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May 20, 2014

Phoenix from Detroit

The aftershocks of the global financial earthquake of 2007 continue to work their way through the system. Who’d have thought whole cities could go bankrupt? It’s a fate yet to befall any UK city (although it must be getting close) but in the US it’s become a familiar sight. Detroit is the biggest yet to collapse into financial meltdown.  But out of the resultant municipalist chaos, green shoots of recovery have started to appear. No surprise where those are coming from.


Newstart magazine May 1, 2014

The former Motor City has come to epitomise urban decline in recent years. But it is now discovering a different kind of growth, led by its citizens and their love of place, as Dan Gilmartin and Sarah Craft report

Detroit is known to the world as a poster child of industrial decline. Finding articles on the Motor City’s challenges is all too easy. But there’s much more to Detroit than the stories of dramatic loss of auto-industry jobs, crime, race relations, significant population decline, home foreclosures, criminal mismanagement and challenged schools.

Behind these negative headlines is a story of perseverance. It’s a story of passionate people. It’s a story of innovation. When Detroiters have a problem, they don’t often wait for government intervention. Instead, they organise neighbours and solve the problem themselves.

It’s the passion that people have for the city of Detroit that makes it great. People say we’re gritty, determined, stubborn, boisterous, cantankerous, opinionated, assertive and defensive — and we’re just fine with all those adjectives. Just don’t call us dead because the people of Detroit prove day in and day out that we’re far from that. We may be knocked down, but we keep getting back up.

There are countless examples across the city of residents working together to improve neighbourhood safety, expand public art, develop youth, and activate vacant storefronts. Economic factors often forced local leaders to the side lines, allowing for an active grassroots improvement movement across the city. The examples that follow don’t attempt to tell Detroit’s whole story, but act as a snapshot of how resident engagement can change the scene and attitude of the entire city.

 Detroit Soup

Co-working space – Ponyride

Recycling & Community Centre: Recycle Here! 

Detroit’s Future: Engagement & Community Partnerships

Dan Gilmartin is CEO and executive director of the Michigan Municipal League, a non-profit organisation that advocates on behalf of Michigan’s cities and villages.

Sarah Craft is a programme coordinator for the Michigan Municipal League.