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Our Blog

3.12.14 Expanding access and opportunity, one neighborhood at a time

By Leslie Lynn Smith

I’ve spent the past two days with the Living Cities team and peers from nine American cities dedicated to adopting transformative, courageous initiatives that collectively advance physical development, improve education, expand local economies and deliver a higher quality of life for every one of their citizens.

This is really important stuff! This summer, Minneapolis-Saint Paul will complete construction of a significant piece of transportation infrastructure; Newark has focused on improved quality of health outcomes for young children in its community; and Baltimore and Detroit have moved hundreds of millions of dollars into commercial and residential projects along critical corridors to create job and housing opportunities for city residents.

Even more interesting is that we’re all still struggling with very complex issues relating to the fear of gentrification, which creates very real and serious tension around our work.

Gentrification is largely understood as the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents. While I can’t speak directly for our Living Cities peers, I can speak to my observations and the data we’re tracking in Detroit.

Gentrification isn’t our problem. Access, opportunity and scale are our challenges.

While the Midtown and downtown areas are beginning to thrive again with an influx of new residents and small businesses popping up all over the 7.2-mile area that encompasses the downtown and midtown, the neighborhoods of our great city still suffer.

When you look at the numbers, there have also been an increasing number of Detroiters moving from neighborhoods to the city center. Further, the socio-economic blend of city center residents is widely varied because the architects of the city center planning understand the importance of inclusive development and have demanded mixed-use, mixed-income housing from project developers.

The answer isn’t to stop revitalizing the city center into a thriving core, the answer is to knit the opportunities and resources at work in that core together with the city’s neighborhoods and communities. The answer is to extend our learnings from the work we’ve done in the core out across a city that covers 139 square miles. The answer is to create dense neighborhoods with thriving hyper-local economies, functioning infrastructure, quality education and employment opportunities for all of its residents.

That’s the work of Detroit Future City, the Living Cities Integration Initiative, TechTown’s SWOT City programming and others. We’re all working to create a safe, stable, livable city that offers opportunity and community for all of her people.

Let’s not distract the work with fearmongering narratives. Let’s use our collective energy to try bold, courageous programs that address very real social and economic issues that, as resolved, create a vibrant, inclusive, thriving city for all of us.