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Prisca Abraham

Dr. Rex
November 27, 2014
Honors 1000

Urban planning has been an influential discipline in the mapping of the city of
Detroit. Planning policies are influenced by local city leaders to affect changes (and in
the past those changes have been especially demographic) throughout the city.
Perceptions of different races, such as African Americans, have been especially
influential in policy creation throughout Detroits history. Due to racial discrimination,
urban planning policies have been influenced to create racial inequity among the African
American population and are still influencing its members today. Although perceptions
can be hard to change, I believe that urban planning ideals and techniques can be targeted
in order to promote racial and social equity in Detroit. In order to understand where urban
planning is going now, it is necessary to understand the connections between planning
history and the black urban experience as well as its contemporary implications. I will
demonstrate the evolution of policy influence in the promotion of social inequity, the role
of Detroit Strategic Framework (complete with many solutions) initiated by Mayor Dave
Bing (Sivakumar) in the urban planning field, which has been working to reverse the
negative changes of the past, and what it means for the field of urban planning into the
future.
The need for African American workers before and after World War I provoked
an unparalleled northward shift of hundreds of thousands of southern African Americans
into industrial cities (Thomas: Planning History and the Black Urban Experience). These
drastic migrations were caused by job openings in the automobile industry, notably the

Ford factory, which occurred in 1916-1917 and 1924 (Thomas: Planning History).
During 1918, between 12,000 and 15,000 black inhabitants crammed into one modestly
sized ghetto (Thomas: Planning History). The leading link between these events
involving African Americans and planning is the promotion of residential controls. The
span between the world wars gave rise to the development of zoning laws, which were
used as weapons to enforce social segregation (Thomas: Planning History). The
momentous zoning case of Village of Euclid vs. Ambler Realty Company (1926) was
comprised of men who had strong segregationist views against the African American
population (Thomas: Planning History). Regardless of Buchanan vs. Warley asserting
racial zoning illegal in 1917, unopposed racially biased ordinances let residential
segregation to be firmly established and rooted deep within the community (Thomas:
Planning History). Zoning became a forceful means of sustaining class and racial
segregation. Another tool used to limit African Americans was the racially restrictive
covenant, a private contract limiting home sales or rentals to exclusively either blacks or
whites (Thomas: Planning History). The U.S. Supreme Court supported restrictive
covenants in Corrigan vs. Buckley in 1926the same year it constitutionalized zoning in
Euclid. These two strategieszoning and racially restrictive covenantsadequately
preserved socioeconomic segregation and limited the mobility of the minority race,
African Americans (Thomas: Planning History).
Two concurrent processes took place after World War II and till the 1960s: the
migration of white middle and working class to the suburbs (a migration rendered by the
homecoming of the World War II veterans and the assistance of home mortgage
insurance programs) and the strengthening of black ghetto borderlines (Thomas:

Redevelopment and Race-Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit). The migration of the
Caucasian population to the suburbs entrenched decentralization as the commanding
urban planning scheme for the years to come (Thomas: Planning History). Even though
white people discovered new fortunes in the suburbs, black families experienced agony
from overcrowding and finite movability (Thomas: Redevelopment and Race). The
whites that still lived in the heart of the city occasionally initiated attacks against the
African Americans as they saw fit if they though they were infringing upon their
economic opportunities (jobs) and living areas (Thomas). Sojourner Truth, a black warhousing unit in the midst of a white neighborhood, experienced mob violence led by
white people in 1942 (Thomas: Planning History). In the next year, riots left 35 people
dead, most of them African American (Thomas: Planning History). By the end of 1948,
43% of the families of Detroits black war veterans lived in overcrowded rooms, trailers,
or cabins (Thomas: Planning History). Many of these units were near downtown
businesses and that led to slum removal or moreover, Black removal Thomas:
Redevelopment and Race).
The history of Detroits policies in public housing and urban renewal is
incomplete without acknowledging the role of race in policy formation. Inclination to
group and navigate African American residence patterns structured public housing and
urban renewal policies (Thomas: Planning History). Although housing professionals and
planners wanted to initiate reforms, federal policy and local perceptions (complete with
racial biases) posed many challenges (Thomas: Redevelopment and Race). Detroits first
public housing project, the Brewster Homes, was built in the late 1930s and 1940s
(Martelle). The public housing project was exclusive to the Black population just as

housing projects, such as Parkside, in white neighborhoods were limited to Caucasians


