Ooh, sounds cool, what is it?
A week ago I attended a forum at the University of Michigan on the question of whether it makes sense to establish a Detroit School of urban studies. First of all, that’s pretty damn fancy. Second, everybody in that room was geeking out over cities, which I found delightful.
|photo by Carolyn Lusch--that's me|
One panel member made the theoretical case for the new School—planning has traditionally been seen as managing growth, but Detroit is not growing. How does one use planning to manage shrinking or decline?
Another panelist added that Detroit is not on a path of returning the past; rather, the creation of something completely new. We all know that manufacturing in Detroit will never be what it was. Thus, revitalizing is not an appropriate word.
Ok, I’m with you for all that.
Something one of the members of the audience mentioned: it is a mistake to study Detroit in isolation from its surrounding areas. Being right in southeast Michigan makes us myopic—we see the area of interest as being forty miles away, when really it contains us.
|photo by Ann Lusch|
The word laboratory should never be used to describe a city (UW-Milwaukee, watch that). UM must avoid sending students into Detroit and letting them return (a few hours later or a semester later) thinking they’ve left the lab and gone home to an irrelevant, disconnected, insulated space.
We must care about the patterns of migration and transportation that encompass the whole region. We must concern ourselves with the inner ring suburbs whose residents are baffled by the recent demographic changes and influx of poverty. And please, let’s care about the almost hard to fathom rift between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti (more on this later).
Do it right
So, UM folks, do create a Detroit school. Bring a lot of smart people here to work on it. But start in Ann Arbor and work inwards. Ask why most Ann Arbor residents don’t consider themselves part of metro Detroit, and how we can move forward as a region when that’s the case. Consider the racial and socioeconomic tensions in Washtenaw County and look at how they fit into those same tensions regionally.
Be sensitive to your geographical baggage. Realize that you’re studying a living, breathing, incredibly complex system—and you are a part of it.