearly 100,000 jobs in just three years and the city's population declined by almost 12.7 percent during the full decade. Fast forward 30 years, and it is clear that the city and broader metropolis have regained their footing through a series of strategic and sustained interventions. Smart public, private and civic leadership has helped diversify the economy toward health care and technology, building off a solid base of advanced research institutions and medical campuses.
An impressive 25 percent of the jobs in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area are within three miles of the central business district, compared with just seven percent in Detroit. With such employment density, reasonable housing costs and ample cultural amenities, the city now routinely places at or near the top of worldwide livability rankings.
Detroit and other cities must do several things to reinvent themselves for the modern age. First, form and sustain a network. Cities and metropolitan areas are powerful because they are networks— of corporate, philanthropic, university, community and government institutions and leaders.
Each element of the network is not big enough or rich enough to power economic restructuring. However taken together, they have the potential to design and deliver transformative initiatives and interventions. Second, set a distinctive vision for economic growth grounded in your region's special assets and advantages.
Another example of innovation is In Northeast Ohio, where specialties designed for car manufacturing can be repurposed. As Akron's tire making industry declined, companies working with local universities shifted their focus and research efforts into the related business of polymers. The former Rubber Capital of the World now makes polymers and plastics that can be used in clean energy and biotech.
Third, find the series of game changers that have the potential to create jobs in the near term and alter the trajectory of your economy over the long haul. In Pittsburgh and Northeast Ohio, the signature game changer has been collaboration— among companies, universities, entrepreneurs and supportive institutions— to help reshape the economy and create a sense of place and to grow quality jobs in quality places.
The revival of Detroit is not a fanciful dream— in fact it has already begun. Detroit's historic downtown and midtown core is three percent of the city's land mass but home to 37 percent of its jobs, and residential and business growth is underway.
This growth includes new corporate residents like Quicken Loans bringing over 7,000 new jobs downtown since 2007, and older anchor institutions like Wayne State University, Henry Ford Health System and the College for Creative Studies driving over $1.8 billion in investments to midtown over the past decade.
This resurgence of Detroit's core builds from the physical "bones" (such as historic buildings and a revised riverfront) of the city and the enviable assets in the broader metropolis, including a relatively high concentration of workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, given the region's concentration in
advanced manufacturing. Although many are writing off the Motor City, now is the time to revive the city from the core and set ambitious goals for housing, job and fiscal growth that benefits all residents.
Detroit's future, in short, is still to be written. Private, civic, and, yes, public
investors like the federal government must double down on this momentum, and
invest in that future to make it a bright one. Detroit is a city worth saving.