This podcast was recorded during our fourth DAYLIGHT event of Season two, Justice, held on June 27, 2019. This conversation was between Maurice Cox, Director of Planning and Development for the of the City of Detroit, and Vop Osili, President of the Indianapolis City-County Council.
Lourenzo Giple : [00:00:00] Hello. You are listening to the DAYLIGHT podcast series, created by People for Urban Progress and Exhibit Columbus, made possible with the support of the Cummins Foundation and brought to you by Ambrose Property Group and Central Indiana Community Foundation. Daylight Season 2 brings together national and local thought leaders around the topic of inclusive design and this season we have authentic conversations on the realities of equity, dignity, and justice as it relates to responsible design for Indianapolis. As Indianapolis grows and changes, these hard hitting topics have an impact on the overall city and thus have an impact on you. Daylight Season 2, Episode 4, Justice. This podcast was recorded on June 27, 2019. During the event, we heard from Murice Cox, Director of Planning and Development for the City of Detroit, and Vop Osili, President of the Indianapolis City-County Council.
Donna Sink: [00:00:57] We are so excited tonight to get to the real event, a conversation about justice in design and we are going to hear from two speakers, then they will both come back up together and have a conversation. So first we are going to hear from Indianapolis' own Vop Osili. Vop Osili is President of the Indianapolis City-County Council representing district eleven, which covers much of downtown Indianapolis and parts of the Near West Side including the IUPUI campus. He is chairman of this council's rules and Public Policy Committee and also serves on its Public Works Committee. Vop is a champion of urban and economic development and the empowerment of distressed and economically challenged communities, and he is committed to ensuring the successful reintegration of formerly incarcerated community members. He is also an architect, which I love, and he received his Bachelor's of architecture degree from Carnegie Mellon University and his master's degree in architecture and urban design from Columbia University. Welcome. Come on up, Vop.
Vop Osili: [00:02:11] Thank you Donna. And thank you all for coming out this evening. This is an amazing opportunity to talk with folks in a large group about something that means so much to myself and my colleagues in city government, and too often we don't have an opportunity to have these kinds of discussions on something as sensitive and as important as justice. So, I was thinking a bit earlier, and by the way I also want to thank CICF for the opportunity and Ambrose. Can we give it up for them again? (applause) And all of our sponsors.
Vop Osili: [00:02:52] When I was thinking about justice what came to mind is what is justice not. What is injustice? In order to define justice we have to define what is injustice and what comes to mind on that is inequity. It's unequal outcomes based on the input that we provide. And in city government, I can't tell you how how that impacts us. What does it mean for us as councillors? And I'll start off by saying the role of city government, I do believe, is to provide a quality of life for all of our residents. And when we fall short of that, we fall short of what should be our goals, and what should be our outcomes.
Vop Osili: [00:03:47] Let's start with something that I can say is an injustice. And an injustice is seeing something wrong and making that wrong more pernicious. When we could do something about it and we choose not to. In city government that is me walking down the street and seeing housing that is substandard. It is me walking down the street and meeting people on the street who can't work because they, for example, have a criminal record and then doing nothing about it. That's injustice because we have the capacity to do something and we choose not to.
[00:04:39] And how do we change that? And what do we need to do? For me, it's working with my colleagues in city government. It's working with our mayor to say How do we look at our processes and our practices, not just did we get them done and check them off the list, but have we gone to the far side and determined did we hit a goal? And who was impacted positively and who was impacted negatively? And too often those who are impacted negatively end up in small pockets of our city. And based on this series, this Daylight series, it ends up being people who don't look like the majority folks in the room. Then what do we do. Do we continue what we have been doing for the last I don't know how many years? We think we're doing good things. You pay your taxes, we spend your money. That's the way it works right? For all of you who pay taxes. But it's not enough and it is injustice. It is not just when we don't look at the outcome and we don't revamp our ways and we're not intentional about reshaping those policies and practices that have led to an outcome that is unequal.
Vop Osili: [00:06:12] What's your role in all of this? When I went to architecture school many years ago, we don't we don't need to talk about the number, it's completely and totally irrelevant right now. Just know I had hair at the time. I think we were at about 3 percent people who looked like me–people of African descent, black African descent–were about 3 percent of the architecture population. I don't know what it is now but I imagine it's probably still in the single digits. How intentional are we about engaging and cultivating more diverse populations in architecture? Because here's something really powerful. When we get more voices in the room we get better results. When we get more voices in the room, we give more opportunities for better results. The mayor and I just this week–that's Mayor Joe Hogsett, an amazing guy, hope you guys are gonna vote for him. I know it's election year I shouldn't say those things–we met just this at the beginning of this week to talk with a philanthropy about helping us fund something that we think is very important and that is the embedding of Race and Equity into city policy. The training of staff members, the training of councillors, the training of department heads and deputies. So the decisions that we make aren't filtered through our own eyes, but through eyes maybe that we'd never actually even had.
Vop Osili: [00:07:53] Now you may not realize this but I'm African-American. I don't know if you realize that. I was born in Nigeria and in Nigeria everybody, most but most folks ninety nine point something percent, look like me. Well color didn't strike until I moved to the Western world. Let me give you an example I was telling a friend just a moment ago about an example of what race really is and I want to I want to jump on that if you don't mind, and if you do mind I still have the microphone so it really doesn't really matter. We used to have an office in the Middle East when I was practicing architecture, and we had gone to we were trying to get a contract through a particular ministry, or a particular department, and it had taken a really long time to meet with the minister. And one day our business development guy came into my office incredibly excited and he said We finally got a meeting today at three o'clock. And I was really I was I was overjoyed. He was like Three o'clock, I need a white guy to go with me. Now I thought OK well go into one of the outer offices because you'll probably find a lot of white people, right? And he looks at me and he says No no no no, you didn't hear me. We have the meeting today at three o'clock, I need a white guy to go with me. Can you go? OK. The same look was the look I had, right? And God, God, God bless him his name was Habib. And I remember saying Habib sit sit down. Never in my entire life have I been confused for white. And I remember him blinking and saying I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I need an American to go with me. Can you go?
