Sunday, March 2, 2008

Reflections on NYC

New York City was great: the diversity, the neighborhoods, the transit, the culture. But I also left with hope for Detroit. We can have what New York has in miniature: a thriving downtown, hip urban neighborhoods, immigrant enclaves. But we also have one great advantage that city lacks: space! Detroit has a chance to rethink and rebuild itself to a degree unparalleled in the world because it has both urban infrastructure built for millions and open land in every corner.

1 comment:

Scott said...

As an ex-Detroiter-in-New-York -- it is definitely easy to look at Detroit with all the potential of a blank canvas. The bones are there for a thriving urban space & culture.

On thing Detroit doesn't have that New York does is jobs. I think perhaps the smartest strategy for Detroit is to attract people who can earn their income from work that can be done "anywhere." Designers, software engineers and digital freelancers of various stripes. "Web Workers." They can inject money into the local economy by bringing it in from clients outside of the region, creating new local economic opportunities, and create new sustainable businesses serving local and global needs.

For some of these types, space is one attraction (e.g., mega-crafters selling their wares on Etsy), but not many -- most of them can live happily in a small apartment since their work product is usually non-physical. That said, things that would attract these detached workers include cheap housing, quality cheap internet connections, lots of other people like them, coffee shops and restaurants with free wifi, safe, walkable neighborhoods, easy access to a major airport, low income taxes, lot's of cultural activity.

Detroit has some of these or could create them easy -- but others will be a bigger challenge.

As far as major infrastructure projects go, a rapid, frequent, reliable transit link from downtown to DTW and better transit options inside the city would be a good first step.

High profile organizations that help the freelancers and small businesses who's work comes significantly from clients outside of the region (and those aspiring to do so) connect with and support each other would also be beneficial.

Still, getting these types to locate in Detroit will be a hard sell:
* high crime
* significant pollution
* poor city services
* cold weather
* city income tax
* poor transit options (made worse by high crime since your car insurance will be high as will the likelihood that your car will be stolen)
* sparse population

The "cool cities intiative" is not enough.