Posts Tagged ‘knowledge workers’

What Makes the Greatest Place? Interns Describe Their Ideal City

July 15, 2011

What do young people want their region to look like? What do they seek in a place? These are important questions as the state of Michigan struggles to keep college graduates in the state. The Suburbs Alliance has been gathering perspectives from Millennials across metro Detroit through the Millennial Mayors Congress’s regional visioning initiative (see some of the early results here). It seemed logical to ask our interns some of these same questions.

Detroit's Cadillac Square is a unique place in the metro region.

True to Richard Florida’s theories, our interns are looking to live in vibrant urban centers. Stephanie cited attractions like the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Ann Arbor library system as big draws. Jordan Eizenga loves the number of concerts in Detroit, though he says “I sometimes suspect they’re just part of a plot to bankrupt me.” Clearly, big-city culture is a draw, whether it’s high, low or in between.

At the same time, interns suggested that the measure of a community wouldn’t necessarily be found by reviewing museum listings or events calendars. “Urban vibrancy could be less tangible than a row of boutiques, upscale dining, or luxury loft living,” said native Detroiter Michael, and more tied to the “struggles and ambitions” of residents. Similarly, Jordan E. said what excites him most are “people trying to improve the place they live in.”

Economic opportunity is undeniably important. “If I can’t work somewhere, I can’t live there,” Jordan E. conceded. Yet interns also emphasized the need to sustain the private sector with needed public services. Michael noted that the region’s economy was long overdue for “accessible, punctual, and frequent” public transportation.

Programs like former Governor Granholm’s Cool Cities Initiative aimed to boost Michigan cities’ lure for Millennials through creating places that appeal to young professionals. This strategy is undeniably important, as the interns’ responses attest. But it can’t be implemented independently from concerted structural reform. For example, walkable communities with a lively street scene are hard to muster when public transit is, in Michael’s words, “flat-out horrible.” We need big changes on a metropolitan level, like establishing a regional transit authority that removes the underlying barriers to people-scaled places. If we’re serious about building a finer region, we need to be in it for the long haul.


“A Great Problem to Have?” Young People Pack Downtown Detroit, But How Many Will Fit?

July 5, 2011

As recently reported in Crain’s, the market for apartments in downtown Detroit and surrounding areas has never been hotter, and young professionals are helping drive the demand. Millennials get that living in a walkable urban neighborhood is best for environmental sustainability and quality of life. A number of us here at UniverCities Connection are already relocating closer to our offices in Ypsilanti and Ferndale. Incentives like the Live Midtown program have sweetened the deal for downtown Detroit dwellers.

Marching in. (MLive - Jeff Wattrick)

Good as it is for the planet, our reinvigorated appetite for city living also poses some challenges. Even in cities like Detroit that are far from built out, vacant structures can’t be renovated and new ones constructed fast enough to keep pace with demand from prospective residents. The result? Latecomers may discover that housing in the most desirable locations is hard to find. That’s a big change of pace in a city with so much vacant space. Leasing agent Michael Martorelli calls it “a great problem to have,” but prospective renters might not see the upside.

It’s also possible that the rush will price current residents out of these places. The existence and desirability of gentrification in Detroit has been debated for at least a decade. The more money moving into the city, the better, some argue, given that most rich folks abandoned the city years ago. Yet others suggest that negative consequences threaten here, too, including the displacement of community memory as well as people themselves.

So far, the issue hasn’t been big enough to spur much discussion of real policy responses, but we can bet that it will before long. Across the U.S., there’s been a trend towards mixed-income housing, incorporating both market-rate and affordable, subsidized apartments in a single development. Chicago has been a pioneer of that model, also pushed by the federal HOPE VI program. Could the Detroit region, so long an extreme case of spatial race and class segregation, now help to define a new, more inclusive kind of American metropolis? If so, it’s likely that the youth—perhaps even some of our interns this summer—will be the ones to make it happen.

Think Tank Urges Growth in Knowledge Workers to Sustain Michigan’s Prosperity

June 21, 2011

One of the chief goals of UniverCities Connection is to give local students a reason to stay in Michigan after graduating. That’s a goal shared by Michigan Future Inc., an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit that has authored a number of reports on keeping youth here and recently released its third annual “Michigan’s Transition to a Knowledge-Based Economy” report. The assessment argues that we need to bolster the state’s high-education attainment industries: those where at least 30% of workers have a bachelor’s degree.

Pittsburgh: a model for economic restructuring?

Between 2001 and 2008, employment in Michigan’s low-education attainment industries plunged 13.7%, in consequence of the auto industry’s troubles. Yet the high-education attainment industries suffered a loss of less than 2%. For Michigan Future’s Lou Glazer, the lesson is clear: we need to support growth in those high-education attainment industries by building up their essential infrastructure, including schools, universities and livable places.

The report points to Pittsburgh as a potential model for the Detroit region. Despite the rapid collapse of the city’s dominant steel industry in the 1980s, it’s made a successful transition to the knowledge economy by building on the educational, financial and medical institutions that steel wealth created. While manufacturing is still an important component of the region’s economy, Pittsburgh’s no longer so bound to the sector. The metro area ranks as one of the nation’s more prosperous, and the city tops the national average in the proportion of citizens with a bachelor’s degree. Michigan Future argues from this example that deindustrialization need not mean the end of Michigan’s middle class, if we make the right decisions along the way.

So much for Arthur Pond’s 1940 assessment of the Motor City. “Fundamentally,” he wrote, “modern Detroit exists to build and sell motor cars, and once it quits doing that it will lose its chief reason for existence.” What do you think? Is Pittsburgh’s comeback a good model for us, and how would we go about making the shift beneficial for everyone? What new “reasons for existence” might Millennials have in mind?