There has been a lot of talk lately about urban farming and community gardens. Being an avid gardener myself, I know that properly planned gardens and greenspaces can greatly enhance the visual beauty of a place with minimal upkeep. There are two key elements – proper upfront planning and initial installation and careful maintenance and nurturing for the first year. But Detroit needs much more than gardens now. Gardens and greenspaces will work in thriving neighborhoods where there is good community involvement to keep them going. They won’t save the city. If programs like this were in place, 10-15 years ago, they may have slowed some of the exodus. Detroit needs more jobs for the skill level of its current residents. It needs more jobs for people to relocate here from other states and countries, to save and renovate some of the wonderful housing stock that remains in the city. And there needs to be a quality of life cost structure that is competitive with the suburbs and more attractive than other leading cities. All of this needs to happen in unison, with coordinated cooperation from city government and departments, community groups, academics, business and all the people of metropolitan Detroit.
So where do the jobs come from? Well, let’s look at our strengths. We have a strong automotive manufacturing background and infrastructure. Automotive is shrinking here but manufacturing, on a global scale, still has growth areas. What are they? – I don’t know. There exists data for which industries are investing in new factories and where. If we look at the top 25-50 manufacturing growth sectors worldwide, eliminate those that cannot be both environmentally and economically competitive here, we can come up with a short list of which industries to target for growth in the region, outlining the advantages for their investment here. Green energy and battery technology are great, but there are many more ‘low-tech’ manufacturing growth sectors that we can use to employ to vast amount of available local labor. We may even have to ‘subsidize’ the cost of the workforce, through credits and such – is it not better than paying unemployment and welfare with no return on it?
This multi-pronged attack, along with focus on education, innovation, regional cooperation and collaboration, and if course, the urban gardens, pathways and greenspaces, will make Detroit and the region a more desirable place to locate to and live.