February 01 2013

A Charter City for Detroit’s Development

Months of inspiration for government officials and urban planners are coming to a head in Detroit with the recent introduction of the Future City initiative. Next on the city council’s agenda is a decision on the proposal to sell the Belle Isle park to entrepreneurs for $1 billion. Real estate developer Rodney Lockwood has pitched the idea of the sale of the beloved park in order for business-types, like himself, to turn its 982 acres into a free-market paradise. The specifics of Lockwood’s plans can be found on the proposed commonwealth’s new website.

The Commonwealth of Belle Isle does not seem very likely as the Detroit City Council even seems uninterested in offers from the State to lease it. However, the idea of underused land in Detroit being turned into special economic zones may hold water. Lockwood’s dream of the island as “an economic and social laboratory” is similar to the ideas of New York University economist Paul Romer, who is marketing his idea for “charter cities” to underdeveloped countries around the world. Charter cities are areas with unused land where countries (or cities) can basically start over; they allow for new economic policies to be tested on a small scale and may provide incentives for governments to reform.

China's Special Development RegionsSpecial development regions, as they’re being called by the Honduran government Romer has partnered with, are essentially the basis for China’s exponential growth in the last half century, with new laws, their own currency, and lower taxes, all designed to spur economic expansion. One tip Detroit could take from the Honduran charter city initiative is the implementation of a transparency commission to cut down on worries over corruption. Romer’s theories are important because the Earth’s population is becoming increasingly centered in cities and it is important that those cities continue to provide good economic prospects for their citizens.

Engineering Romer’s charter city concept to fit Detroit and its Belle Isle may be difficult facing opposition from a State government bent on imposing Emergency Manager laws, an opposite solution on the development spectrum. Economic incubation organizations and areas in Detroit like Tech Town are helping to provide entrepreneurial know-how to startups and the spirited debate over Belle Isle is not yet over.

What sort of specialized economic efforts would you like to see in Detroit in the future?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Meg Mulhall

Meg Mulhall is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She calls Kalamazoo, Michigan her hometown but is currently exploring community organizing and urban planning efforts in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan. Planning to pursue a degree in either public policy or political science, Meg is interested in the relationship between government and non-governmental organizations and how those relationships can help remedy the lack of responsible and smart planning-related policies.

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This entry was posted on Friday, February 1st, 2013 at 9:28 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Government/Politics, Land Use, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “A Charter City for Detroit’s Development”

  1. Brian M Says:

    A very interesting idea for Belle Isle. But I do not think our governor is forward-thinking enough to allow its implementation.

  2. Meg Mulhall Says:

    The governor may be more open-minded than he sometimes seems. The problem right now is the Detroit City Council, that just turned down an offer from the State to lease it and take it off Detroit taxpayers’ hands for a while. I don’t know if the charter city idea would be so applicable to Belle Isle which has been loved as a city park for a long time, but with all the other vacant land around the city I think there may be room to start anew.

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