Detroit School of Urban Studies
Is it time to establish a Detroit School of Urban Studies? Both the Chicago School of Sociology and the Los Angeles School of Urbanism have contributed many ideas to understanding cities. Detroit is neither a dense, industrial Chicago nor a sprawling, fast-growing, immigrant-rich Los Angeles, yet Detroit is representative of a host of cities that have experienced sustained deindustrialization, depopulation, and disinvestment, as well as poor race relations, for many decades. What would define a Detroit School of Urban Studies? How does thinking about Detroit-like cities change the questions we ask and the answers we pursue in the many disciplines that contribute to urban studies? What do we gain by rallying a community of scholars under the Detroit School banner?
To address these questions, we are holding a series of seminars on faculty work-in-progress. More than 40 graduate students at the University of Michigan, other universities in the region, and universities elsewhere in the nation and the world are writing dissertations on Detroit, and they share their work in a second seminar series. A grant from the Rackham School of Graduate Studies for an Interdisciplinary Workshop makes these seminars possible.
Urban planning scholars, along with colleagues from the Department of Sociology, the Residential College, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and the School of Social Work, organized the Detroit School Series of lectures and seminars, 2012-2014. The Detroit School Series led into a two-day international symposium entitled “Learning from Detroit: Turbulent Urbanism in the 21st Century.” (Session videos are available)
These activities received valuable support from the Rackham School of Graduate Studies and the Office of the Vice President for Research.
As part of the University of Michigan’s “cluster” hires, the Urban and Regional Planning Program, the Department of Sociology, and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies with the Residential College each have hired faculty who do research related to urban inequality in Southeast Michigan. They are Kimberley Kinder, Alexandra Murphy, and Heather Thompson. The School of Social Work plans to hire a faculty member in this area in the coming year.
Much research and creative work builds on partnerships with community organizations, city agencies, and others in Detroit and cities like it. The Detroit Community Partnership Center advocates for student and faculty projects that address community-identified needs and that build knowledge or enrich the education of students. The Detroit Community Partnership Center began in 1994 as a partnership with Wayne State University and Michigan State University with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Urban and Regional Planning faculty who do research or creative work related to Detroit and cities like it:
- Maria Arquero de Alarcon
- Lan Deng
- Harley Etienne
- Robert Fishman
- Joe Grengs
- Kimberley Kinder
- Larissa Larsen
- Robert Marans
- Michael McCulloch
- June Manning Thomas
Recent and Current Ph.D. students’ research on Detroit-like cities:
- Joel Batterman
- Patrick Cooper-McCann
- R. J. Koscielniak
- Nicholas Rajkovich
- Eric Seymour
- Matthew Weber
Additional faculty engaged in practice in Detroit:
- Eric Dueweke
- Paul Fontaine
- Libby Levy
Faculty books on Detroit:
Reinventing Detroit: The Politics of Possibility
Mapping Detroit: Land, Community, and Shaping a City
The City After Abandonment
Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit
Detroit: Race and Uneven Development
Applying Research to Practice:
In connection with the Detroit Community Partnership Center, students and faculty undertake projects that:
- Improve systems, so as to have broad effects on city conditions. For instance, in past years, students and faculty proposed ways to improve Community Development Block Grants, laid out ways that the Detroit parks and greenways system could become more financially sustainable while serving residents better, and recommended ways that Wayne County could improve tax foreclosure auctions to increase revenue and to have more positive impacts on neighborhoods.
- Create models for planning and design that others can use so that a plan addressing challenges in one neighborhood becomes useful to many others facing the same issue. For instance, in 2015, students and faculty developed a plan for strengthening a neighborhood facing new threats from tax foreclosures and housing disinvestment following huge numbers of mortgage foreclosures, a challenge facing almost all of Detroit’s middle class and working class neighborhoods. In 2012 students worked with representatives from numerous neighborhoods to develop a guide for addressing neighborhood blight that shared residents’ successes and the knowledge urban planners bring to strengthening neighborhoods. As another example, students have recommended strategies for establishing an industrial jobs center in a way that acknowledged workforce needs and real estate realities.
- Support community-based organizations in new initiatives in order to reinforce their efforts to address challenges in new ways. For example, students and faculty worked with the Southwest Detroit Business Association to develop a plan for ensuring residents benefited from job creation resulting from major infrastructure projects. As another example, students worked with a community-based nonprofit in the northeast corner of the city to outline ways the nonprofit could expand its neighborhood revitalization work.
These projects consistently win the Outstanding Student Project Award from the Michigan Association of Planning and have several times won the national American Institute of Certified Planners Student Project Award.
Many of these projects take place through courses, especially UP634 Integrative Field Experience. The plans students and faculty have produced are available at the University of Michigan library, online through the Taubman College Urban Planning student work webpage, or the University of Michigan electronic archive Deep Blue
Students also act as professional planners and bring research findings to bear in advancing community agendas through internships. For more than 20 years the Brademas Fellowships—along with others at varied times, such as the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Work Study fellowships and the Michigan AmeriCorps Partnership positions—have supported student work with community-based nonprofits in the city.