Vop Osili: [00:09:45] And I always thought of that example because I realize that this whole thing about race that we put on it, here on these shores, is not the same globally. And we need to be looking at Race and Equity I think through new lenses, not based on skin color, not based on any of those things. We need to be looking at the folks in our communities as we look at ourselves and what's good for them, or what would be good for me, should be good for them. And I think sometimes we don't. And I think sometimes we allow history to get in our way and we continue our practices. Now back to you guys. What's the role that you play in justice? What's the role that you play when you see something that is unjust? What is the role that you play in trying to right it? Now I have a position, an elected position. The things that I can do in my elected position, and that's work with my fellow councillors there are 25 of us, and I work with an extraordinary group of individuals. But there are things that you can do in your environment, and what are those things? We're not here to talk about ideas, we're here to talk about ideas into action. I think that's what this whole series has been about, this this whole series is going to be about. It's why Maurice is here, to show us what ideas put into action can look like. All to create just environments.
Vop Osili: [00:11:31] So let me end it with this. Everyone in this room is probably bought in to the idea of a just end for our communities. But I think everyone here, including me, can probably dig a lot deeper and take a lot more actions to make a difference, to live up to the ideals of this lecture series, and to live up to the ideals of this country. I love being in this country, I love being in this state, and I love being in this city. And my intention, the mayor's intention, my councillors' intention, is to do it right so that we do have a quality of life for everyone. And those within your own spheres, deserve the very same thing.
Vop Osili: [00:12:35] So. I talked about putting words into action and I want to, I want you all to hear some examples of words being put into action. And with that I want to introduce our speaker for this evening, Maurice Cox, Planning Director for the City of Detroit. Donna, thank you for this opportunity. Everyone, thank you.
Donna Sink: [00:13:06] (applause) OK. I am so excited that Vop let me come back up again. I am so fired up right now. I think that the idea of ideas into action that's Season 3 of Daylight. That's what we're gonna do. That's gonna be–I'm throwing it out there PUP board, Exhibit Columbus, ideas into action. Awesome. Thank you, Vop. That was amazing. And I am now so thrilled to introduce Maurice Cox, with his resumé here, I'm gonna go through it quickly because I can't wait to hear from him. Maurice Cox is the director of the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department. He is an urban designer, architectural educator, and former mayor of the city of Charlottesville, Virginia. Mr. Cox has taught at Tulane University, Syracuse University, the University of Virginia, and Harvard Graduate School of Design. He served as design director of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2007 to 2010, where he led the NEA's Your Town Rural Institute, the Governor's Institute on Community Design, the Mayors' Institute on City Design, and he oversaw direct design grants to the design community across the U.S. We are thrilled to have Maurice Cox come join us here in Indianapolis. Thank you, Maurice. Please come up.
Maurice Cox: [00:14:37] Oh man, you took that down low too fast. That's Saint Aretha, in Detroit. It's great to be here in Indianapolis, this is my first time and just thrilled by the invitation that I got from Chase Merritt and all those who advocated to bring, bring me here. I... They told me to speak for 20 minutes and I came with a 20 minute talk, and then I started meeting all these groups all day and the 20 sides–the 60 slides became 120 slides, so I'm going to try to go quickly through, through the slide presentation because I really want to get into a conversation with Vop about this question of design and injustice. So I'm going to talk a little bit. I part of it was I had to set the context so it's a little difficult for most people to understand where Detroit has been. So it's hard to just jump in. So I'm gonna give you some context.
Maurice Cox: [00:15:53] Marvin Gaye penned Mercy, Mercy Me in Detroit and he was looking out over the landscape of a city like Detroit and lamenting what we had done to the earth, the polluting of the rivers, of the air. About the fall of the urban economy in cities like Detroit. About the mass exodus of citizens from urban centers, even to the point where in 2012 the narrative, or the slander, of the national press became fixated on this notion that a great American city is going to die in our lifetime, right? Would the last person out of Detroit please turn out the lights. Oh wait, it's too late. That was the dominant narrative as recently as 2012 leading to what was the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history with a city with 18 billion dollars of debt, just an incredible collection of statistics of a collapse of a city. That brought the city to its knees but also framed a renewal or resurgence. The idea that bankruptcy could actually lead to a fresh start. And if you've known anyone that's gone through a bankruptcy, wiping away all debt leads to an opportunity if the city is poised to take advantage of it. But just to help you understand just the depth of the crisis, Detroit in 1950 had one point eight million people. In over the course of seven decades, it lost one point one million people and those people left their houses, their churches, their institutions and um, and left the city largely African-American. It is the largest majority African-American city in America, with 80 percent of the population, and 10 percent Latino, and only 10 percent white. So an audience like this is almost impossible to find in Detroit. It also left a city severely low-income. The median household income in the city is less than thirty thousand a household. So we have a lot of people living in poverty, and there were tens of thousands of vacant houses that were left standing vacant and exacerbated by the foreclosure crisis in 2008 and 2009. So these properties, but they're about twenty six thousand vacant houses left, every time a house is demolished a vacant lot is created and so they're about 80 thousand properties that are controlled by a land bank.
