Detroit official seeks ‘healthy,’ ‘whole neighborhoods'

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city’s new planning director on Tuesday shared his vision for a partnership with Detroit’s elected leaders and its residents to build “complete” neighborhoods and a thriving Detroit.

New York native Maurice Cox made the remarks during a brief morning interview with City Council members before the panel unanimously confirmed his appointment.

“We have a responsibility to create healthy and whole neighborhoods, to give citizens a choice,” Cox told the city’s nine council members. “My hope is that we can create the kinds of neighborhoods that residents recall once upon a time that were complete.”

Cox, an associate dean from Tulane University’s School of Architecture, is currently working in Detroit part-time. He anticipates a move to the city and taking on full-time employment May 18.

Mayor Mike Duggan first announced Cox’s appointment last month.

The $147,500-a-year position entails developing strategies to strengthen neighborhoods and land reuse in largely vacant areas, including green infrastructure and urban agriculture efforts.

On Tuesday, Cox noted the city has 54 neighborhoods, and he’ll be working over the course of his first year on an analysis of the majority of them. He’s also hoping to accelerate some projects that have been in the works to implement “real things that people can see.”

Cox says he strongly believes that planning has to be a grass-roots effort that starts with “ordinary citizens.”

“The soul of a community is really in its neighborhoods,” he said, adding the best way to judge whether Detroit is advancing is based on the health of its neighborhoods.

The mayor’s key mission, Cox added, is to revitalize the areas where people live.

“It’s great to see the hustling and bustling of a downtown, but a much quieter indication of whether a city is thriving is whether you see that in the neighborhoods where people live,” Cox said.

Cox currently serves in a dual position as director of the Tulane City Center, a city-based design resource center for New Orleans, and an associate dean for community engagement at the Tulane University School of Architecture, where he facilitates a wide range of partnerships between Tulane University, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and the city of New Orleans.

He previously was design director of the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., where he led the selection of NEA design grants and leadership programs. He is also a former council member and mayor for Charlottesville, Virginia.

Under his leadership, Charlottesville completed several design initiatives, including an award-winning zoning ordinance in support of mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development; new infill residential neighborhoods and mixed-income, higher-density housing; and the design of a two-mile parkway entrance into the city.

Detroit’s last permanent planning director was Robert Anderson, who left under Mayor Dave Bing in November 2013.