Specifically, Motor City will create a pop-up resilience hub in Detroit that will attract new residents, encourage entrepreneurship, enable sustainable repurposing of private space, and pioneer new modes of community engagement. In partnership with Pilot Projects Design Collective, the team will design and test a pop-up community center whose architecture showcases resilient thinking via low energy construction and maintenance, in-use energy conservation, as well as energy and water collection and measurement. These best practices and innovations in energy management will provide some of the curriculum for local programs as well as entrepreneurial impetus.
To test this strategy, Motor City proposes creating a replicable model for recruiting new arrivals, supporting their entrepreneurial activities, and integrating them with longstanding communities. This model will take the form of a highly visible community resilience resource hub that adapts existing building stock with new green infrastructure for its home. While demonstrating sustainable building practices, the hub will serve three core functions: new arrival recruitment, entrepreneurial support and incubation, and community engagement. Each of these functions will offer counseling, training programs, technical assistance, and mentorship, and will partner with local community organizations and government agencies to enable communities to take action.
Motor City's team will develop a blueprint for advancing migrant recruitment and social cohesion through investment in community systems for economic, social, and cultural resilience, and a toolkit for replicating the Detroit experiment in other neighborhoods and similarly struggling cities. This will increase cities' capacity to provide essential services, enhance the resilience of city institutions and communities, promote social cohesion, and encourage innovation and job creation. The team seeks partners interested in helping to facilitate multidisciplinary engagement by government officials, NGOs, experts, and citizens with the aim of testing and adopting these recommendations.
World Policy Institute, which houses the Motor City project, also offers a media platform: an 'emergent cities' hub on worldpolicy.org will broadcast 'Motor City' developments to a broader audience with opportunities for cross-posting at partner organizations and a platform for spotlighting the stories generated from the Detroit experience: the homesteaders, the community that absorbs them, the regulatory hurdles they overcome, and their successes, challenges, and opportunities.
The social programs offered by the community hub will include a process for recruiting new arrivals to an underpopulated Detroit neighborhood; shepherd these new arrivals through navigating red tape and regulatory gaps to harness frozen space for entrepreneurial activities; engage underutilized skill sets of local residents and new arrivals; and integrate new arrivals with existing communities through shared space and collective projects to restore and enliven the surrounding area.
Over two years, the Motor City team will engage with local communities in an inclusionary, discovery-driven planning and design process resulting in a model for immigrant recruitment and integration, a business plan for a new-arrivals community center to navigate regulatory hurdles, and a 'blueprint' (literal and figurative) for a live-work cooperative partnering with the community center, which grounds long-term social cohesion through collective projects, shared space, mentorship, and a variety of activities between local residents and new arrivals.
After two years the team will have designed and built a pilot resilience hub in Detroit and enlisted local partners to manage and service the immigrant recruitment process, staff the center, roll out and facilitate the creation of the live-work cooperative, and oversee cultural and restoration projects that will take place in, near, and through the community center.
Phase I: Research (July 2013-January 2015):
The Motor City team conducted research and analysis, identified its primary project partner and advisory board members, developed its conceptual framework, and continues to build its investor network and local partnerships through networking, public events, and publications.
Phase II: Design (January 2015-July 2015):
By March 2015 the team will have: formalized partnerships with local workforce development, community-based, industrial career training, civil rights, religious, and other grassroots groups to deep-dive into Detroit's economy, regulatory environment, social fabric, and challenges and opportunities facing residents, employers, and entrepreneurs. These partnerships will inform recruitment of the community center staff, as well as community outreach and program ideation, in order to design the center and the resilience projects that will take place through it. By March the will also have identified the site for the community center, established a field office, and recruited the community center staff.
From March 2015 to July 2015, the team will:
1) produce a business plan for a 'pop up' community center that manages migrant recruitment, helps new arrivals navigate land-use and certification regulations (among others) to activate abandoned space and apply their underutilized skills to develop a live-work cooperative, and runs programs that build social cohesion through collective cultural activities and restoration projects in and around the community center.