Maurice Cox: [00:19:36] But what was not possible to diminish was that the Spirit of Detroit and the people who stayed. So lest we buy into that utopian vision that there was nobody left in Detroit, well actually there were like seven hundred thousand people who stayed. And these are the folks who come to community members who are genuinely planning to stay. This is the hard core, We won't go Detroiters. And by the way they live in neighborhoods that look like this. There are dozens and dozens of just gorgeous neighborhoods that resisted and still exist today. And so for us, the challenge is How do you build an equitable recovery? How do you build the just city that does more than simply include you, but genuinely is for you? And so we are on that path where citizens are driving the recovery process. And I'm going to try to show an example of what that looks like. It's also about democratizing the design process, about how we share or co create with ordinary people who have extraordinary ideas who can inform a design process. So for me our work as designers are about mobilizing people to face really, really tough challenges; giving that work right back to the people who are going to have to live with it; and then having the courage to design according to their values not your disciplines values. And doing so with a willingness to meet people where they are. Like in this backyard of a community leader.
Maurice Cox: [00:21:47] But make no mistake about it Detroit is big, so big it couldn't fit on this slide. And there are, what you're seeing here is a pattern of occupancy and vacancy. The yellow and the red are the most they can areas in the green is the most populated. There are literally 24 square miles of vacant land. And if you don't know how much that is, it's larger than the island of Manhattan if you were to assemble it all in a contiguous body. But that's not how it is in Detroit. It looks like this. It's this speckled pattern of occupancy and vacancy. You can go from a complete block, to two houses left on a street within a five minute walk. So this is the context for which we work. Right? What do you do when you have lots and lots of lots that are in various degrees of being maintained and cared for? Some you know have a low maintenance strategy, some are productive, but for many, many years Detroit saw this as kind of a noose around their neck and instead, over the past ten years, five years or so we have started to talk about this land resource as our competitive advantage. Detroit, as I said is black. And in fact many people say that the black middle class was invented in Detroit because two hundred thousand residents moved from the south to the north during the Great Migration. And seven hundred thousand Detroiters worked for the wartime economy during World War II where that auto industry manufacturing had been transformed to build a weapons of war.
Maurice Cox: [00:24:02] Detroit is also beautiful, right? It was a wealthy city, the fifth largest city in America. And they built a lot of beautiful buildings. And it still has one of the finest collection of 20th century early 20th century high-rises, really second only to New York or Chicago. It's also beautiful culturally. You just have to think about Motown, you know an entire soundtrack given to a generation or-or techno, techno was invented in Detroit. So the heart of this recovery is in the downtown and I think that makes sense, right? That's a general pattern of urban recoveries. The heart is downtown. It belongs to everyone. And so what you see now in Detroit is just a flourishing of public places, public spaces by the dozens. Where people are starting to socialize in public space again. And sometimes they're in incredible building–credible places like Capital Park. With, with this these collection of buildings. Sometimes it's like a parking lot that's been converted to a park, waiting for that urbanity to fill in around its edges. But I like to say that the soul of any recovery is in it's neighborhoods so there might be one heart but there are like two hundred neighborhoods of Detroit. Two hundred souls. And the question is can you take the energy of a downtown that belongs to everyone and can you develop a strategy that speaks to the soul of a neighborhood, and in effect, can you build like one city that welcomes everyone? That's the goal. And we contend that has simply never been done in American history. And that's the journey that Detroit is on.
Maurice Cox: [00:26:19] So it's, I'm an architect, an urban designer, urban planner. So for me it all begins with the infrastructure of neighborhoods. It's about streets, the streets that people want to gather in, want to linger on. It's about parks, right? Neighborhood parks that have the authentic identity of those communities. It's about green ways, it's about alternative ways to move through neighborhoods, independent of streets. And it's about development. It's about development with character and excellence. Ultimately it's about people. It's about the people who stayed and so the example that I'm going to dig a little deeper on is the Fitzgerald neighborhood. And these are some of the community leaders that came along with this, this journey with us over the course of the past two years to build, rebuild the infrastructure of the city. And for us it's about these young people who quite frankly 30 years from now they're going to inherit the work that we do today. And so we engage them deeply in the planning process, and they have incredible intelligence about the neighborhoods that they live in. It's also about just respecting a community's voice. And we talked a lot about that. You know, folks who have embodied knowledge because they've lived a life in a neighborhood have incredible insights that our job as designers is to capture and to translate whether it's in a backyard, or whether it's at a pop-up event demonstrating what's possible, or whether it's a neighborhood cleanup. We meet and we meet again and we meet again and again and again 'til everybody is on the same page. And so the strategy that I'm going to describe to you it's the product of 28 town hall meetings, 50 block club meetings, nine different pop-ups to just demonstrate what was possible. And it also involves designers trying to understand what's the DNA of neighborhood revitalization–is it something about those main streets that we used to be able to walk to? Is it about vacant land that then is turned into parks? And so this is our effort of trying to find what's the module. And it turned out to be a quarter square mile seems to be about the right size in which you can walk from one amenity to another to another and so I want to talk a little bit about what it means to plan incrementally to preserve everything that we have. How we can frame and steward land and this greenway concept and streetscape concept. So I want to talk about the Fitzgerald project, it's called the no build option. So this is the idea of going into a neighborhood that has 400 vacant lots,100 vacant houses, and build nothing and transform everything. And so we do that by targeting the investment all within this 20 minute walk, whether it's a park housing rehab, commercial, a Main Street, a streetscape or Greenway in this quarter square mile area.
