Detroit’s troubles have been well publicized. For years Detroit consistently made headlines… for all the wrong reasons. An economy in a free fall, with the region’s jobless rate reaching a high of 16.6 percent by July 2009, one of the worst racial polarization and city-suburb divides in America, miles of boarded up buildings and urban prairie, and the apparently inevitable demise of the American car company appeared to herald the death of Motown.
But rather than succumbing to its own flaws and insufficiencies, Detroit’s failures seem to have created the perfect environment for creativity, radical ideas and design-centric thought and action to take hold and transform the city into a new better version of itself.
This big city is inspiring equally large and audacious dreams on the part of designers and design thinkers who are leading the charge to reinvent and reinvigorate Detroit. With their inspiration, energy, time and talent, Detroit is rising from the proverbial ashes, reinventing itself with and through design.
Detroit is not alone. Many communities around the world, Berlin, Madrid, Athens, and others, have found themselves facing issues like Detroit’s: loss of industry, rising unemployment, increased cost of living and decreased access to city services. In fact, when cities or parts of cities are in decline, decreased rent and increased low-cost opportunities for business attract creatives who move in and rejuvenate them. Berlin, for example, after the fall of the wall when the former east opened up, had scores of unclaimed buildings and well-documented economic woes. But Berlin was able to move forward and has been experiencing a cultural and economic revival driven in large part by an influx of creatives and design.
Like Berlin, Detroit has a new generation of creatives that may be the source of its transformation and transition from a one-industry city to a 21st century leader. People like Burkhard Kieker, the director of Berlin tourism, have suggested that the Motor City look beyond manufacturing and use its legacy of design to move ahead. If actions speak louder than words then the Big 3 Automakers and designers from Detroit and beyond agree with him and are using design to jumpstart the city, its people and economy.
More on design and the Big Three.