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A "strategic framework" for Detroit's future, and $150 million to back it

A long-awaited—and controversial-- long-term vision for Detroit’s future emerged Wednesday.

“Detroit Future City” is the result of a two-year effort called The Detroit Works Project, one of Mayor Dave Bing’s signature initiatives.

It comes after two years of community meetings, fact-finding, and exhaustive planning—“the broadest, deepest, and most comprehensive look at Detroit that’s ever been done,” according to its creators.

Detroit Works began as an effort to deal with Detroit’s huge amounts of vacant land.

But Toni Griffin, the project’s chief planner, said it evolved into a look at how land use ties into everything else in the city.

“We suggest that Detroit’s land area is not too big--its economy is too small,” Griffin said.

The document is meant as a comprehensive vision for Detroit’s long-term future—and a guide to help policymakers get there.

If implemented, the plan would be, in effect, one of the biggest urban design projects ever attempted.

Griffin said it contains “24 transformative ideas” on how Detroit can best use its land, strengthen neighborhoods, and rebuild its infrastructure.

They range from some fairly conventional economic development ideas, such as creating 7 specific “downtown” business/employment districts.

Others are far more radical. “We boldly suggest that landscape is the new 21st century infrastructure,” Griffin said. “And Detroit can really lead the way in demonstrating how expensive, underground and mono-functional piping systems can become landscaped architecture, or blue-green infrastructure.”

The plan is extremely ambitious, and Detroit’s checkered past of major “urban renewal” projects has sown distrust among some citizens about Detroit Works.

There was particular concern about residents in neighborhoods deemed “less desirable” being forced out of their homes, or shut off from city services.

Griffin said that won’t happen, but there will be a concerted focus on creating density, and renewing and stabilizing the city’s remaining “traditional neighborhoods.”

The Detroit Works Project was heavily funded by the city’s philanthropic community.

Rip Rapson, President of the Kresge Foundation, said the group wanted to make sure their investment in the project come to fruition—and will back its implementation with another $150 million over 5 years.

“What we’re gonna do, over the next five years, is dedicate every single dollar that we spend in Detroit to this plan,” Rapson said.

Officials are also looking to start a consortium and project management office to oversee the plan’s implementation.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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