How to make over Detroit

Jeffrey G. Nutt

Detroit is one of the most fun cities on earth: With the world’s largest urban island park; world’s busiest international land border crossing; the only city to be selected first runner up in two consecutive Olympiad host city bids in 1959 and 1963.

Detroit hosts the world’s only international underwater marathon mile. For Detroit to become a world class city again, however, we must catch the vision for great games, great lakes and great laws.

Great events. We need a privately funded bid to host the 2023 Pan Am Games in Detroit. After traveling with a delegation from the University of Michigan six times to Brazil’s host city for the 2016 Olympics, Cesar Simborth, a U.S.-Peru Fulbright alumnus and master of urban design, stated unequivocally to the Detroit United Olympic Organizing Committee and Visit Detroit in 2013 that Detroit is one of the three types of cities in the past 50 years to win Olympic bids.

If not yet “world class,” a city must be willing to adapt and dovetail their urban design plan to the games. Ambassador Andrew Young told me in 2012 that Detroit would be a great place to host the Olympics.

Great new lakes. The U.S. earned billions in revenue from the Panama Canal after making a large man-made lake for the canal. Berlin and Tokyo completed massive waterfront beautification makeovers after World War II. Later, the city of Troy received tens of millions in taxes from formerly vast, abandoned gravel pits that were converted into man-made lakes with nice homes.

The immediate past acting Troy manager stated that, because of Detroit’s shallow water table, creating new lakes in Detroit could cost less than in Troy. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, lakes can offer real sport and public health benefits too.

Great state borough law. Can you imagine a Detroit citizenry with about 4 million persons rather than a population of 700,000 in 2015? It’s possible with a smart new state borough law, sort of like New York’s borough law that allows for a type of dual citizenship for residents of the boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens — with the understanding that no new authority would be granted to tax or govern outside of existing municipal boundaries.

Why would suburban Detroit residents want to be granted dual Detroit citizenship? Revenue sharing.

A city with one million or more residents receives special federal funds. If Michigan had a borough law, or granted Detroit citizenship to those served by its water department, a city approaching four million would make Detroit the second most populous city in America, able to share more federal funds.

Troy’s man-made lakes transformed major blight into nice vistas. As mentioned, Detroit can emulate proven methods in post-war Berlin, Tokyo, and Troy. Lakes not only reduce some flood risks but also lead poisoning that too often results in brain injury, achievement gaps and juvenile delinquency.

Let’s snap the eyes of the world open with these reforms.

Michigan is where the Strykers invented the hospital bed, the Fords invented the Model T, and the Nicholson’s invented the first machine to read the bar code. Our relentless innovators can define our place in the global marketplace. An ancestor of this writer, Candy Cummings, became a creative ball player. By skipping rocks at the beach he learned that he could throw the world a curve ball.

Detroit and Michigan are ideally situated to do the same.

Jeffrey G. Nutt is president of Jeffrey G. Nutt & Associates and president of the Somerset North Homeonwers Association.