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Why the Motor City’s 50-Year Plan Should Be a Blueprint for Other Urban Areas

January 9, 2015
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Why the Motor City’s 50-Year Plan Should Be a Blueprint for Other Urban Areas
Detroit Future City´s plan provides a look at how to leverage the Detroit´s many assets to reboot the city. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
It's an ambitious framework for how to transform one of America's fledgling cities.

Detroit is riddled with problems. As the struggling city climbs out of bankruptcy and rethinks a revitalization plan, community leaders and nonprofits are banding together under a 50-year plan to transform the Motor City into the thriving urban area it once was.

Detroit Future City (DFC), which found its inception in city hall, has grown into a local think tank situated downtown with 15 members devoted to putting a strategic framework into place over the next five decades. The plan was born out of the Detroit Works Long-Term Planning initiative, founded by former Mayor Dave Bing. In 2012, after two long years of community meetings and input, the initiative announced a 347-page outline and rebranded itself as DFC.

Through five planning areas including land use, economic growth, neighborhoods, city systems and building assets, the 50-year plan provides a look at how to leverage Detroit’s many assets to reboot the city. But the plan is not just focused on the long-term outlook; it also includes short-term goals to keep the city on track.

For example, DFC created a Carbon Buffering Pilot Program and enlisted the nonprofit Greening of Detroit to run it. The program is focused on planting trees on vacant land near major expressways to absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutions from cars.

While experts have lauded the plan as an “unprecedented effort,” according to Calvin Gladney, a Washington-based urban planner, it underscores a larger trend of public-private partnerships between city governments and nonprofit organizations. Instead of keeping an effort within the walls of city hall or one charity, combining efforts toward one goal brings new perspective and a better chance of success.

“The challenge is that the line of who’s a doer and who’s a thought-leader tends to blur,” Gladney says, “and you want to make sure everyone knows their role.”

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