This animation started after reviewing data collected in the initial Detroit Works town hall meetings. The idea was simple: experts are asking for input on complex issues and Detroiters need a straightforward explanation of the problem that makes sense if you aren’t an urban planner. The goal of this animation is to provide citizens with enough background information to begin to tackle these conversations.
Along the way, it became clear that land use was only one of many policy choices that Detroiters would be facing, and the ability to quickly visualize complex issues could be very useful.
While realities of cost infrastructure, unemployment and loss of revenue are visible everywhere, years of political dodging and blame rhetoric has created an environment where feedback often focuses on fault and frustration rather than practical and urgent reality. Fellow Detroiters, we have crossed the line where our city is actually too messed up to worry about whose fault it is.
That said, residents have been burned by failed government in the past. Detroiters are facing extremely tough challenges and smart decisions are critical, but there is understandably very little trust. Charts, graphs and spreadsheets used to “prove” action is necessary don’t always rank above challenges like feeding the kids or stretching a Social Security check. Not everyone is going to be able to focus on fixing the city. We can’t expect everyone to have an in-depth and nuanced understanding of the function of government, policy and urban planning.
This animation won’t give you an urban planning degree, but hopefully it will help remind us that beyond corruption or blame, Detroit built 88,000 streetlights when we had 1.8 million Detroiters. It’s no wonder that our current population of 700,000, we can’t support keeping them all working.
With any luck, community organizations will find this animation a good start to some tough but practical conversation that can capitalize on comprehensive research. If we can get the problems presented in a way that citizens can grapple with quickly, we can have better dialogue about proposed plans, and be the more focused, participatory, productive citizens that Detroit desperately needs us to be.
Vince Keenan is a lifelong Detroiter and runs the voter education organization Publius.org