Maurice Cox: [00:30:18] So the first part of the strategy is thinking about land differently, right? Is there a way to innovate in the landscape by turning vacant lots into productive lands. And so the strategy that you'll see here, which was designed by Spackman Mossop Michaels takes those 400 lots and creates a tapestry of vacant land strategies. The first is tying the housing rehab to the vacant land. So the house gets renovated–and you're seeing two houses that were recently renovated–and then the vacant land typology talks about productive models, stormwater models, flowering meadows, and so the developer agrees to renovate the house and install a flowering Meadow garden next door. They own both, right? And that's a strategy that we're repeating one hundred times across the tapestry of the neighborhood. The other part is a park. This is a neighborhood that had no park. And this is what it had. This is what the neighborhood looked like. And so they're about twenty six vacant lots in the center. We did a little demo and we proposed–this is after the demo–and we proposed a two and a half acre park made up of random vacant lots at the center of the neighborhood. And the idea, again designed by Spackman Mossop Michaels, was to create an intentional gathering space in the center of this neighborhood, average household income is under thirty thousand, and create a neighborhood center. And so you're seeing what that design looked like.
Maurice Cox: [00:32:25] The other it was like well how do you bridge streets so that one side looks like the other, at a community meeting and a senior says you know Well we can't have an Ella Fitzgerald park if there's no music. And she said You know I love Dream a Little Dream with me. And so but the designer takes that and translates it into this pattern that calms the traffic and joins the two sides of the park as it's being installed. And you can see the basketball court on one side of the street and the playing field on the other and super graphics that unites them both, and creating a place where young people of all ages actually feel welcome in this space. And so there's, an aside you know Detroit stopped the building full court basketball courts a few years ago–they only did half court because they did not want to encourage gang rivalry. And so you literally did not have a full court basketball court. So when this one went in African-American men understood that this was for them and that they were welcome in that space. The other part was infusing even the edges of this park with art. So a renowned mural artist Hubert Massey built a hundred and sixty foot long wall and literally built the ceramic wall with the community on build days. And so you see it in this unusual moment where people of different backgrounds, different areas of Detroit coming to a low-income neighborhood to recreate. And, you know, this whole notion of creating a kind of unique playscape and prgramming that space is a part of what makes this place successful. So how do we know how it's working? Well we looked at the frequency of residents coming to the park and seventy seven percent of them said they now go to that park once a week. Sixty three percent said they feel safe in the park at night and like residents can not believe the whole notion that you would go to a park at night and feel safe. Or 25 percent of the residents who come to this park are coming from some other neighborhood and some of those neighborhoods are, their incomes are a hundred one hundred fifty thousand a household and they are coming to a low-income community to recreate. So part of it is really creating a place where people understand this is for them.
Maurice Cox: [00:35:36] The third part of that strategy, which is under construction now, is connecting those assets across the neighborhood. And so there is a half mile bike and greenway that connects to universities that are just outside of the neighborhood. And so it's the notion of quiet life, exercise, contact with nature. Yes middle middle aged black men like to take photographs of butterflies, thank you very much. But right in your neighborhood. And so that strategy is under construction as we speak. The fourth part, our streets. But like streets the way we used to think of streets as places to gather, places to shop–but I'm talking about streets that look like this. And I suspect you have some that look like this in Indianapolis. Our notion could we integrate multi-modal into the DNA of a street like that so that people have access to public transit. There's protected bike lanes. So this is it, doing one of our pop-ups where we literally just put out some trees and marked the sidewalk and put out some street furniture. This is what it will look like once it's installed, right? The stores are still kind of boarded up. And then five years from now we think it will be a successfully integrated street and be the center of public life. So one of the important parts of this is if design equals equity and equity is about access, where do you go to find out about your neighborhood? We founded, together with the University of Detroit Mercy, the Neighborhood HomeBase. So this is a storefront on the street, it's a one-stop shop and resource center for people who want to know what's going on in their neighborhood. So this is like planting a flag and creating a place that you can walk off the street feel at home and learn about what's going on in your community. And it may, for all of those who frequent spaces like this, it might be normal to you but it's very unusual in a ninety nine percent African-American community to find a design resource center to have a conversation about design.
Maurice Cox: [00:38:11] So it's literally bringing design to where people live. And we're now moving on to take on the entire street. The next African-American owned businesses will be supernatural. There's a coffeehouse that's opened up by another person, Joanna. And that's that's really the strategy. It's about streets, it's about parks and greenways, it's about mixed-use development and about respecting the heritage of houses that are there now. We are taking that strategy to 10 other geographies across the city and each one of them develops a test a quarter square mile strategy and you're seeing a few of them here. Each is designed by a renowned landscape architect or designer and we have about six of these typologies–each one is different from the other. And we are testing this notion that neighborhoods can be regenerative, that landscapes can be regenerative, and they can kind of channel the individual identity of those places. Give you a very quick view of another one. So, we had 20 acres in the Fitzgerald neighborhood in the quarter square mile. We've got 40 acres in this quarter square mile. And so the concept is to plant 40 acres of tree nurseries, commercial tree nurseries, that will be the land use for maybe 10 or 15 years. And so we studied the model in rural Michigan and we brought that model into the city, designed a typology by Walter Hood. So this is your typical vacant lot. After it is installed, this will be your typical vacant lot. No fences, people can move through the space freely. Another one is designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh in Util and it's about taking advantage of this enormous, vacated, formerly residential area that's adjacent to Eastern Market. Through an enormous amount of public engagement imagining what it would be like to have a quarter mile long, linear stormwater gardens that manage the stormwater of this food industry so lots that look like this, will be transformed into lots that manage the stormwater. And dealing with the space in between, big industry and live-work.
