The leaders of urban transit authorities and public transport agencies now recognize the need to push simultaneously on several fronts: reduce costs, reduce environmental impact, enhance customer and driver safety, and provide improved passenger services. These leaders are under severe pressure to provide superior passenger services: wi-fi, passenger information systems, and smartphone apps, just to name a few. This means that they must learn to offer a passenger experience that competes with other transportation modes and private transportation companies.
Transitioning to a Knowledge-Based Economy in Detroit
In my role as Executive Director of Meeting of the Minds, I have been speaking and brainstorming with dozens of Detroit leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, technologists from the public, private and non-profit sectors in order to curate and plan our fall summit there. Around every corner, I have met innovators developing projects and initiatives that are having a direct impact on the current and future Detroit economy.
Detroit has reached a tipping point and is re-discovering and re-imagining its economic path.
City-regions compete with each other on a global scale. In order to compete, cities have the arduous task of developing and articulating their economic advantages and competitiveness. The economic specialization a city pursues impacts the opportunities of residents working and living in those cities.
Diversity of Knowledge
Take the case of Chicago versus Detroit. Saskia Sassen recently wrote an excellent piece exploring how the two cities’ economies diverged. Both have strong histories of manufacturing, yet Chicago was able to make the switch to a knowledge sharing economy while Detroit did not. Sassen argues that Chicago was able to “re-embed its expertist into a knowledge economy.” Chicago had a distinct advantage over Detroit: diversity in its manufacturing and industrial base. Sassen asks a fascinating question: “What if before the car phase, Detroit had a diversity of knowledges that could today contribute to a diversified economic base, ranging from specialized machine crafting to the making of materials?”
Without a doubt, that diversity of knowledge is bubbling up in Detroit. The city’s education and retraining programs are positioning themselves to prepare the next generation of knowledge workers and makers. Innovative organizations such as TechShop, Ponyride, D:Hive, TechTown, NextEnergy, M@dison, Mt Elliot Makerspace, Detroit Creative Corridor, among many others are providing training and co-working spaces for makers, artists, technologists and entrepreneurs to develop skills, launch businesses and then scale them. Other programs such as Detroit Revitalization Fellows and Challenge Detroit are providing leadership training for residents returning home to Detroit or moving there for the first time. Sisters Code is training young Detroit girls to code. Excellent Schools Detroit is taking a holistic view of education by linking educators, curriculum and parents. All of these organizations, among hundreds of others, have positioned themselves to fill the gap in Detroit and make the transition to a diverse knowledge and new industrial/makers economy. Whether Detroit is in the process of becoming a fully articulated knowledge-based economy remains to be seen.
Connecting the Dots
The key is connecting the dots between early to college-level education, training, skills development, funding and investment, workspace, mentorship, network development and other resources. Only through a comprehensive strategy that targets very young leaders, can a city transition to a stronger economy within a generation. Then the resources must be available for great ideas to receive the funding necessary to scale.
The challenge is linking talent with opportunity while also not falling into the pitfalls of gentrification. Becoming a global city has its social costs according to Sassen. Can a city transition to a knowledge economy without excluding a major portion of its population? Can the transition happen over one or two generations and ensure the majority are included, rather than excluded?
It is a complex and long road to transition to a knowledge-based and new industrial economy. It may take more than a single generation. But Detroit is well on its way. This is why Meeting of the Minds has chosen to convene there in the fall. The ingenuity, bootstrap mentality and commitment to a revitalized Detroit is not only inspiring, it paves the way for other global cities to learn how to reinvent themselves and bounce back from whatever challenging economic situation they find themselves. Other global cities like Chicago should take note — they are not immune from economic or natural disasters. It is also a model for the private sector which, at times, also must bounce back. As the futurist and author Andrew Zolli reminded me last week, cities are resilient, as are the people in them, and can bounce back.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Read more from the CityMinded.org Blog
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Steven Hawking recently commented that artificial intelligence (AI) would be “either the best thing or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity”. He was referring to the opportunity that AI offers to improve mankind’s situation, set alongside the risks that it also presents. These same competing possibilities apply no less when AI is considered in the context of smart cities and the planet’s growing urbanization. With smart cities, though, this is not just some abstract balance: there is a genuine choice of path to be made as smart cities and AI evolve together. This article explores the choice.
As we look back on the auto revolution since 1945, we have spent trillions of dollars on cars and related infrastructure. These investments transformed our country and greatly assisted us to an unprecedented level of prosperity. Yet there are many things we would no doubt do differently with 20/20 hindsight to shape the use of cars in relation to other modes of travel and in relation to the urban forms we want to live in. As we look on in amazement at the current technological prowess on display in the auto and mobility industries, it is important that we learn from the automobile revolution of the last 75 years. We can learn from the past to shape new developments to meet shared goals as these technologies unfold, rather than suffer the impacts of unintended consequences.