Combining Assets and New Practices for Equity and Inclusion in Redevelopment

April 13, 2018

Anika Goss-Foster, Executive Director, Detroit Future City

This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Detroit is seeing more new investment than ever. Billions in new development, hundreds of small businesses and more than a thousand new housing units. The majority of this new investment is happening in the greater downtown, which is not surprising considering the highest population growth and the majority of new jobs are also in this area. However, the natural ripple effect of growth and redevelopment is beginning to move into communities that have less balance of growth and redevelopment.
Many of Detroit’s neighborhoods still struggle with high rates of poverty and disinvestment, with 36 percent of residents who live below the federal poverty line and 52 percent of residents live in areas of concentrated poverty. This leaves the majority of Detroit’s 139 square miles as places that are underdeveloped, considered high-risk investments and without targeted strategic planning and significant resources. It’s not unusual to have to respond to divestment with a high level of targeted investment to create transformational change. Cities across the country have taken this approach to spur growth in depressed markets and ignite investment in places that are blighted. The results can often be a double-edged sword for these communities. Places where naturally occurring affordable housing existed for those of modest income (although the quality of housing may have been questionable at best) are becoming unaffordable, and affordability is becoming limited to a few subsided units in new developments.
Those of us who work either in city government or as urban planners for community development corporations are left questioning why the existing residents are frustrated and even angry at some of these changes. Why wouldn’t you want to live in a gleaming new apartment building or complex with new residents at varying income levels? Who doesn’t want a Starbucks, Whole Foods or new art gallery in their neighborhood? In stronger markets, like Atlanta, Chicago and the coasts, these investments immediately equate to existing residents needing to move unless there is an intentional strategy and significant resources to retain residents in these places. However, even when significant resources are available in places like Cleveland and Detroit, investment doesn’t mean moving…yet. It does mean a lack of choice, which also means a lack of power and control.
Those of us that spend our daily lives thinking about how to make cities better for everyone have an opportunity to consider economic equity and inclusion as an intentional approach to redevelopment in neighborhoods. How do we use our existing tools to engage residents, especially our most vulnerable residents, in actively participating in their own community change? This is more than just attending community meetings and voicing opinions; this is using public and private capital to create opportunity for the existing residents to have choices about how their neighborhood will change and how they might benefit from it. This may come in different forms, such as Community Land Trust Models or incentives for new companies to hire locally, or entrepreneurship grants and micro-loans for new small businesses. Or, incentives and penalties for landlords, as well as ownership models for renters. Economic equity and inclusion must be more than a theory of change for urban planning. For these models (mostly untested) they must create a financial benefit to those that are impacted the most.
These are not new recommendations—you hear these considerations and solutions discussed at conference sessions at the latest urban planning forums. However, when we combine the best of our assets along with these new practices, we will begin to see signs of actual change and inclusion.  We can make the difference for families who want to be a part of growth and change in the neighborhoods they live in, as opposed to watching growth and change happen for someone else.
Some Georgia city officials and GMA staff were introduced to Anika Goss-Foster during her presentation on rebuilding Detroit’s neighborhoods at the 2017 LINK trip sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

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