Fireside Chats With Duggan: Planning & Development

DETROIT—This is Part 2 of a three-part interview between Detroit mayoral candidate, Mike Duggan, and Mode Shift staff writer, Amy Swift. This segment’s focus is on planning and development related issues.

Other cities like New York and Chicago have zoning ordinances and design requirements specifically in place to address big-box retailers moving into city limits. These ordinances are meant to cater to all user types in an urban setting, as opposed to the auto-centric suburban-style developments with large parking lagoons. Would you be in support of Detroit adopting such measures?

I think you’re asking a really good question. There are areas in which you have density and you handle things differently. The two sites where they are building the Meijer are closer to the city border where they had acreage and it was more of a suburban neighborhood feel as opposed to a more densely populated area.

But in general, I believe in building density, and I believe in zoning practices that build density. I think it’s an important thing and what we need to do.

This city was built […] for auto plants that allowed it to spread out in a more traditional suburban feel with the stand-alone single-family homes. The auto plants with 5,000 jobs aren’t coming back and so we need to evolve more into a Chicago with larger areas that are more densely populated both with residences and retail.

So, do I believe in more density? Yeah.

Is your sentiment then that we need to grow the center of the city? Or do you mean focusing on denser nodes within neighborhoods?

We need to stabilize the neighborhoods as well. I don’t see one over the other, but there are different strategies in different places.

In the neighborhoods, […] we need to do what I was doing in the prosecutor’s office and seize the abandoned houses in those neighborhoods and take the ones that are in good shape and sell them to families that want to be there to build up the density. […] Then go to the commercial strips that are on the McNichols and the Van Dykes that are adjacent to what would be the stable and growing areas and try to fill in the kind of retail that supports those neighborhoods.

So you have a strategy there that you would drive for the neighborhoods, then you have a strategy in Downtown and Midtown that seems to be working just fine without any help from city government. You just don’t want to get in the way of it.

That seems to be what’s outlined in the Detroit Future City Plan. Do you think it’s detailed enough to execute?

I think it’s an excellent framework. I think they did exactly what they should have done. They laid out a framework and the intention is to allow the neighborhood groups and the community groups to fill in the detail of their own visions within that framework. I think that’s the way it ought to go.

If they would have tried going further than they did, you would have had a central committee telling communities what their future should be. We’re running on a campaign theme that every neighborhood has a future. We want the vision for those neighborhoods’ futures, within reason, to emerge from the neighborhoods and then be fit into the overall Detroit Future [City] Plan. I think the outline makes a lot of sense.

Do you have any concerns that, when these neighborhood groups are to determine what their futures are based on the Detroit Future City Plan, there might be some sort of predatory development proposals pushed on them?

There are a number of very sophisticated neighborhood groups in this city. The Warren-Conner group, the Morningside group, and the Brightmore group – they’re very sophisticated. […] The people in these neighborhoods are very smart. They know what they want, and within reason, I think they should be allowed to lay out a path to their own future.

There are some neighborhoods in this city that embrace urban farms and tilapia developments and the like. There are other areas that just want to fill in the vacant lots that are within their blocks and get the commercial strip going. I think, within reason, we ought to be giving deference to the leaders in those neighborhoods, and I do think that’s what the Detroit Future City Plan provides for.

With regards to your plan to seize abandoned properties, do you plan on reenacting the Abandoned Property Program you spearheaded?

No doubt we’ll bring it back. It was highly successful. Harvard’s School of Government called it one of the 50 most innovative programs in America. There was no reason the prosecutor should have been doing it. The mayor should have been doing it. But we will bring it back in a much larger way. It was very effective.

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