only (Thomas: Redevelopment and Race). This policy of racial segregation drove
Detroits public housing program until the 1950s (Thomas). Albert Cobo, mayor of the
city at the time, eliminated all housing projects outside of the black ghetto lines
(Thomas). In addition, he was against increasing multifamily housing for any income
group outside the citys central hub (Thomas: Planning History). His policies affirmed
that public housing became associated with ghetto housing (Thomas: Planning History).
Urban renewal also indicates the inextricable connection between racial
inequity and local policy (Mowitz). Urban renewal cased the demolition of many black
neighborhoods, such as the Black Bottom community for the Gratiot Project to establish
Lafayette Park (Mowitz). The Gratiot Project worked in congruence with the wipeout of
the Black urban economy for highway construction of Interstate-75 (Mowitz). The city
concurrently wiped out slums and relocated African Americans from key locations for
redevelopment and highway construction (Mowitz). The relocation process forced
African Americans to lean on the existent overcrowded housing unit at Brewster and
Jeffries and live in even more worsened conditions than those of the slums that were
eradicated (Mowitz).
With public housing, urban renewal, and inner city high construction, the
linkages between local planning and policy and inequities in the African American
population are apparent. Civil rebellion outbursts ran throughout Detroit since the black
population was fed up with the oppressive housing system and redevelopment
decisions (Thomas: Planning History).

Since the early 1970s, the most apparent developments in black urban
communities have sustained confinement within the metropolis as well as social and
economic sluggishness and decline (Thomas). Poverty and unemployment are major
issues facing the black urban population (Thomas). As Rybczynski described Plattsburgh,
a similar ideal can be applied to Detroit The streets are more or less empty; there is
simple none of the bustle or activity associated with the downtown life (Rybczynski).
Decades of adverse policies-including federal programs that endorsed racially biased
migrations to the suburbs and local housing and development policies that purposefully
created racial and economic segregationaffirmed that such segregation would persist in
the roots (Thomas).
After exploring past links between urban planning and racial inequity as well how
it is affecting Detroit as a metropolis now, I am going to investigate proposed solutions to
reverse the inequity among races through urban planning. Detroit Future City, an urban
planning foundation, planning the Detroit Works project, strives to create an equitable
city. This project started in 2010 under the previous mayors administration, Dave
Bings, to reimagine Detroits future as a city (Sivakumar). After a three-year-long
analysis describing barriers and possible solutions facing the city of Detroit, the Detroit
Works Long-Term Planning initiative, rebranded as Detroit Future City, released a 347page strategic framework in December 2012 that recommended inventive policies that
would energize the city (Sivakumar). By concentrating on five planning areaseconomic
growth, land use, city systems, neighborhoods, and building assetsthe outline identifies
areas of potential improvement and recommends short- and long-term solutions that will
lend the city into its metamorphosis (Sivakumar). I will address some possible solutions

in each of the five planning areas and explain how each promotes equity among social
(ultimately, racial classes).
The first two pillars, economic growth and land use are complementary to each
other. Significant endeavors to produce districts of economic activity through devices
such as zoning and public land arrangements are evident in the food cluster, specifically
the Eastern Market (Detroit Strategic Framework). Detroit has the resources and expertise
to lead the design and manufacturing of urban farming tools (Detroit Strategic
Framework). Detroit can build on its history of industry by producing economic
opportunities in this area. Building on local assets, Dequinder/Eastern Market is foreseen
as the hub of raw cuisine in Detroit and the surrounding area, with uses that support
retail, wholesaling, packaging, and food/beverage processing (Detroit Strategic
Framework). Investment will give more clout to this activity and will lead to more foodrelated businesses (Detroit Strategic Framework). This district demonstrates an apparent
link to the land, with urban farms and the attractive indoor/outdoor market, where around
40,000 Detroiters come from all around the city to purchase home-grown crops
(Detroit Strategic Framework). Constructive use of the land to the east of the market will
allow for a full-year growing cycle, ensuring better contact with fresh food (as whites do
in the suburbs) and will help grow the processing and packaging industries that provide
the largest amounts of jobs in the food industry (Detroit Strategic Framework). Projects
such as urban farming will increase the employment of members of the African American
population, especially with farming not requiring a high level of education, Detroits
education system ranking at the bottom with less than 25% of their freshmen graduating

