I’m excited about the US Social Forum in June – they’re hosting it in Detroit. http://ussf2010.org/about – I’ve got to figure out if this is the one that I want to go to. A lot of really good conferences are taking place in Detroit this year, as people figure out that Detroit will be the key to America’s sustainable future.

Detroit’s Green Map – http://www.detroitgreenmap.org/ – is pretty cool. I’m excited to see that these different businesses and folks are working the movement.

The New Republic has a sweet article at http://www.tnr.com/article/metro-policy/the-detroit-project – about the ways in which Detroit’s urban strategy needs to be shaped. Race relations is at the heart of the issue, but the article doesn’t really touch that. It comes from a more European-urban-planning perspective of creating viable urban centers, but I think any conversation about America’s urban core needs to include race.

We’re a nation of immigrants – the ancestors of both the voluntary and in the involuntary. The ancestors of the involuntary have not fared as well as their voluntary counterparts. One can view Natives in a similar way, since very few Natives were allowed to keep their ancestral land and were forced into a sort of involuntary migration. I don’t want to dwell too much on Native issues, because this article is about Detroit. It seems (to me) to be fair to say that one can hold most of the issues of the “involuntary (im)migrants” under the umbrella of “cultural assimilation”.

I’ve been writing for a class about the Oak Park Strategy. My home town of Oak Park, IL is cited throughout Urban Studies and Race Relations case studies as an example of successful integration. In the 1960s there was a huge wave of migration throughout the country as tensions flared in rural areas over forced segregation. Lots of black folks moved into urban centers, and the American ghetto was born. I use the term in a somewhat archaic context – an impoverished area, racially divided from other sectors of a city.

I grew up a few blocks from Austin – one of Chicago’s worst ghettos. I was told that I should avoid it, so my first exploratory mission into Austin occurred when I was in kindergarden. I followed a little girl home from school, got lost, and knocked on someone’s door to call my mom. She came to pick me up and brought me back to the safe side of Austin Boulevard – the dividing line between Oak Park and Chicago.

A few years later, she bought a house only a few blocks away from that line. As a teenager, we crossed it to go buy booze – the Arab-run store on the Chicago side would sell us beer. Oak Park was a dry town. It was started by a Prohibitionist who bought a few taverns – just to shut them down.

The Oak Park Strategy was defined by Carole Goodman in her book by the same name. Written in 1979, it outlines how Oak Park successfully engaged on a campaign to “celebrate diversity”.

The village planners saw that Austin was being blockbusted – real estate agents would “bust blocks” by hiring black folks to push strollers up and down streets, and point to them as they convinced “white flighters” to sell. Those panicky white folks would compete with their neighbors to sell their homes, and they got the hell out fast. From 1969 to 1979, Austin went from 99.9% white to 99.9% black.

Oak Park created a marketing campaign to celebrate diversity. A few core players sold the concept successfully to the real estate community, and did some fundraising for a national ad campaign. They successfully solicited the liberal elite, and convinced them to move to Oak Park to raise their families in a diverse and tolerant environment. Previously a Republican town, Oak Park voted Democratic (overall) for the first time in 1984.

I was born in Oak Park Hospital (which sits on Austin Boulevard) in 1980. I grew up in a climate where diversity was discussed. I am still doing some research and working on a list of questions to ask of the people who have a bit more historic perspective than I, but my core experiences have led me to a strong conclusion.

Detroit needs a diversity campaign. Right now, the city is primarily black, and has been for some time. It may not be politically correct to say this, but my perception is that the black social community as a whole exists independently from the white one. When I bought a house and started a business in Austin in 2006, I had to adopt a different set of cultural values.

I am not qualified to offer opinions on Detroit’s culture. It is incredibly arrogant of me to offer an opinion on Detroit’s needs – I have not been to the city since I was a child. I am really excited about contributing to a movement towards a new Detroit, and to the vision of what that future looks like. It will take many years to conceive, and decades to realize.

Chicago experienced some of the largest population growth after the time of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 – I’ve heard it was one of the largest increases that America has ever seen. It was due to the amazing publicity that Daniel Burnham was able to generate for the World’s Fair.

I’ve grown up in these examples, and I want to make that experience relevant. I’m really excited to build this Detroit project into something – my intuition tells me that helping Detroit will ultimately be my life’s great work.

More to come…

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