Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Detroit as it Was and as it Can Be: by Padriac Steinschneider

This eloquent essay illustrates the mission of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) by using Detroit MI as an example of how disinvestment and then reinvestment can affect the trajectory of a city's story over time.

"We used to be a Nation of optimists and people who were willing to take the chance. In fact, Detroit was built by those people. After World War II, Detroit was heralded as one of the best cities in the world - and it was. 

What hurt Detroit was the Great Sprawl Experiment that began with Harry Truman's 1947 State of the Union Address, in which he promised to help everyone with the means the way out of the cities to live in nature able to get everywhere instantly in their automobile, and for those without the means, he promised to take care of them by destroying the neighborhoods in which they lived to be replaced with towers in the park. 

Luckily, the Great Recession helped bring that experiment to an end, and there is some hope that the damage done to the triple bottom line of the economy, environment, and culture did not bankrupt us all.

The Congress for the New Urbanism is all about reversing that disaster. CNU was created by a small group willing to take the chance of offering an alternative and, in the process, restoring value to our cities and communities. A frustration for some of us is that the earliest efforts were not within the existing cities, but instead engaged with greenfield development, but that was simply because it was there that the new ideas were able to be implemented and evolve. 

There was no mechanism in the 1980s to enable this group of believers to directly affect the most urban of areas in need of help. With great confidence, they persevered and, once their abilities to once again create great places and great urbanism had been demonstrated, they were finally able to start transforming the places like Detroit that were in such need. 

Before you assume that you understand what CNU is about, I recommend that you read the Charter, which is available on-line at www.cnu.org/charter

Its first sentence reads, "The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society's built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge."

We tend to expect too much too soon and the revitalization of Detroit into once again being one of the greatest cities in the world will not be easy and it will not happen overnight - but it is happening. There is still room for people to be part of it. Not convinced? I recommend that you come to CNU 24 in Detroit and see it for yourself."