Transitioning to a Knowledge-Based Economy in Detroit

By Jessie Feller Hahn

Jessie Feller Hahn is the Executive Director of Meeting of the Minds. She is an experienced urban planner, specializing in urban-regional policy with a particular focus on sustainability and clean energy. Previously, Jessie launched the successful Regional Energy Policy Program at Regional Plan Association in New York City. She has written numerous articles which have been featured in RPA’s Spotlight on the Region, The Hartford Courant, Urban Age Magazine, The Record, NPR, among others.

May 12, 2014 | Smart Cities | 0 comments

This blog post is a response to the Meeting of the Minds & Living Cities group blogging event which asks, “How could cities better connect all their residents to economic opportunity?”

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.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Read more from the Meeting of the Minds Blog

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

3 Key Lessons from Encouraging Communities to Generate Change

Instead of looking around and thinking to one’s self about what could be done to make a certain place better, our program urges folks to share their ideas and begin building support from the ground-up. That’s how a group of neighbors and volunteers in Brightmoor, Michigan, succeeded in transforming their neighborhood’s food desert back in 2015.

How Policy, Planning, and Technology can Avoid Gridlocked Commuter Traffic

We are firm believers in putting nudge theory to work within organizations. Luum is a data-driven commute benefits software solution that runs end-to-end employer commute programs and gives them deep insight into how their employees commute. We’ve seen the ripple effect that even the slightest positive behavior changes around the commute can have for an entire organization and, subsequently, its city. Over the past five years, our hometown of Seattle has seen its transit ridership grow (one of two cities in the country!) and boasts a downtown drive-alone rate that hovers around 25 percent.

9 Major Opportunities for Electric Buses & Trucks

You may not hear much about electric trucks and buses, but they’re here and growing. We have to put the policies and actions in place now so that we can leverage the clean air and economic benefits of this technology to fight environmental injustice and give an economic boost to people most in need.

Share This