Let’s examine place in the context of
Detroit. Communities with a sense of place are authentic. They’re
gritty. They’re local and accessible. Detroit is different from its
competitors as it is authentic. Chain restaurants and stores do not
shout at the bystander from every corner. Rather, local haunts and
venues are intimate and welcoming.
But does this grittiness and
authenticity lead to a stronger city and stronger regional economy?
Authenticity, grit and intimacy are important elements of place, but
should they be defining elements? Authenticity and grit alone do not
make a vibrant urban place.
Equally important to place are the
elements of density and accessibility. To me, they are interchangeable.
A dense urban environment is an accessible urban environment – one that
is as inviting to the local insider as it is to the casual visitor.
Street level businesses and pedestrian activity lend to a sense of
comfort, warmth and belonging. They are the intangible elements that
people use when comparing Detroit to other cities and regions. And
though Detroit has made strides in creating this dense environment over
the years, it is still at a disadvantage when compared to other cities
For Detroit to be relevant in the 21st
century, it needs to further embrace urbanity and density as vital
components of its economic plan. The new generation of Detroiters value
place. They crave the authenticity of a truly urban community. To
continue to grow and attract this community of engaged, young and
educated individuals, local civic and government leadership has to
advocate for an agenda of urban growth and density. Similarly, this
same generation of Detroiters must convey that vision to the city and
region’s civic and government leadership.