University of Michigan Gateway Ford School

Equitable Placemaking in Detroit

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March 2019

Ashley Tjhung

Abstract

During, and in the wake of, Michigan’s Lost Decade and the Great Recession, Michigan’s urban centers struggled to retain and attract young people. This dilemma became known as the “brain drain” and led to a number of issues, including an unwelcome business climate. In response, many local governments, including Detroit, turned to placemaking. Local officials report that placemaking policies have had positive results on communities and led to increased economic development. However, critics of placemaking contend that the process leads to gentrification and unequal benefits, particularly in Detroit where efforts have been concentrated in the glitzy downtown. While efforts to retain and attract young workers are necessary in Detroit, they should not harm current residents, in particular Black and low-income communities. Detroit should utilize aspects of placemaking, especially increasing transportation options and increasing housing options, to improve all neighborhoods in the city, and complement those efforts with more education and workforce opportunities.

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