(WXYZ). This helps provide equity in the job market by providing African Americans
more economic opportunity.
Aside from the interconnected economic and land pillars also is the city systems
pillar. The transportation systemespecially Detroits non-flexible systemmust have
considerable restructuring to fit the less dense population inside the city (Detroit Strategic
Framework). One of the most pressing concerns of residents is needing more
transportation choices. One of the main obstacles in Detroit is how extensive the city is in
terms of size compared to its small population (Detroit Strategic Framework). The
somewhat low density and large stretches between employment and neighborhoods, in
addition to the number of commuters in the city, will provoke the city to come up with
ways to boost transit accessibility and its usability (Detroit Strategic Framework).
Bringing economic opportunities within the scope of public transit is a key step forward
in improving equity for African Americans trapped in the city. Detroit future city plans to
create a new ring road to integrate the primary employment districts (Detroit Strategic
Framework). The road would include a new bus rapid transit route up Livernois from
Southwest Detroit, through the Lyndon industrial district adjacent to the Davison
Freeway through Highland Park, and extend through the Mt. Elliott employment district,
past city airport, and down the Lower Conner Creek industrial corridor, ending on
Jefferson (Detroit Strategic Framework). This will allow for more inner city mobility,
especially for the minority races and will allow them to have considerably more
economic opportunity than they had in the past.
Aside from city systems are its neighborhoods. Detroits neighborhoods are
haunted by lack of standard of living, safety issues, education deficiencies, and many

more (Detroit Strategic Framework). New house-swap programs (non-forcible) and other
incentives are being presented to inspire Detroit citizens of the impoverished and
depopulated areas to improve their standard of living (Detroit Strategic Framework). This
will help African Americans to move into areas such as Midtown which is close to
shopping, healthcare, education, and other activities all accessible by transit (Detroit
Strategic Framework).
The last pillar to address is building assets. 40,000 to 50,000 vacant buildings are
in Detroit as of today (Detroit Strategic Framework). Practically, maybe no more than
10% are going to be reused (Detroit Strategic Framework). With the population
plummeting, the neither money nor demand exists to keep those buildings throughout the
city (Detroit Strategic Framework). Buildings in vital but at-risk neighborhoods (which
could also be considered blight) will be demolished (Detroit Strategic Framework). This
will pose less hazardous to children and reduce other risks, including fire (Kraut).
Although the Detroit Strategic Framework is a comprehensive plan, some
drawbacks are also found in this new multifaceted-solution for Detroit. According to
Sivakumar, the Detroit Strategic Framework lacks a concrete way to enact the
documents proposals. In addition, the Detroit Works Project struggles with incorporating
the voice of the people of Detroit, where the Process Leaders made the decisions on the
framework (Sivakumar). Ultimately, it begs the question of does this framework
accurately represent the needs of the people if it does not reflect their voice? In my
opinion, after looking at the different approaches and solutions, I believe it does. These
actions are comprehensive and strategic and target infrastructure that is already built into

the community. This framework will take place over 50 years; I believe this will be an
effective change for the city of Detroit and will improve its economy drastically.
On a separate note, I interviewed a local architect apart of a private firm on
campus called coG-studio who described her firms local efforts in the city of Detroit to
create equity among its citizens. CoG-studio specifically works in the interests of
children and young professionals. Kara Klein described their efforts in creating porous
borders within the city to reduce sharp socioeconomic borders (one of these porous
borders include the Dequinder cut and Gratiot). This will promote flow throughout the
city of all different socioeconomic levels. She expressed the Detroit Institute of Arts
efforts to eliminate the border by allowing its museum to be visited by all people
(admission free) of any socioeconomic class. This encourages children all around Detroit
of all social and racial backgrounds to come visit the DIA. This is just one effort her firm
helped to create a porous border in the city of Detroit. She is also working with the
architectural department here on Wayne States Campus to eliminate the imaginary
border around Wayne States campus to allow flow between the actual city of Detroit and
Wayne States campus. This will allow students to more freely explore Detroit as well as
more of Detroit opportunities to come to Wayne State. This way, students are not isolated
in their own community as well as others outside of Detroit being separated from them.
This encourages flow between the two and letting opportunities become available to both
types of people. CoG-studios effort to create porous borders promotes social equity
between local Detroiters, Wayne State students, and children in the city.
Once we accept that our citieswill not be like of the past, it will become
possible to see what they might become (Rybczynski). Although urban planning efforts

were constrained by racially bias policy makers, todays efforts to reverse those
implementations are more racially conscious and equitable for all of Detroits people. I
believe these efforts will propel Detroit forward and will crucial for the development of
the city. The implications for the field of urban planning require planners to become more
aware of social and racial problems happening around the city and to not let them
influence planning decisions as the repercussions can carry well into the future. If this is
implemented, Detroit will be led to a more egalitarian-type society where equality is
promoted, ultimately building a more healthy society for its future and its citizens.

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