Maurice Cox: [00:41:03] And so the next part of that is how do you connect that together? And we are doing it through the Joe Louis Greenway; 26 miles of Greenway, off road Greenway, that will connect all of these neighborhoods that I've described to the riverfront. And connect neighborhoods across boundaries from Hamtramck and Highland Park all being connected by this greenway. And this is the piece that's been done already, it's called the Dequindre Cut and you can see what it looks like today, and you can also see what incredible joy it brings to a young person who understands that he belongs there. The other point that's important to understand in the context of Detroit, is that this greenway will go through neighborhoods where 35 percent of residents do not own a car and that that median household income is thirty thousand dollars. So for us. that's not a question of recreational amenity it's about how do they get to work? It's not about gentrifying the neighborhoods. It's about serving people who have no choice. And the goal is to get them to a world-class, international riverfront. This is on the east side, and creating an ecology that is genuinely not to be found anywhere in your neighborhood; a singular kind of river ecology. And then on the west side allowing people to touch the water. This is a park designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh, breaking the seawall and allowing a cove–a swimming cove–to come in and have people reconnect the, to the water. And that image of basketball that I showed before, to build a sports pavilion that literally is a temple in the park. Once again, very intentionally saying to all people This is yours. And it goes on relative to the simple things that people do like fishing on a pier and dignifying that practice and you see this park and it's going to be under construction, starting construction this year. So for us it's about creating a city for everyone and creating one city for all of us. Thank you.
Vop Osili: [00:44:12] So everyone we're going to have a little conversation, myself and Maurice, and for him to get an opportunity to expand on some of the things that he had talked about. And then make them more relevant actually to us here in Indianapolis. So Maurice you're ready?
Maurice Cox: [00:44:28] Yeah.
Vop Osili: [00:44:28] All right. So, OK. let's frame our first our first question around the topic of justice. What is it? Does it involve equity? And how do you approach it in your work?
Maurice Cox: [00:44:47] All right. So I think it is incredibly complex and relevant to where you stand. Just for those of you who really want a much more in-depth answer, there is an urban designer named Toni Griffin who is a professor at the Graduate School of Design and she has been working on a project called the Just City, and has developed a Just City index, and has found like 30 different definitions of what justice looks like when you apply it to the built and natural environment. And so for me–so for a teenager who has been denied the ability to play basketball in a park for them, justice is a full court basketball court. For folks who've never had a sit down restaurant in their neighborhood, for them having a locally-owned merchant with a sit down restaurant in their neighborhood that they can walk to, that's what justice looks like. For the people who have not had access to a waterfront because it's been privatized, to them to go to the Detroit River and bike and walk for five miles, that's what justice looks like. And so for me, you know we really can't, we can't abstract this. I mean we really have to think about what it means to have been denied opportunity and then been–being given opportunity. And for some folks you know if you are a returning citizen, you're formerly incarcerated and you have been in a training program that teaches you green collar skills so that you can be the one that maintains those flowering meadows in the Fitzgerald neighborhood, that's justice to you. So I just think we have to be like It's real stuff. It's not an abstract concept.
Vop Osili: [00:47:23] Perfect. So we've got a number of designers and creators in the room tonight and as both an architect and and a politician, I'm curious to hear about to hear you talk about where these design professions overlap and how each informs the other.
Maurice Cox: [00:47:46] Yeah. No I you know I trained as an architect, practiced as an architect, understood the value of you know the built form. I mean of quality and what it means. I mean people pay enormous amounts of money to have their environments designed. So you know it's got value if people are paying the way they pay to design their homes and their corporate headquarters. So the question is How do people who don't have a lot of money get access to quality design? And it really forces the question of where design resources are spent. So if it was up, if it's all about building an extraordinary home, I'm sure many of you know people who had their home designed maybe some of you had your home designed, I can tell you my family we don't commission an architect to design a house, you buy one ready made. Right? So the only way that people who don't have access can enjoy the beauty of design is in the public realm. If if you design a beautiful park, everybody gets to enjoy it. If you design a beautiful street, everybody enjoys it. Whether you're spending money at the cafe or you're just walking down that street. So for me that's that goes beyond architecture. I mean that's that goes into urban design, that goes into what happens between buildings. And then the question is OK well the rules of design like how do we get these derelict, mean-spirited streets that we all walk down? How did that happen? Right? Somebody wrote some rules, zoning, ordinances that dictated that that's what the street will look like. So I actually had to embrace urban planning to get to the rules that actually dictate the urban form, that dictate the buildings in the landscapes that we enjoy. So you know I kind of feel that as an architect I came to politics by necessity. I wanted to get to the rules that created the city that I wanted to live in. And if the rules that we had didn't produce the city that we want, then what? You got to change the rules. In order to change the rules, you got to get in to some position of influence, like Vop is, and just say we're going to change the rules. If this these set of rules are not giving us the city we want, we'll throw them out and we will replace them with the kind of ordinances and zoning that produce the city that we want. So I kind of backed my way into urban planning because of the kind of frustration, as a designer, being the last one in when effectively the rules would not even allow me to produce environment that I want. Does that make sense?
Vop Osili: [00:51:11] That's perfect. So we have a lot of development going on in our city, in our downtown, in our core, in the rings around our core. And so with the build up of these investments in our downtown, and our near downtown, there's a term that many in our city tend to talk about. And it is gentrification. I want you to help define that particular term and what are you doing to ensure that it is or is not happening in Detroit? So this is not a judgment, you might love gentrification. So I just wanna keep it open for you.
