Thinking Big and Thinking Together in Detroit

I just finished listening to Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s (D) inaugural Address. I am excited for the Mayor’s second term, as it presents unique opportunities to unite not only those within the city of Detroit, but those throughout the region of Southeastern Michigan.

I have stated here what I think will be important things for the Mayor to focus on during the early months of his second term. I was happy to hear that the Mayor and his people agree with me. I was also pleased with the Mayor’s focus on regional partnerships. Some would argue that the Mayor used “divisive” tactics to secure his re-election, and that is up for debate. The bottom line, however, is that Detroit cannot survive without its surrounding communities, and the suburbs definitely cannot survive without Detroit.

In order to accomplish this goal, which the Mayor states has been problematic for the last 80+ years, an open-minded approach to communication and partnership must be adopted. That means that white folks are going to have to sit at the table with black folks, and that black folks are going to have to sit at the table with white folks, and that every other shade of folk needs to be welcomed and sit at the table as well. Our region is faced with damaged race relations and a damaged industrial foundation. That is a nasty combination, but it is a situation that can be confronted and overcome in the same way as anything else: a listening ear, an open & unselfish mind, and a focused set of concrete goals benefiting the whole.

That begs the question then, what are some of those “concrete goals benefiting the whole?” Let’s talk about three: fiscal responsibility, regional transit, knowledge transfer & entreprenuer encouragement.

1. Fiscal Responsibility
This is a big one, and a relatively obvious one. The city of Detroit, like most municipalities, has financial issues requiring immediate attention. Challenger Freeman Hendrix based most of his campaign against the incumbent Mayor on Detroit’s financial status. Things need to be done, and I feel the Mayor has a good grasp on what needs to happen, a large example taking a look at the size of city government, both in terms of number of personnel and budget. These are very difficult decisions that must be made, but this is an unfortunate reality. The Mayor will need help from local businesses, unions, and everyone else who has a stake in these negotiations concerning the future of the city. We have to act on both faith and reason in cases like these: faith in the future of the region and the people of the region, and reason that leads us to practical solutions that everyone benefits from.

2. Regional Transit
The Big 3 (technically, 2.49) have scoffed at this notion for the past century, understandably so. I would like to think that those alive today have foresight that is different than those who lived at the turn of the previous century. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT a concession to or admission of the “failure of the domestic automotive industry.” In fact, this can be seen as an opportunity for the domestic auto industry, upon which the economy of entire Midwestern United States is based upon, to diversify their admittedly stagnant portfolios and embrace a new technology that has great potential to revitalize the region. Let’s use an example to illustrate. Detroit suffers from one of the worse cases of temporary/permanent “brain drain” in the country. This is mostly due to individuals with college educations seeing the auto industry is not one where they will be able to realize their full professional and creative potential. That perception exists because the car business is old, and there is no denying that. Well, how about we grow the car biz to include next-generation mass transit. This is bigger than buses and monorails and subways. I’m talking mag-lev trains. I’m talking low altitude air travel. Think big. Think outside the box. Why not? Projects such as these have enormous potential for the freshly matriculated engineering student, design student, architect, marketing or finance major, and skilled tradesman/woman. That is something that both the city and the suburbs can benefit from on the front and the backend. The front end is giving the educated something to dream of working on, and the backend is being able to hop and skip to and fro the city and throughout the tri-county area, all while supporting local industry! This can open up all types of opportunities for local entrepreneurs while solidifying the growth of existing institutions. Feel free to stop me when I stop making sense.

3. Knowledge Transfer & Entrepreneur Encouragement
This is something I think that also has suffered due to our dependence on the automotive industry. For decades, most businesses started in our area had maybe one degree of separation car business. In the 90s, I noticed that beginning to change. Such change must be sustained and embraced going forward. Again, I stress that embracing new ideas is not equivalent to giving up on old ones. Multi-dimensionality is key to the evolutionary success of the region, and is not an option if we wish to survive. This can be done by continuing to build knowledge bridges between the city and its surrounding communities. These bridges will span race, class, gender, and everything else we can think of that has in the past divided us. The divided are conquerable. What is ironic is that the divided often defeat themselves. Instead, this diverse new set of entrepreneurs must continue to be encouraged by tax incentives and other means to keep their faith and their talents in Detroit.

Think Big. Think Together. The statement simple. What is simple is usually profound.


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

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