2) Launch a media campaign aimed at recruiting skilled-but-uncertified residents and migrants from other parts of the US and getting local community buy-in for the recruitment. Community center staff will be heavily involved in recruitment.
3) Launch social cohesion and infrastructure restoration projects (particularly projects underway which the community center could plug into) aimed at strengthening community ties between local residents and new arrivals, as well as building environmental and social resilience.
4) Conduct Detroit-based interviews with prospective migrants to understand their business and capital needs and compatibility with social cohesion projects. Successful applicants come to Detroit for an 'entrepreneurial fellowship,' engaging with local partners and resilience projects before their official migration in the beginning of Phase III.
5) Construct a pop-up community center, staffed with three locally recruited employees: migrant recruitment coordinator; entrepreneurship facilitator to navigate regulatory hurdles and manage certification programs; and community engagement advocate leading community/partner outreach and managing three resilience initiatives.
Phase III: Pop-up (July 2015-July 2016):
By July 2015 the team will have established a local presence (through the field office) and launched the center. Recruits move to Detroit in July 2015 and embed with the 'pop-up' community center. Over the course of Phase III the team will test the services and programs offered through the three program desks: The recruitment desk will recruit and facilitate the relocation of at least five new arrivals; the 'Hack and Make' desk will help new arrivals partner with local community members and resources to repurpose space, tap into existing networks, and launch an entrepreneurial enterprise; the community engagement desk will initiate and conclude at least one community resilience and renewal project. The Motor City team will monitor the project through weekly status updates and quarterly review meetings with local staff and partners.
At the end of Phase III, the team will conduct an in-depth assessment and generate metrics for jobs and economic activity created, spaces repurposed, and levels of community engagement. Lessons learned will be incorporated into a replicable model of a community center focused on migrant recruitment, social cohesion, and a live-work cooperative designed to scale across similarly struggling neighborhoods and cities. These lessons will include schematic designs and detailed renderings of a pilot in a live-work cooperative where industrial and/or residential properties are transformed into informal mixed-use space for combinations of distributed manufacturing, social services, retail, urban agriculture, and residential use. It will also articulate new policies and regulation aiding the implementation of the pilot, including regional-based visas and accreditation and an 'urban homesteading act' to accelerate the reoccupation of foreclosed properties with new, faster paths to ownership, paired with migrant recruitment and social cohesion strategies.
Across the world, Rust Belt cities struggle with declining population, decaying infrastructure, and residents left grappling with joblessness, poor health, and soaring violence. These cities have not only failed to halt depopulation, they have also failed to attract and retain new residents, even amid higher rates of labor mobility and global migration than ever before. Increasingly complex regulations hinder the types of activities that would build socioeconomic strength and community resilience.
The poster child of urban decline and mismanagement is Detroit, which has lost more than half of its population from its post-war peak (with a 25% decline in just the last decade). A third of those who remain are impoverished, with one job for every four residents. The city's billion bankruptcy has paralyzed the municipal government. Urban sprawl continues unchecked. Demolishing Detroit's 78,000 abandoned homes through a 'shrinking city' strategy of managed decline will at best replace blight with a void. The city needs jobs. Jobs need people to create them. Attracting these urban homesteaders requires resources that cannot be marshaled through formal actors.
In exploding developing world megacities, informal systems prove resilient, surviving or rapidly reconstituting in the wake of natural disasters or financial collapse. Look to the slums of Nairobi and Lagos and Shenzhen's pirating enclaves: you see vibrant communities where space is creatively repurposed and microenterprise flourishes. What if one strategy for unlocking Detroit's entrepreneurial energies and frozen resources is to embrace informality's emergent properties? Is it possible to repopulate and reinvigorate a city like Detroit by strategically ignoring, brokering, and hacking regulations that govern land use and development, resale and construction, manufacturing, licensing, and immigration? And once abandoned space has been reactivated, what sorts of engagements between new arrivals and long-term residents will contribute to the city's long-term socioeconomic strength and resilience, the kind that not only enables the city's residents to revitalize their own neighborhoods and solve their own problems, but which have also been proven to improve public health, crime, and life attainment outcomes for communities as a whole?