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Detroit Works Project releases framework

Detroit Future

Detroit Future Civic Engagement co-director Dan Pitera (left) and neighborhood sub-committee co-director Ray Rogers at the Eastern Market office during a Jan. 22 open house. ERIC T. CAMPBELL PHOTO

Authors say community engagement vital to its success

By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — After a year-long recovery effort, the Detroit Works Project has released a comprehensive document that provides a framework for the complete reorganization of the city of Detroit.

The Detroit Future City strategic framework plan outlines citywide initiatives in five major areas: economic growth, land use, land and building property assets, city systems and neighborhood revitalization.

The initial launch of Detroit Works Project, which was widely criticized as a public failure. Thousands of Detroiters loudly objected to Mayor Dave Bing’s stated plan to relocate citizens to higher density areas during a series of hearings in 2010.

This summer, a wide-ranging civic engagement campaign — with community conversations, working sessions and open houses — precluded the release of the framework document.

“We’re trying to build upon work already happening in the city in order to build a true community development framework,” said Dan Pitera, co-director of the DWP civic engagement team, at a Jan. 22 open house held at the Eastern Market Detroit Future City office. “For us, the greatest asset is Detroiters themselves.”

Pitera says short-term actions demanded by Detroiters at the initial, unsuccessful launch of the DWP continue to be dealt with by the mayor’s office. The long-term planning, outlined in the Detroit Future City document, is being overseen by the DWP 14-member steering committee.

Ford Foundation grant monies, allocated to the Detroit Collaborative Design Center at the University of Detroit Mercy, funded the year-long civic engagement campaign.

That effort included block club participation and culminated in 70,000 survey responses and 30,000 “conversations,” according to Pitera. It also included an effort to connect with block clubs and already successful neighborhood initiatives.

“The process is now more fluid, more interactive,” says Kirk Mayes, executive director of the Brightmoor Alliance. “They’ve made adjustments to the plan per our recommendations that we can actually see.”

The Brightmoor neighborhood in northwest Detroit has gained a reputation for revitalizing several square miles of blighted territory through grassroots organizing. Community gardens, public art projects other green spaces have steadily replaced vacant homes and abandoned lots.

Mayes says now that the DWP framework document is complete, Brightmoor residents can move onto its own street-level neighborhood improvement strategy, literally moving block by block.

“We want to work together in order to meet everyone’s expectations,” says Mayes. “Then we can build out a plan that affects the entire Detroit community, not just one or two areas.”

Ray Rogers is co-chair of a steering sub-committee formed by members of several Detroit neighborhoods after a May community DWP meeting. Rogers says he hasn’t witnessed the level of community input that he would like. But he still feels the framework plan offers an opportunity for public oversight if people choose that route.

Rogers says he’s particularly concerned with the “future open space network” map in the Detroit Future City framework document. The map indicates wide expanses of “green” developments in various areas of the city currently inhabited by Detroit residents.

Many folks in Detroit still harbor memories of being “relocated” during the destruction of Detroit’s Black Bottom district, Rogers says, influencing how folks react to city redevelopment strategies.

“These are just plans now, so we can still stop it,” Rogers told the Michigan Citizen. “We still have time to enlist people in the city and challenge it. But let’s first look at it objectively because some of it is good.”

DWP’s Pitera says a consortium body will now be chosen to oversee implementation of the Detroit Future City framework, joining the 14-member steering committee, the planning team and the civic engagement team.

The consortium will also govern the $150 million in Kresge foundation monies that will be allocated to the DWP over the next five years.

That body, like the current 14-member steering committee, will be a mixture of city officials, business leaders, civic leaders and foundation officers, according to Pitera.

George W. Jackson, Jr., president and CEO of the quasi-governmental Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC), is the DWP Steering Committee chair.

Pitera insists its the continued participation of Detroit residents that will ultimately define whether the DWP project is a success.

“There’s some gutsy work happening now that gets ignored,” Pitera says. “What we’re trying to show is that people come from around the world to look at what’s happening at the neighborhood scale. That’s what we should be amplifying.”

For more information about Detroit Future City, visit Summary versions are available at Detroit public libraries.

Contact Eric T. Campbell at

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