Maurice Cox: [00:51:51] Hahaha. Well, I mean so we got I mentioned we have 200 neighborhoods in Detroit, self-identified neighborhoods. I would say five are gentrifying. Five, in the traditional term that I think you all know and these are all neighborhoods that are downtown or adjacent to downtown. So that means I got one hundred and ninety five neighborhoods that ain't gentrifying. Nobody is moving into them. In fact they still are losing population. So the Fitzgerald neighborhood I showed you, with those hundred houses that will be rehabbed with the household median income of thirty thousand, it ain't gentrifying. In fact they want neighbors. They want their neighbors back. And so there's a kind of economic gentrification that lifts just enough, you know? And so the first houses I think the first 12 houses have been sold and it's really been fascinating to see who's buying those houses. They are young professionals. They make less than fifty thousand a year. They're buying a house that might only be eight hundred and fifty square feet and they were immediately moving into the civic life of that neighborhood. And we have one example of a young lady moved in last year. She's already running to be the president of the neighborhood association. So tell me like, so is that good or bad for that neighborhood? I would argue that's good for that neighborhood. They have someone who is deeply committed to being there. So I like to tell folks in Detroit. We are years away from worrying about our 200 neighborhoods being gentrified. I think we should be happy that people are starting to come back. Some people want to live next to downtown and have that urban life, up in Fitzgerald they're seven miles away from downtown. So the kind of families that want to live there are very different. And we believe that there is a place like for everyone. But I don't want to be like pollyannish about this because you know we're at a different place in our recovery than maybe Indianapolis is. There, you don't make these kind of improvements to the public realm without just really smart people who know quality of life being attracted to them. The question is what kind of policies do you put in place to make sure that those who were there who you're making these improvements for are not pushed out? And that's where you sit on an enormous amount of power, Mr. councilmember, because you can make the affordable housing policy.
Vop Osili: [00:55:00] OK. Disclaimer.
Maurice Cox: [00:55:04] Hahaha
Vop Osili: [00:55:04] That goes back to the state who we have petitioned for times, four times.
Maurice Cox: [00:55:09] I hear you.
Vop Osili: [00:55:09] But we think that we're gonna get it this next year.
Maurice Cox: [00:55:10] There you go.
Vop Osili: [00:55:11] OK.
Maurice Cox: [00:55:11] So the simple things that Detroit has done is we've passed an ordinance, the city council passed an ordinance, that requires 20 percent affordable housing in every unit that gets any kind of public money off the bat.
Vop Osili: [00:55:31] That is what we are doing. Right now.
Maurice Cox: [00:55:36] There you go, OK.
Vop Osili: [00:55:37] Any one of our units that are being built that ask for a DOT of subsidy must have 20 percent affordability across the board.
Maurice Cox: [00:55:49] It's a great start and it's the start, really is the start because you have to get deeper and deeper according to where those neighborhoods are. The other thing that Detroit has done because we know we're very, very optimistic that we're gonna be successful, we have put in place an affordable housing leverage fund. It's a quarter of a billion dollars that is set aside to assure that we can keep the affordable housing that we have. That when their agreement comes to term that we can renew them so that those who stay and will reap the benefit of these improvements.
Maurice Cox: [00:56:33] Now we are just learning from other cities before us. We're learning from Washington D.C.. they didn't put in affordable housing leverage fund together and it just, the market just rolled right over them. New Orleans, other cities or you know, really big expensive cities where it costs a lot of money to build new affordable housing. Detroit is doing it before the market catches up with us. And if, if Indianapolis hasn't done it, would be really wise to do it now.
Vop Osili: [00:57:10] Philanthropies, did you hear that?
Maurice Cox: [00:57:12] And it's a public private philanthropic partnership, but its, the goal is two hundred and fifty million dollars.
Vop Osili: [00:57:21] That's impressive. So one of the sponsors for tonight's event, CICF, is one of our region's largest philanthropies. And it, in April called out for our city to be a more inclusive city by helping to create environments and neighborhoods that empower people. This is a quote "Changing systems that unfairly hold people back and dismantling systemic racism." How do you recognize and address the historically impactful issue of race in the design and planning process.
Maurice Cox: [00:58:10] Well, again, you know I you know I'm all–I mean I think that's a phenomenal statement of purpose for foundation. Ultimately, it the-the proof is in the doing. And you know there are lots of ways. I mean they can hold you know meetings where people get together and talk about race and kumbaya, or they could actually fund those communities and give them those quality of life amenities that are desperately needed. And so for example, there's a program called Motor City Match in Detroit where a lot of people who have entrepreneurial ideas, they want to open up an establishment, can't find the property and certainly can't find the capital to do the renovation. And so the city has this program where we will match an entrepreneur with a piece of real estate and fund the renovation, so that they can provide those locally-owned shops in on those reimagined streetscapes that I'm showing you. And to this day and every quarter, five hundred thousand dollars is made available to fund and 70 percent of the people who have won those are African-American. Sixty five percent of them are women. And so we know we can create local neighborhood ownership and who funds that fund? Well philanthropy funds it. So that is the type of thing, of taking that really awesome vision and turning it into something very very actionable. And that's just one example.
