The Detroit Works Project is the name of a wide-reaching effort by the City of Detroit, the Bing Administration, local foundations (especially Kresge), and others, to create a long-term plan for the city. The project is addressing issues including vacancy, quality of life, neighborhood stability, city services, economic development, the environment, and crime. Strategies proposed and implemented include incentives for people to neighborhoods that are in decline but still well-represented. The project could decide that neighborhoods that cannot be stabilized may receive reduced city services.

Started in 2010, the project has been marked by secrecy and poor communications. For the first several years, little information was available publicly. The organization was structured outside of city government to avoid FOIA requests and public oversight. The First Detroit Works Advisory Task Force, a panel of government, business, and local representatives met throughout 2010, but the nature of their discussions was not shared publicly.

Harvard urban planning professor Toni Griffin served as a technical advisor to the project until Dec. 31, 2010. She worked with Marja Winters, deputy director of the Planning and Development Department. In early 2011, Griffin was on hiatus from the project after Kresge did not renegotiate her $150,000 salary. She returned late in the year.

Early funding for the project was provided by the Kresge Foundation, which had invested at least $1.5M as of March 2011. The foundation reduced its support after the project's problems became more apparent, and the Ford Foundation increased its support in turn.

The project also held several community meetings in an effort to reach out to residents. These meetings were plagued by communications problems, as project staff and community members failed to talk towards a common point. Residents, afraid that they would be shut out of efforts to prioritize city services, filled meetings with loud complaints. City staff came prepared with narrow sets of options and did not create a structure that allowed residents to buy into the plans.

Past efforts

There have been efforts to revitalize Detroit in the past, including the 1997 Detroit Community Reinvestment Strategy (Detroit CRS). This program is widely expected to be larger in scope.

The DWP project is, in some ways, a change from earlier development projects that targeted high-profile developments. Previous mayors lobbied for large projects that were supposed to create wide-scale change, like casinos, the Renaissance Center, and large industrial parks.

In the 2000s, community groups like the Community Development Advocates of Detroit have created their own master plans in the absence of an official City process. The Lower Eastside Action Plan (LEAP) is one notable example.


Early 2011: Project 14, an incentive program offering low-cost fully remodeled homes to police officers, is announced. Target areas are Boston Edison and East English Village.

Toni Griffin goes on hiatus from the program after her contract expires and the City and Kresge disagree about the involvement of outside consultants.

August 2011: Citizen's Bank announces it will provide $1.625M in grants up to $10,000 for home improvements in Detroit Works Project pilot areas. Dave Bing, Karla Henderson, and Marja Winters begin meeting with neighborhood groups.

September 2011: Organizers of the Lower Eastside Action Plan (LEAP) hope it will be incorporated into the Detroit Works Project plan.

The Detroit Works Project holds additional community meetings:

  • September 7: Eastern located at 5555 Conner, The Samaritan Center @ 7 p.m.
  • September 8: 10th Precinct located at 8675 Rosa Parks, DPD Mini Station @ 6:30 p.m.
  • September 13: Northeastern located at 7737 Kercheval 6:30 p.m.
  • September 13: Southwestern located at 4700 W. Fort @ 7 p.m.
  • September 26: 6th & 8th Precinct (West) located at Bushnell Church, 15000 Southfield Road @ 6:30 p.m.

The Project posts a PDF soliciting requests for additional meeting locations. Submissions are due September 16.

Short-Term Actions Begin

In July 2011, Bing announced some short-term actions, including naming some demonstration areas that would receive increased city services. Areas are being classified as "steady market" (high property values, good maintenance); "transitional market" (higher Real Estate Owned rates), and "distressed" (areas with long-term physical decline). Transitional areas will receive the most attention and subsidies.

The first set of identified areas are:

  • Hubbard Farms / Southwest: This area is generally bounded to the north by Vernor and Toledo, to

the east and south by I-75, and to the west by Woodmere.

  • Boston Edison / North End/Virginia Park: This area is generally bounded to the north by Boston

Boulevard and Holbrook, to the east by I-75, to the south by West Grand Boulevard, the rail road and I-94, and to the west by Linwood.

  • Bagley/Golf Club/Green Acres/Palmer Woods / Sherwood Forest / University District: This area

is bounded to the north by Eight Mile to the east by Woodward, to the south by McNichols and to the west by Wyoming.

In these areas, the City says it will:

  • "Apply the same market approach service delivery model the rest of city will be receiving;
  • "Leverage foundation, state, federal, and non-profit investments and actions along with city resources;
  • "Engage and work closely with CDCs, nonprofits, block clubs, and churches to gain more knowledge about the markets in each area.

Initial demonstration projects include increased code enforcement, like a multi-week "blitz" to survey 9,000 structures in Hubbard Farms that started in Fall 2011. Additional areas scheduled for code enforcement blitzes include Yorkshire Woods, Riverbend/Lower Jefferson, Virgina Park, Northend, University District, Bagley, Corktown, Berg/Lahser, Grandmont/Rosedale, Green Acres, Indian Village, and Russell Woods. Planning & Development and the Detroit Land Bank are coordinating ways to buy REO properties. Building, Safety Engineering & Environmental is shifting the buildings that are scheduled to be demolished. Public Works is analyzing road repair schedules.

The City will evaluate the areas in six months (January 2011) to judge the impact of the interventions and adjust the process.

2011 Restructuring

Starting in October 2011, observers expected significant changes to the structure of the project. Rumors suggested the program will be managed by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. Kresge will reduce its involvement, and the Ford Foundation will be the primary funder. Foundations ostensibly trust the DEGC more than the City in this role. It is unclear how the DEGC will be able to make policy decisions or recommendations for major departments, like the city's Planning and Development Department or the Council's Planning Commission. An announcement is expected by or during November.

In December 2011, the project announced a restructuring that brings a new focus on community engagement. Dan Pitera of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center at University of Detroit-Mercy will lead the effort and Toni Griffin returns to lead the development of a long-term plan. The community engagement role was previously held by Community Legal Resources. The group expects to have a "strategic framework plan" by August 2012. The Project says the plan will address:

  • Improving job and economic growth;
  • Improving efficiency of city system networks;
  • Improving neighborhood stability;
  • Defining “quality of life” ingredients for healthy and sustainable neighborhoods;
  • Creating strategies for vacant land;
  • Retaining and attracting population; and
  • Leveraging public and private investments for greater impact.

The work is funded in large part by the Ford Foundation, which gave $1.5M to the Detroit Collaborative Design Center in December 2011.

Elements of the restructured DWP

  • A 13-member Detroit Works Steering Committee
  • A 15-member Detroit Works Process Leaders group who will act as ambassadors and shape the community engagement process.
  • A 15-member street team that will attend meetings across the city starting in December.
  • An office open to the public, with Design Center and Community Legal Resources staff at work.
  • A mobile phone app built by Boston-based Community PlanIT
  • Meetings with groups that have created their own plans, like the Community Development Advocates of Detroit and the Lower Eastside Action Plan.
  • Ambassador training to give people a toolkit for discussing the project, gathering expertise, and analyzing it.
  • A policy guide that structures conversations about land use, economic development, and ecology.
  • Roundtable discussions
  • An info table that will appear around the city
  • Twitter town halls