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Mayor Duggan: City Focus Pivots from Removing Blight to ‘Building Beauty’

By Crain’s Content Studio

Key Takeaways

  • New director of city’s planning and development department will approach his job with a community engagement lens.
  • 22 new African American-owned businesses have opened up along Livernois and it is now one of the most vibrant neighborhoods, which the city is working to replicate in other neighborhoods.
  • Mayor Duggan: If you think you are going to open a new business or a new branch, make sure your first call is to us. Let us pitch you first.

When Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan took office eight years ago, his main focus was removing blight. Detroit was, in essence, a blight story: people flew in from around the world to take pictures of abandoned buildings, Mayor Duggan recalled. Today, the city has a different story to tell. “We don’t have to talk about removing blight; now, we are talking about building beauty,” he said.

Mayor Duggan shared his vision of rebuilding and beautification on stage at the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference on Tuesday, Sept. 21, alongside Antoine Bryant, director of the city’s Planning and Development Department. The conversation was moderated by Lloyd Jackson, senior news analyst of WJR NewsTalk 760 AM. The session was introduced by Arn Tellem, vice chairman of the Detroit Pistons.

Bryant has been on the job eight weeks; he came to the city from Houston, where he served as business development and project manager. Bryant said he will approach his job with a community engagement lens; so far, he has spent his time traveling around the city and listening to its residents. He said one thing that attracted him to Detroit was that he considered the job an “opportunity for Detroiters to own and decide how Detroit shall move forward. For a city where 80 percent of the residents look like myself, that’s an opportunity that exists nowhere else in country.”

One component of that opportunity is the revitalization of neighborhoods. Mayor Duggan used the Livernois corridor as an example.

“When we redesigned that Livernois stretch we didn’t just pave it; we put in streetscapes and widened the sidewalks,” Mayor Duggan said. “In the last two years, 22 new African American-owned businesses have opened up on that stretch and it is now one of the most vibrant neighborhoods.”

Mayor Duggan and Bryant said they are working on replicating that success story on McNichols, Kercheval, and Grand River, among other neighborhood corridors.

The conversation with Mayor Duggan and Bryant touched on green space revitalization, workforce efforts and public safety. An audience member asked Mayor Duggan what his “ask” was of the Detroit business leaders in the room.

“In the moment, we don’t have an immediate crisis,” he said, recalling a moment in 1999 where he stood on the stage at the Mackinac Policy Conference and asked businesses to adopt a school building in the city. From that request, he got 250 volunteers. Today, Mayor Duggan asked them to consider Detroit when expanding or relocating. “If you think you are going to open a new business or a new branch, make sure your first call is to us. Let us pitch you first,” he said.

Additional Sound bites:

  • Duggan predicts, after years of population loss, that results of the most recent U.S. Census results will show population growth in the city.
  • There are over 200 neighborhoods in Detroit, and the city’s Planning and Development Department, under the new leadership of Bryant, is “going to go to every single one of them so they know they know they are being seen heard and engaged with.”
  • Regarding infrastructure improvements, Mayor Duggan hinted at “an effective plan to deal with water infrastructure in the coming months.”
  • When asked if he was concerned about a loss of commuters working downtown, he said he had accepted it as a reality. He said there is an opportunity, however, for office spaces in cities like Detroit to be converted to housing.
  • City leaders are putting a focus on bringing Detroit expats home. Bryant mentioned a celebration of the 50-year anniversary of the National Organization of Minority Architects, which was founded in Detroit, will have a “Detroit Homecoming” theme.

This session was sponsored by DTE Energy.