‘Great City’ meeting in Detroit will focus on future

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The city’s future — and how to get there — is the focus of a community meeting in Detroit on Tuesday that is drawing speakers from around the country.

“The Making of a Great City,” the first of six community meetings by Detroit Future City, is from 6-8 p.m. at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Experts like Roxanne Qualls, former mayor and City Council member in Cincinnati, say there are key ingredients to a city’s success: strong civic leadership, alignment around a shared vision, and community participation.

Qualls, who is one of the speakers, served three terms as mayor of Cincinnati in the 1990s. During that tenure she focused on revitalizing neighborhoods, increasing home ownership and redeveloping Cincinnati’s central riverfront.

She acknowledges that Detroit is much larger and more diversified than Cincinnati, yet both cities share many maladies, such as blight and population loss, as well as the need to rebuild its image and brand.

“These things take time. That’s why the vision and the plan and the people are so important. It doesn’t happen overnight, or in five or six years in big projects,” Qualls said. “It will take time and you have to stick with it.”

Additional panelists are Dayne Walling, mayor of Flint; Gary Brown, Detroit’s chief operating officer; and Khalil Ligon, southeast Michigan outreach coordinator, Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Discussions will focus on the Detroit Future City plan, a framework to guide city revitalization. It’s a 345-page book completed in 2012 that is seen as the core of a city master plan.

Launched as “Detroit Works” and renamed Detroit Future City, the plan is an exhaustive effort to engage citizens, map the city, analyze land use and population, and make recommendations for the best ways to use land and the city’s water, people and other resources.

Kenneth Cockrel Jr., executive director, Detroit Future City Implementation Office, said the first “Ideas for Innovation” discussion will provide the next steps to grow, stabilize and transform the city to improve the quality of life for everyone.

Cockrel said the Detroit Future City plan focuses on five core areas: economic growth, innovative open spaces, city systems/services, neighborhood stabilization, and land and building assets.

“There is an unofficial but important sixth element: civic engagement,” Cockrel said. “If you look at how (DFC) was created, really dating back to the Detroit Works, there was an unprecedented level of civic engagement. Even though now we are in the implementation stage, civic engagement is a critical component of everything we do. It informs our work.”

The discussions are sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Each event will be followed by a publication that outlines recommendations identified during the events.

Future discussions will be “Opportunities for Innovation” and “Strengthening the City’s Neighborhoods,” both in June; “The Case for Open Space” in July; “Equitable Growth” in September; and “The Making of a Shared Regional Vision” in October.