Maurice Cox: [01:00:06] The other thing that I probably should say is all of those pretty pictures that I showed you those are fully funded projects. And so we have created a strategic neighborhood fund. It's about one hundred and thirty million dollars to build these strategies, and it's a partnership between public, private, and philanthropic. For philanthropy, the price of admissions is 15 million dollars. For corporations, it's five million dollars. And we have we are on target for raising that money. So the notion that we can go into a community and spend millions of dollars,and again these are low low-income neighborhoods these are not the neighborhoods where the market is already found them, these are places where we're trying to demonstrate that there is a market there and leading with the public investment. So the streetscapes, of which we are doing 24 miles of this transformative streetscape in 30 different projects, that's public money. And so if you are an entrepreneur, or you're a private investor, and you want to know where the action is just go follow where the public investment is. And so it's starting to happen. And so that that there is a role for the public. There's a role for corporations and there's a role for philanthropy in supporting these resident driven images.
Maurice Cox: [01:01:48] So for me, you know, that's what justice looks like. It's allowing people to come together to find some common narrative that then they all buy into. And then you just execute. You implement, you do it. You do the quick short term actions, you do the longer term actions, and you do it for the people who are there. We're not trying to attract some phantom demographic. We're just trying to hold on to those residents who have stuck it out with our city. And if we can offer local employment, you know giving people an opportunity to work in their neighborhood whether it's maintaining landscapes or whether it's working or one of these main streets or whether it's changing the zoning–so those hundred houses that I was referring to we re-zoned them so that they can support home-based businesses. So if you're a jeweler and you want to have your gallery in your living room and live upstairs, the zoning allows that. We have a young man who is growing hops. He's building his his his garden next door. It's a house that's renovated, an estate, African-American and he's going to have a home-based brewery in the neighborhood. And so for me you know that is that's not about somebody from somewhere else coming to do urban farming, this is a young man who kind of grew up in this neighborhood and who will be able to practice in what was otherwise not allowed. So I could go on and on about this just these tangible examples of what justice looks like when you apply it to graft it onto something real.
Vop Osili: [01:03:48] All right well we'll come back to a part of part of that question and hopefully during a Q and A. I need to ask you this, you had touched on it during your presentation, I'm curious about the best practices for making sure that neighborhoods are included in the decision making and planning processes. For example how, on the government side, do we ensure that we are listening and accountable, and how from the community side do we help to build capacity and consensus.
Maurice Cox: [01:04:19] Well I fundamentally believe that residents make the outcomes better if we take the time to like impart some deep deep learning. So these are not things that you hold a charrette or workshop and the job is done, it literally took us 50 meetings to convince residents that a flowering meadow was economic development. Because they thought on every one of those lot there should be an infield that should be a new family single family house. Well when you got 100 vacant houses you're not going to put new houses, right? So just getting them to understand this idea. And so we built 20 of these flowering meadows so people could see them, but ultimately they're going to be two hundred of them in the neighborhood. And we will course correct and get them accustomed to seeing what it means to have a splash of orange that is lot-sized of flowers as a form of a contributing piece of a neighborhood walk. And then you go to another that's violet you know and they've never seen that before. So if we were not willing to meet and and teach and listen we would not have been able to convince the community of that strategy. And I shared earlier today, the Planning Department hosted two hundred and fifty evening meetings last year. Two hundred and fifty. So I don't know what your planning department does but ours meets people, and a lot of the planners. We've got 40 of them. 40. This is what they do. They lead public discussions. They come into a community, they look like the community that they serve. I had to gather them up from around the nation to get enough people to produce a majority African-American Planning Department, it's the only one in the country. And so it has to do with the kind of wisdom that you get when you go to these meetings. People who have lived experience, that's genuinely a form of genius and finding–you know like the Ella Fitzgerald. I mean, I don't think the landscape architect would have thought to do that, that was a resident who thought to do it. The idea of creating a ceramic wall that's one hundred and sixty feet long and allowing the community to build the tiles. You know from everything from the kiln to installing them, that was a renowned African-American artist that did that. And it just so so for me you can not, you can not transform a community if you do not allow them to drive the process. It's as simple as that.
Vop Osili: [01:07:37] So just as a as a word to you we are about to enter our budget season for the city. And on this first row, I want to out somebody on this first row is the CFO for our planning department.
Maurice Cox: [01:07:54] Oh, really?
Vop Osili: [01:07:55] So you might want to encourage him to try and get some more money.
Maurice Cox: [01:07:58] Hahaha.
Vop Osili: [01:08:00] In the budget.
Maurice Cox: [01:08:01] There you go.
Vop Osili: [01:08:02] OK.
Maurice Cox: [01:08:02] Absolutely.
Vop Osili: [01:08:04] OK. All right. All right.
Maurice Cox: [01:08:06] I love that.
Vop Osili: [01:08:06] That was more a heads up that we need to see some more money (laughter) coming. All right. Here's something that I am really curious about how you all do this. How do you sew together one city, and it's a it's a model that we actually our mayor actually uses, how do you sew together one city when vast tracts of land separate its neighborhoods, and I mean it's both physically and spiritually, to create one city that is uniquely recognizable as a city of Detroit.
