Detroit as a Model for 'Building Back Better'

Cities have more experience, and examples, than they might realize when it comes to reinventing systems of investment and governance to recover from the economic ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2 minute read

May 11, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, writes for Bloomberg CityLab on how Detroit's recent experience with municipal bankruptcy provides lessons that can inform a radical new model of economic recovery—a mode necessitated by the scale of the pandemic crisis and the economic stagnation and racial injustice that existed before the novel coronavirus.

Rapson recalls the "Build Back better" mantra of the economic recovery plan proposed by the Biden administration during the presidential campaign and embodied in the American Rescue Plan, approved earlier this year, and the American Jobs Plan, proposed more recently but still a long way away from approval.

The more expansive view of infrastructure proposed by the American Jobs Plan is central to Rapson's argument about the examples available from Detroit's experience in recovering from municipal bankruptcy.

As my work at the Detroit-based Kresge Foundation has shown me, human services, rather than being viewed simply as platforms for crisis management, must be understood as an integrated suite of supports capable of breaking down barriers that inhibit family economic productivity in favor of creating pathways to economic mobility. 

The federal government cannot masterplan this infrastructure of economic mobility, nor should cities be expected to absorb massive volumes of funding in heavily prescribed ways. Cities must have creative latitude to customize strategies to residents’ needs and build partnerships across the public, private, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Those relationships can multiply federal resources, unlock new forms of innovation, and engage community residents in the complexities of local problem-solving.

Cities are already well underway with that kind of reinvention, according to Rapson—as exemplified by the systems established in cities to set up testing and vaccination capacity during the pandemic. Moreover, cities can look to Detroit's example from before the pandemic. According to Rapson, "rather than ushering in doom, Detroit’s bankruptcy catapulted the city into reimagination, recalibration and renewal." Numerous Detroit-specific examples of what it means to Build Back Better, and how cities are positioned to start doing just that, can be found in the source article at the link below.


Monday, May 10, 2021 in Bloomberg CityLab

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