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Smart Talk

The Lowdown on Motown

June 16, 2003 | By Hans Voss
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Brian Confer
  Hans Voss, executive director, Michigan Land Use Institute

In the statewide debate over solving Michigan's sprawl crisis there is consensus on at least one basic premise: We must make Michigan's cities glitter again.

While the trend of abandoning cities for the green lawns and cul-de-sacs of the suburbs is a national problem, Michigan's urban ills are particularly distressing. With the exception of Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, every large city in Michigan lost population between 1990 and 2000. Our biggest and most well known city, Detroit, lost 7.5 percent of its population and is now the most racially segregated major metropolitan region in the country. It is among the most economically segregated as well.

These are daunting statistics indeed, but here's why I think Detroit is on track for a comeback:

We have no choice. No matter what your view of Detroit's future, there's little doubt that for Michigan to succeed in the 21st century economy our largest city must thrive. Michigan as a state depends on it, and more and more people realize that.

Public transportation will happen. While regional transportation has been the victim of petty politics in Lansing, it is only a matter of time before Detroit, the largest metropolitan region in the country without a regional transit system, takes this much-needed step. This will spark economic investment and help unify the region.

People power always prevails. Detroit is full of heroes. There are neighborhood activists that work every day for their community, entrepreneurs that are demonstrating that redevelopment can be profitable, and businesses — large and small — that are sticking to their commitment to make the city a better place.

As our cover story illustrates, good things are happening in Detroit. The renaissance is gaining momentum. As our state leaders grapple with land use policy, let's advance a bold urban revitalization plan for Detroit and all Michigan cities. The next generation of Michiganders will thank us.

Hans Voss is the Michigan Land Use Institute's executive director. Reach him at hans@mlui.org.

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