Maurice Cox: [01:08:44] I think it's I think it's quite frankly the challenge of the 21st century. You know and it's it's amazing to have that kind of land resource within our control, righ? Because it's well known a city that controls its land controls its future. It's as simple as that. We can assure long term affordability because we own the land. We can connect, I can take vacant lots in a neighborhood and thread a greenway through them because we were able to own those lands, we were able to go in and go into a community with scale, you know, plant two hundred flowering meadows because we own 400 lots. Now there are not many cities where you could pull that off. Right? But every city has a land resource that is behind some fence or inaccessible, whether it's an abandoned rail that could and should be repurposed. I mean at least in Midwestern cities these rail corridors snaked through neighborhoods in really incredible ways. So the idea that we're going to connect multiple neighborhoods through a 26 mile off road Greenway is going to be transformational. I mean we we've seen it already in Atlanta. Atlanta has the beltline. I think there's twenty two, ours will be twenty six, and theirs gentrified the hell out of every neighborhood it touched. Ours, because we own 40 percent of the land that will touch that Greenway, we get to determine who lives there. And so, I feel you know you know Indianapolis is is unique. It's big. It's bigger than Detroit. I thought we were big but you guys are bigger because of the city-county. But I feel that greenways are maybe the first way to connect disparate communities. It's so hard to get neighborhoods connected by public transit, for example. But greenways and trails are the low hanging fruit of transit. I ride a bike every day, I see a lot of people in Detroit who are on bike is a form of transportation. You have to build kind of infrastructure that dignifies being on a bike and that is, in itself, you know a really important ask. So I don't know. I mean I think if you have vast sections of open space or un-programmed space that could connect neighborhoods, you have an invaluable resource that could make Indiana, Indianapolis, one of the greenest cities in America. We believe that that's Detroit's future. It's going to be a garden city.
Maurice Cox: [01:12:12] You know I used, I talk about a new project called the Eden Project which is equitably designed and enhanced neighborhoods. And this is the beginning of a conversation about what we're going to do in neighborhoods that have low occupancy. The strategy I showed you was mostly about the areas that are going to be dense but we're starting to talk about what does what what is the quality of life in a neighborhood that has lost 50 percent of its if its residents. I mean can it be made whole again? And what do those residents get? What do they get for staying? And, you know we haven't, we first answered the question about what do we do to hold on to the people in these beautiful neighborhoods that I described, we are now pivoting to the harder question of what do you do in these neighborhoods that have tens and tens and tens of acres of land. I just think it's a competitive advantage, it's not a deficit.
Vop Osili: [01:13:24] So in the years to come, what would be that character of Detroit when these neighborhoods are built up and how will it be seen as recognizably Detroit?
[01:13:34] No, I think two things. The historic preservation of buildings that we have is going to be a defining character. We, without passing any kind of city ordinance, we basically put a moratorium on single family–new single family construction. Because when you have tens of thousands of vacant houses you don't need to build another single detached house. And we just said you know we're not going to support it. And so the existing character of the architecture is being re-inhabited. That's one piece. The other is I think some of these neighborhoods are going to be characterized by the beauty and the uniqueness of their landscapes. One neighborhood you're gonna go into and it's gonna be dominated by this tree nursery. All of these trees on a row, another is gonna be dominated by flowering meadows, another might be an orchard. Another might be, you know a new forest. I really, really believe that when you fast forward a few decades there's just gonna be a lushness in the landscape. It's hard as hell, I really–I mean but, I struggle with this because you know you go out into the rural parts of your state and it's just like gorgeous. Everything is taken care of. Everything is curated. It's productive. You go into a inner city and you look at the same land resource and it looks blighted, uncared for, overgrown.
Maurice Cox: [01:15:25] So how do you get to a place where that landscape is cared for and it has to be something that's sustainable. So really that's kind of what we're wrestling with. But I think the future of Detroit is green, the future of Detroit is proud of the architectural heritage that remains. And you know it's these are really really challenging issues for a city like Detroit. When I say hold on to those iconic neighborhood buildings I'm talking about schools but I'm not talking about like a dozen schools I'm talking about like 70, 70 vacant schools that dot the landscape. We're talking about banks, recreation centers, it's just they're there. And they were built for the centuries. These were buildings that were not ever going to go away and they they're the hard ones to tear down. So we are busy trying to figure out how how do we repurpose what we can. How do we mothball what we can't repurpose now and wait till they find their reuse. So it's a really–I mean part of why I love my job is that there are no easy answers to any of this stuff, but if we can make some progress on them I think it's a lot easier to scale down than to scale up. So other cities might learn from Detroit because they don't have to worry about 50 acres all they have to do is try to figure out what to do it five, for example.
Vop Osili: [01:17:18] Maurice, your amazing thoughtfulness is a...it is like a breath of I don't know what. So we've decided that we are going to bottle you and it'll be a new industry, and sell you in small little bits, in little scents across the country.
Maurice Cox: [01:17:37] Well I will tell you it is, this is the first time in my life that I've sat across from another architect who has served as a public official. And so, really kudos for you for crossing that boundary and lending the kind of creative intellect you have to something genuinely public. So my job is not to come here, but to find a way to get you.
Vop Osili: [01:18:07] How smooth.
Maurice Cox: [01:18:07] To step up.
Vop Osili: [01:18:08] That was smooth.
Maurice Cox: [01:18:08] And take the next move.
Vop Osili: [01:18:10] That was smooth.
Maurice Cox: [01:18:15] Hahaha (laughter + applause).
Vop Osili: [01:18:15] Thank you very much. I got a check for you, too. Everyone, Maurice Cox, Planning Director of Detroit.
Lourenzo Giple : [01:19:10] You are listening to the DAYLIGHT podcast series. Made possible with the support of the Cummins Foundation, and brought to you by Ambrose Property Group and Central Indiana Community Foundation. A big thank you to our sponsors CVR, The Basement, Browning Investments, Hendricks Commercial Properties, Merritt Chase, Holladay Properties, and Plat Collective for making this series possible. A thank you to the staff of People for Urban Progress and Exhibit Columbus, and all the individuals involved in the creation of this speaker and podcast series.