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VOL. 133 | NO. 170 | Tuesday, August 28, 2018

How Memphis Can Learn from Detroit: Creating an Inclusive Comeback Story

Special to The Daily News

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The City of Detroit intends to create the most inclusive comeback story America has ever told.

Detroit is the largest African-American majority city in the country with a population over 400,000. Memphis is the second largest.

“What we do in Detroit matters in Memphis, what you do in Memphis matters in Detroit,” said planning and development director for the City of Detroit, Maurice Cox.

Maurice Cox, planning director for the city of Detroit, was in Memphis Monday, Aug. 27 to speak on the importance of place and economic development. Cox was brought to the Bluff City in part by the Kresge Foundation, a Michigan-based private philanthropic organization that specializes in creating investment opportunities in low-income areas of cities such as Detroit and Memphis. (Daily News/Patrick Lantrip)

Cox was invited to Memphis for a talk on place and economic development Monday, Aug. 27, at Clayborn Temple. The Kresge Foundation, The National Organization of Minority Architects, Community LIFT, ULI Memphis, University of Memphis Design Collaborative, Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning and Development, Downtown Memphis Commission, BLDG Memphis, Memphis Medical District Collaborative, AIA Memphis, Hyde Family Foundations and Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County (EDGE) were hosts of the lecture.

Cox is an urban designer, architectural educator, former mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, and former associate dean for community engagement at the Tulane University School of Architecture and director of Tulane City Center.

Cox said he was in Memphis to share lessons (and progress) following Detroit’s well-documented decline in population over the last 50 years, infrastructure decay and bankruptcy in 2013.

“The things I’m going to show can only be done with citizens at the forefront of the work, and us as professionals facilitating that work,” Cox said.

His lecture had several major tenets.

On the Importance of a city’s Downtown:

“There’s been a lot (written) about ‘Detroit is back;’ we’ve got vertical construction in the billions of dollars,” Cox said. “The tallest building in Michigan in now under construction. … It goes on and on, but make no mistake about it, downtown is back. But what about the rest of the city?” Cox began.

“…I’m here to say that the heart of the city is your downtown and you only have one downtown and it belongs to everyone,” Cox said. “So, it makes sense that your downtown would reap enormous investment and set the tone for what you hope to do here. But I’m also here to say that the soul of any recovery resides in its neighborhoods. And it’s not one soul, there are many souls. … If you don’t nourish the soul of your city, the heart will stop beating. For us it’s not one versus the other, it’s both/and.”

On the City’s Land Bank Authority:

“We have gotten to the point now, where things that can’t be recovered are demolished,” Cox said. “The things that can, we sell houses on the internet. Every day you go on this website (buildingdetroit.org) and you will see houses for sale. They often start at $1,000, $5,000, $10,000. They come with a lot of strings attached; you have six months to renovate. But these are houses that came from the foreclosure crisis, perfectly fine houses that people walked away from, because they were underwater. And so, today on average, four houses a day are sold on this website. And at this point, we’ve renovated over 3,000 houses. So, since I’ve had to do with Detroit, we have not built a single, new single-family house. Because we don’t need any. We’ve got thousands of beautiful historic homes. So, we’ve kind of informally instituted a rehab-first policy.”

On City Planning Staff:

“I inherited six (city) planners, six planners for 139 square miles,” Cox said. “That works to be 23 square miles per planner. Manhattan, remember, is 24 square miles. And a planner every 113,000 residents. (Mayor Mike Duggan) asked me what it would take to create the best planning department in the country. And I said, ‘We can start by hiring a lot of professionals. Like 40.’

And he said, ‘Make your case.’ And we did. We made the case that we could retain and grow the city’s population, that we could grow the tax base and we could create jobs. How we did it was, we took all of the major downtown projects. There were nine projects. We analyzed them. We looked at all of the units of housing that were in the pipeline. And we calculated that we could generate $12 million of incremental fiscal revenue and $25 million of direct fiscal revenue over four years. He said, ‘I’m going to give you $2.5 million. Go out and hire your team.’ … Of the 36 planners that we are now, only six have ever worked for the government. They’re coming from the private sector, they’re coming from the nonprofit sector. We organized them as teams. They really are project leaders. They’re architects, they’re landscape architects, they’re historians, they’re urban designers. I only still have six planners. And there are about six of each of those other disciplines. They worked as interdisciplinary teams. And, they look like Detroit. … We are 60 percent people of color. I think it’s probably the most diverse planning department in the country and it’s by design. … The majority of the staff is women. The highest paid salaries are also women. The core at what we do is engagement.”

On Riverfront Redevelopment:

“We gained residents’ trust by saying, ‘This is going to be a riverfront for all,’ and putting the first investment in the adjacent neighborhoods,” Cox said.

“All of these (promenade) drawings are our guidelines to the development community of what we want,” Cox said. “We’re not asking developers, ‘What do you think our community could be?’ We are determining the vision, because of the endorsement of residents. And so, when they come forward in response to that, we already have the trust of residents in place and it makes the process go a lot faster.”

On Neighborhoods and Affordable Housing:

“We are going to add 2,000 units of affordable housing, that gets integrated into market-rate housing,” Cox said. “The city has made a commitment to preserve 10,000 units of regulating affordable housing and it’s all on this concept that we want residents to be able to walk to the services in the neighborhoods. Walk to the corner café, walk to the grocery store, or bike. Both in 20 minutes in your house. That’s in the Motor City. And we want to preserve not just house after house or street after street, we want to take it into your neighborhood and rehab it.”

Later in his talk he said, “We are putting in place the stuff to make sure there is long-term affordability, as we begin to grow. We’ve documented every regulated affordable housing unit in the city and the mayor has made a commitment to preserve every single one of them that is set to expire in the next five years. And we are raising the money to create an affordable housing leverage fund, to both secure those and to build new. This is the billion-dollar bet that is Detroit is making. We’re going to leverage philanthropy, corporations and the public and match that with affordability that will unleash about a million dollars in private development across subsequent neighborhoods.”

On Mobility/Transportation Options:

“Detroit is the mobility city, and we are building a loop around the city that is 26 miles and we have the largest ‘slow roll’ in the world,” Cox said. “It happens every Monday in Detroit, after work, a few thousand people congregate and are escorted by police through the city (on bikes). And so, there’s a culture of biking in Detroit. We also have the highest fatality rate of pedestrians in the country, in Detroit. Because motorists don’t expect to see pedestrians and cyclists on the road, except to see them on the sidewalk. So, we said, we’re going to create an off-road loop around the city, it’s going to be 26 miles, it’s going to take you from the riverfront all the way into the depths of neighborhoods and it’s going to connect all of the neighborhoods to each other. And then, we’re going to start to promote development on its edges. … It is not a massive gentrifier, it is for the folks in Detroit … The largest protected bike network in America is going to be implemented over the next five years to connect people from that off-road infrastructure to their homes throughout the city.”

Cox closed his talk by saying, “This is tough work and there’s aren’t any easy answers. I have the consent of Detroiters to do this work and Memphis needs the consent of Memphians to do this work.”

PROPERTY SALES 83 317 13,368
MORTGAGES 56 208 8,379
BUILDING PERMITS 361 518 31,196
BANKRUPTCIES 34 113 6,333