Implementation of the SC2 pilot initiative in Detroit began in September 2011, after an initial planning and assessment period earlier in the year. The team’s focus areas included transportation, public safety, neighborhood revitalization, economic and workforce development, and energy. However, given the challenging context in Detroit, SC2 team’s goals were actually much broader, including building coordination and alignment across levels of government and sectors considered to be quite fragmented, and establishing quick wins to inspire hope among city residents. The SC2 team also focused on providing capacity to better navigate federal rules and regulations, enabling more efficient use of existing resources for economic revitalization goals.
This profile summarizes the first 18 months of the SC2 pilot in Detroit, from September 2011 through March 2013. The profile describes the local context, membership of the SC2 team, the local stakeholders the team worked with, how the team worked, and the activities and accomplishments to which the team contributed.
From the early 1900s, Detroit was poised to secure its reputation as a titan in the automotive manufacturing industry. The sector grew rapidly in Detroit, bringing with it many economic opportunities and advancements, along with a surge in population. The city enjoyed several decades of prosperity until broad trends influencing the decline of American manufacturing reached the Motor City in the 1970s, setting off a long-term depression. Racial tensions and outright riots preceded vast white flight from Detroit, exacerbating population decline. This depression accelerated from 2000 to 2010, when the city population declined by 25 percent to reach a low of 713,777.
At the time of the SC2 assessment, Detroit was experiencing high vacancy rates, low educational achievement, and high unemployment. Detroit also faced the challenge of a shrinking city and tax base, and the looming threat of bankruptcy or the appointment of an emergency financial manager to take over power from the city.
Detroit’s abundant challenges meant that the federal attention showered on the city was also abundant. Public leaders attempted to reverse the economic decline of Detroit through many investments and incentives, including some from the Kresge and Ford foundations. Quicken Loans has made significant investments in downtown, over $1 billion in three years, including moving their offices and 7,000 employees to downtown from the suburbs in 2010. The company has invested in an incubator for technology start-ups and fronted funding for a light-rail line through the center of Detroit. Other signs point to a new vitality in midtown, including the city’s first Whole Foods, a high-end grocery store.
The Detroit SC2 team was able to further the goals of the pilot in a substantive way through its contributions to enhancing local capacity and brokering improved relationships between the city and other community stakeholders. Although its efforts were frequently transactional, the impact was significant for the struggling city, whose most urgent needs were immediate, basic, and simple.
The SC2 team was hampered by the city’s lack of advance planning and strategy for the initiative. Work was described as “putting out fires,” and team members would have been more successful in some respects if certain conditions and priorities had been identified at the outset for SC2 team projects.
The best legacy of the SC2 pilot in Detroit may be enhanced trust. Trust between the community and the federal government was built through the daily, active engagement and responsiveness of the federal government. Importantly, the pilot helped to foster trust within the Detroit community as well. The challenges of Detroit’s years of decline had fractured many relationships in the community. Whether through the DOT representative’s effort to improve relationships between the business community and the city on the M-1 rail project or the HUD representative’s resolution of legacy tensions between the city and the housing commission, the SC2 team’s presence appears to have set the stage for further collaboration as Detroit’s crisis environment subsides and a renewed focus on the city’s long-term revitalization takes hold.