Skip to main content

How Detroit can rise again

By Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, Special to CNN
July 25, 2013 -- Updated 1537 GMT (2337 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bruce Katz, Jennifer Bradley: Revival in Ohio, Pittsburgh should give hope to Detroit
  • They say after steel's collapse, Pittsburgh diversified economy based on 'eds and meds'
  • They say in Ohio, philanthropies pooled resources to tap into cities' potential strengths
  • Writers: Some of these strategies already underway in Detroit; story's not over yet

Editor's note: Bruce Katz is a vice president at the Brookings Institution and co-director of the Metropolitan Policy Program; Jennifer Bradley is a fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program. The two are co-authors of The Metropolitan Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2013).

(CNN) -- The Detroit bankruptcy case is acting as a Rorschach test for so many challenges that bedevil older industrial cities in the United States and beyond. A common one: How do older cities rocked by deindustrialization and the loss of population and jobs redefine their economic function and find a new reason to live in a shifting global economy?

The experiences of Pittsburgh and Northeast Ohio offer cause for hope and a roadmap for reinvention and renewal.

Bruce Katz
Bruce Katz
Jennifer Bradley
Jennifer Bradley

With the collapse of the steel industry in the early 1980s, the Pittsburgh metro area endured the loss of nearly 100,000 jobs in just three years; the city's population declined by almost 12.7% during the full decade. Fast forward 30 years, and it is clear that the city and broader metropolis have regained their footing through a series of strategic and sustained interventions.

Smart public, private and civic leadership has helped diversify the economy toward health care and technology, building off a solid base of advanced research institutions and medical campuses ("eds and meds"), such as Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Smart urban regeneration tactics have successfully repurposed waterfront locations, historic buildings and even brown-field sites into new walkable places valued by innovative firms and talented workers.

An impressive 25% of the jobs in the Pittsburgh metro area are within three miles of the central business district, compared with just 7% in Detroit. With such employment density, reasonable housing costs and ample cultural amenities, the city now routinely places at or near the top of worldwide livability rankings.

Northeast Ohio -- which spans the four metropolitan areas of Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Youngstown -- provides a more recent example of renewal. In the early 2000s, the Cleveland Plain Dealer chronicled the "quiet crisis" that was gradually bleeding the region of people, jobs and vitality.

Albom: Detroit is not Atlantis
The Motor City sputters to a stop

In response, philanthropic institutions pooled their resources and supported a series of institutions and intermediaries, including the Fund for Our Economic Future, BioEnterprise and Nortech, to identify precisely the region's untapped potential in emerging technology, health care, energy and manufacturing clusters and then help small- and medium-sized firms meet the demand for new products and services.

As in Pittsburgh, these efforts leveraged Northeast Ohio's stellar network of advanced research institutions and medical campuses, many of which (e.g., the Cleveland Clinic) sit at the cores of the region's central cities.

The result in less than a decade has been impressive: an additional 10,500 jobs, $333 million in payroll, $1.9 billion in investments, including the first nationally designated additive manufacturing institute in Youngstown.

The examples of Pittsburgh and Northeast Ohio provide a road map for the renewal not only of Detroit but of older industrial cities more generally.

RoboCop creator: Detroit shows the film's fictional future is upon us

First, form and sustain a network.

Cities and metropolitan areas are powerful because they are networks -- of corporate, philanthropic, university, community and government institutions and leaders. Each element of the network is not big enough or rich enough to power economic restructuring. But, taken together, they have the potential to design and deliver transformative initiatives and interventions.

Second, set a distinctive vision for economic growth grounded in your region's special assets and advantages.

Shakespeare was right; what's past is prologue. Northeast Ohio, for example, shows how specialties designed for car manufacturing can be repurposed. As Akron's tire making industry declined, companies working with local universities shifted their focus and research efforts into the related business of polymers. The former Rubber Capital of the World now makes polymers and plastics that can be used in clean energy and biotech.

Third, find the series of game changers that have the potential to create jobs in the near term and alter the trajectory of your economy over the long haul.

In Pittsburgh and Northeast Ohio, the signature game changer has been collaboration--among companies, universities, entrepreneurs and supportive institutions -- to help reshape the economy and create a sense of place and to grow quality jobs in quality places.

The revival of Detroit is not a fanciful dream; in fact it has already begun. According to research in progress by the Brookings Institution and The Reinvestment Fund, Detroit's historic downtown and midtown core is 3 percent of the city's land mass but home to 37 percent of its jobs, and residential and business growth is underway.

This growth includes new corporate residents like Quicken Loans bringing over 7,000 new jobs downtown since 2007, and older anchor institutions like Wayne State University, Henry Ford Health System and the College for Creative Studies driving over $1.8 billion in investments to midtown over the past decade.

This resurgence of Detroit's core builds off the physical "bones" (such as historic buildings, revised riverfront) of the city and the enviable assets in the broader metropolis, including a relatively high concentration of workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, given the region's concentration in advanced manufacturing.

And the resurgence is stewarded by the leadership of re-energized networks of philanthropies like the New Economy Initiative, as well as the work of capable institutions like the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, Midtown Detroit and Invest Detroit. With such advantages, now is the time to revive the city from the core and set ambitious goals for housing, job and fiscal growth that benefits all residents.

Detroit's future, in short, is still to be written.

Private, civic, and, yes, public investors like the federal government must double down on this momentum, and invest in that future to make it a bright one.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2334 GMT (0734 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT