Maurice Cox is stepping down as Detroit's planning director

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Maurice Cox

Detroit — The top planning official tapped to lead the city's efforts to rejuvenate neighborhood districts is leaving for another job, The Detroit News has learned. 

New York native Maurice Cox is stepping down from his role this fall as Detroit's planning director. He's expected to take on a role as the top planning executive for the City of Chicago, a city official confirmed. 

City officials declined to comment. 

Cox was appointed in 2015 to take the reins of Detroit's planning department and develop strategies to strengthen its neighborhoods and land reuse policies. 

Late Thursday, Cox said he "can't comment at this time" but is hoping to provide details in the coming days on his next steps. 

In Detroit, he's taken the lead on the Duggan administration's vision for "20-minute neighborhoods" that allow residents to walk or bike to get everyday necessities.

"I feel strongly that Detroit's neighborhoods are receiving the attention that they deserve and people feel strongly that they have a road map for the quality of life for neighborhoods, whether it's streets, parks or greenways," Cox told The News on Thursday, adding the efforts are "driven by the residents who stayed."

When Cox’s appointment was announced in February 2015, Mayor Mike Duggan said adding a director of Cox’s caliber “will strengthen our efforts to improve all of Detroit’s neighborhoods.”

Cox, a former associate dean from Tulane University’s School of Architecture, formerly was design director of the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C. He held a dual position as director of the Tulane City Center, a city-based design resource center for New Orleans.

In accepting the job, Cox shared a vision for a partnership with Detroit's elected leaders and its residents to build "complete" neighborhood and attract new families with children.

Prior to Cox, the city’s last permanent director was Robert Anderson, who left under Mayor Dave Bing in November 2013. 

Cox formerly held public office as a council member and mayor for Charlottesville, Virginia, from 1996-2004.

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.

In Detroit, Cox has overseen an effort to overhaul the city's Fitzgerald neighborhood and also spearheaded the implementation of the controversial Spirit of Detroit Plaza, a public gathering space downtown that launched as a pilot two years ago. 

Cox, at the time, was scolded by council members for failing to gain the proper approvals from the panel to shutter Woodward between Jefferson and Larned.

“We like you here, man," Councilman Andre Spivey said during a November 2017 council meeting. “But sometimes, I think you look at us as a city, as a council, in a very condescending way. That you came from New Orleans and Virginia and you know everything about urban planning, and I don’t think you do.”

Cox took responsibility for the missteps, saying there was little precedent in Detroit's downtown for a project like it. 

The pedestrian-friendly space called for the closure of a section of Woodward Avenue off of Jefferson.

This week, Detroit's City Council rejected a plan that would have made the plaza more permanent. The council is expected to decide next week whether it will reconsider and take another vote on the proposed five-year closure of the roadway to keep the plaza open to the public.