I can’t remember a time when there were so many evening events that I wanted to attend. While I have found that organizations in the Detroit area are always providing interesting opportunities to extend the workday, my tendency is to, more often than not, just head home and relax.
This week, however, starts what I anticipate to be a fall season of many late evenings. On Tuesday we had the first of the initial series of five community meetings designed to introduce the process of reinventing the City of Detroit—a process that will continue over the next 18 months. It was great to see the enthusiastic turnout—a turnout that was unanticipated by project staff, though predicted by those of us doing the work in the community.
While the results were mixed, staff obviously learned a great deal and made adjustments for the second meeting that occurred last night. (I had to miss that to attend a Global Detroit initiative meeting. I will write about that later.) It was obvious from a number of informal conversations, with both community residents and staff of active community organizations, that there remains a great deal of skepticism and distrust of the process. The only way that this can be alleviated is to make sure that TRANSPARENCY is the name of the game. Mayor Bing and staff must be very open and sharing of the information they are collecting and the moves that they are making.
While we applaud the large crowds attending the meetings—1,000 at each of the first two—we must remember that, even if this trend continues throughout this first set of meetings, we still have, conservatively, more than 750,000 Detroiters who did not attend. The Detroit Works Project brochure describes a workforce with a 30 percent unemployment rate (official estimate is 25 percent, though actual number is probably 40 percent or more) and an adult functional illiteracy rate nearing 50 percent. We know that more than a third of households fall below the poverty line and that more than half of Detroit’s children live in households receiving food stamps. Community meetings and a website will not provide the means to gather their input as to what they would like to see in Detroit’s future. A true engagement will require city officials to “take to the streets” and bring engagement to every neighborhood in the city—particularly those that have experienced the greatest divestment.
The second phase of the Detroit Works effort will entail holding 40 meetings around Detroit in the “study circle” format. These will help bring the conversation closer to the disenfranchised. However, I wonder if even more, less formal dialogues will be necessary.
What will also be necessary is to share critical data so that every Detroiter can understand what the city is up against, and what resources are available to cope with our challenges. Data Driven Detroit staff are attending each of the meetings and will have a variety of maps available to help translate the information into powerful visuals. We want to work with community organizations that can help us understand how to portray information in a way that allows all residents—regardless of formal education—to participate in the process.
DATA DRIVEN DETROIT: www.datadrivendetroit.org