MEREDITH Strategy & Design

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Filtering by Tag: Detroit Michigan

Detroit's rebirth

Fighting through the clutter of the perpetually self-reinforcing Detroit paradigms (Egad! That City Council!), there is the fact that this place--on the river, an international border, surrounded by lakes, beautiful communities--offers so very much in terms of environment, entertainment and enthusiastic citizens and admirers from other places. So it is surprising, and delightful, to see a story like this in a recent issue of Fast Company--a recognition that the delights, the oddities, and the prices, might just be an attraction to a creative class who could generate a new kind of economy here.

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Fast Company...Seven Tiny Tech Stories That Will Be Huge...

Cities die, but they rarely disappear. So it will go with Detroit, where property values have fallen to pennies on the dollar. Yes, the American motor companies may have grossly mismanaged their businesses and eviscerated Detroit's economic core in the process--to see just how, read this lecture--but there is indeed beauty in Detroit waiting to be salvaged. According to the AP, cheap homes are bringing in out-of-state buyers by the droves, if for no other reason than to indulge in the novelty of buying a $10 house.

For evidence of Detroit's inevitable rebound, look no further than this online photo essay by Time magazine documenting the city's delapidated architectural elegance. Untouched Queen Annie Victorians, stately public buildings and once-lavish neighborhoods beg for revitalization, and the prices expect it.

While it might seem quixotic to hope that the auto industry will rise again, it's entirely within reason to believe that Detroit might find itself home to an information economy in the next decade. As startups look for space on the cheap in a worsening recession, and our larger economy transitions away from manufacturing and towards intellectual property and invention, a host of heretofore neglected cities might find themselves unlikely candidates for colonization by small, agile companies looking for the space to expand away from the excesses cost of New York, Boston or California.

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Turned inside out by time

I have long had a theory that if the businesses in cities like Detroit initiated a culture of a 2-hour lunch break, we would immediately restore the life of the city. But first, a bit of background.

Image by Tom Vigar

We were surprised recently when a member of a client’s staff, invited to a workshop in our offices, asked about our address—where was the street we are on? The street we are on is the most historically important street in the city, an artery that begins at the river and runs 20 miles into the suburbs, and is 2 blocks from our client’s offices. This condition of not knowing the basics of the city and the names of streets just a few steps away from your place of employment is generated by some very specific conditions of defensive development and occupation.

The key underlying context here is the fear formed around a faulty memory, but certain reputation, of urban crime that has driven much of the planning and design in the city. Very few people who are employed in the city live in the city. Most of those from outside the city who are employed in the city fear it.

Employers who have made noble attempts to play a civic role by locating headquarters in the downtown area entice staff to their jobs with promises of security. Each of these enlightened moves to the city has been accompanied by models of planning and design that create inward-turning multi-use centers where the basics of the day are fully provided for the staff who make their way into the city.

Major employers provide transportation by company bus from suburban pick-up lots; their employees drive from suburban home to suburban mall, and then are bused directly to the corporate offices. Those who drive have been given parking privileges in decks that are part of their office buildings. Once there, employees have fast food restaurants and subsidized meals to satisfy the need for a cup of coffee or a sandwich. There is nothing to cause or invite a foray by them outside of the buildings where they work. It is truly an 8 to 5 town, defined by transportation and the limits of corporate amenities.

To save our city, I imagine, instead of capital intensive building programs, simply a mandatory two-hour lunch period. I image a length of time that is too short to go home but too long to stay at your desk.

I imagine a period of time that initially evokes boredom, but eventually causes exploration. I imagine people finding a way out of the office onto the streets where the visibility of their presence and their need provokes others to invest in sidewalk carts, then maybe cafes and restaurants, perhaps a bookstore or two, and then more.

I imagine even a bit of inappropriateness—perhaps initially a couple of small hotels where two hours may be just enough time—but then a reconciliation to norms and the development of pied-a-terres, then real housing to meet an expanding demand for a place to live nearby the office of a company that provides too much time in the middle of the day.

I imagine then a place where, without the need to flee on a schedule defined by the company bus or a departure defined by the hour in the car on the freeway before the expected arrival home for dinner with the kids, the day finds a natural end, and a social end, in cafes and restaurant bars, in extended conversation and a rich development of community.

I imagine the eventual loss of memory and forgetting of fear in a place where buildings have been turned inside out by time.

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