Learning from Detroit
Turbulent Urbanism in the 21st Century

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Friday May 30, 2014 8:00 AM - 6:30 PM
Rackham Building  (map)

Day One

8:00 am: Continental Breakfast & Check-In

8:30 am:  Conference Opening & Welcome from Sara Blair, Associate Dean of the Rackham Graduate School and Professor of English, University of Michigan

8:45 PM: Thematic Overview of Conference & Schedule of the Day, Matt Weber, Doctoral Candidate, Urban and Regional Planning, University of Michigan

9:00-10:30: Plenary Panel #1 Trajectories of Decline (Amphitheater)

Trajectoriesof decline are not simply the reverse or opposite of trajectories of growth andexpansion, as our binary terminology of expansion/contraction,sprawl/shrinkage, or growth/decay might seem to suggest. The disruptions caused by abandonment and neglect, for example, are difficult to anticipate both temporally and spatially because, unlike processes of growth, little planning controls their outcome. For socioeconomic, financial, and political reasons, decline is lumpy and nonlinear with unpredictable surges of abandonment and sudden thresholds of deepening disinvestment and concentrated poverty. Theorizing processes of urban decline requires a different kind of conceptualization, arising from the desire to make urban spaces livable without the promise of growth.

Key Questions: How should we theorize processes of urban decline differently from the way we theorize processes of urban growth and expansion? How can we theorize the dynamics of decline in ways that enableus to assess their disruptive influences with empirical measures?

Presenter 1: Christa Reicher

Presenter 2: Brent Ryan

Presenter 3: Jason Hackworth

Presenter 4: George Galster

Chair: Margaret Dewar

10:45 am-12:00 pm: Plenary Panel #2 Legacies of Past & HowThey Inform Future  (Amphitheater)

The industrial era has left legacies that pose obstacles and create opportunitiesfor rethinking the urban condition in the post-industrial era.  Path-dependent thinking hobbles the imagination, and the expectations of a previous era affect the morale andframes of reference for those grappling with new conditions. The industrial era created extreme inequality between labor and management, drove a wedge between factory workers and services workers, and exacerbated racial tensions, especially between African American and white residents in cities. These polarizations were challenged and, to some extent, ameliorated by trade union and civil rights movements in the middle decades of the 20th century. But as industrial decline and white flight have hardened disparities and deepened inequalities, these legacies of a Fordist regime persist and remedial movements are weakened.  Policy-makers must now address enduring racial and class antagonisms in the context of persistent economic stagnation and shrinkage. Similarly, decades of industrial production have overtaxed the natural resources and polluted the city, degrading the habitat and the health of residents. These conditions constrain the ways metropolitan regions and distressed cities can adapt to changed economic circumstances or respond inventively to conditions of decline.

Key Questions: How do the expectations and legacies of the Fordist era influence responses to decline? How does the debris of industrialism and its legacies of racial and class conflict manifest itself in different settings and contexts?  How might the new post-industrial terrains emerging in conditions of distress redress older social cleavages?

Presenter 1: Bruno Oliveira Cruz 

Presenter 2: Heather Thompson

Presenter 3: Joe Darden 

Chair: Charlie Bright


12:00 pm-1:00 pm: Lunch (Assembly Hall, East & West Conference)

Members of the UofM faculty and others interested in learning more about the MDetroit Center Connector Bus in conjunction with classes and projects are invited to join Addell Anderson, Director of the UofM Detroit Center, and Craig Register, Associate Director, Semester in Detroit for a lunch conversation. Please look for the Reserved Table in Assembly Hall.


1:00 pm-2:30 pm: Concurrent Panels Beyond Bankruptcy: Fiscal sustainability in the Face of Urban Austerity (Amphitheatre & Assembly Hall Conference Rooms)

During periods of decline, policy-makers and urban planners need to understand how togovern without reliance on directive, supportive “growth coalitions” in the conventional sense.  This means learning how to cope with abandonment and empty space, how to sustainin frastructure and service logistics on a shrinking tax base, how to maintain public education with declining state funding, and how to reframe urban citizenrights in ways that make possible the kinds of changes necessitated bydecline.  Scholarly research on these issues remains in its infancy but here, clearly, context matters a greatdeal, especially since the resources available or absent in different placeswill vary.

Key questions: How does the role of the state and its investment in the public spheremake a difference in what policy-makers can do? How does Detroit’s lack of anenduring urban regime of governance challenge the premises of regime theory,long a dominant perspective in urban politics? What kinds of collaboration between public sector institutions and private sector foundations, NGOs, andgrass roots organizations, such as the Detroit Works Project, become possible or necessary? How does policy-making find consensus behind decline?


Concurrent Panel 1 (Assembly Hall)

Presenter 1: Annegret Haase 

Presenter 2: Teresa Melgar

Presenter 3: Detroit Scholar: Dale Thomson

Chair: June Thomas

Concurrent Panel 2 (Amphitheater)

Presenter 1: Jamie Peck

Presenter 2: Akwugo Emejulu

Presenter 3: Eric Scorsone

Chair: Patrick Cooper-McCann


3:00 pm-5:00 pm: Open Forums

Forum 1 (Amphitheater): Narratives of Decline

Convener 1: Julia Sattler

Convener 2: Jerry Herron

Forum 2 (East): Reshaping the Built Environment

Convener 1: Laura Crommelin

Convener 2: Dan Kinkead


Forum 3 (West): Incarceration/Policing/Criminalization/Violence

Convener 1: Liz Hinton

Convener 2:  Laurence Ralph

Forum 4 (Assembly): Metropolitan Perspectives

Convener 1: Matt Lassiter

Convener 2: Liz Gerber

Additional roundtable participants: Conan Smith (Michigan Suburbs Alliance), Jeffrey Morenoff (Population Studies Center, University of Michigan)


The tendency to restrict the meaning of “Detroit” to the area and population inside the city limits has long shaped the frameworks of urban crisis and Rustbelt exceptionalism and has obscured the political, economic, and social forces at work in a metropolitan region of 4.5 million people.  At the same time, the prevailing city vs. suburbs binary has flattened the significant diversity within metropolitan Detroit, from the social and infrastructural challenges facing inner-ring suburbs to the consequences of sprawl on the expanding fringe, even as city-suburban conflict has had real consequences in areas such as housing segregation, concentrated unemployment, fiscal inequalities, and inadequate mass transit.  This forum considers the role that politics and public policy have played in drawing the many boundaries that fragment metropolitan Detroit and then contemplates the possibilities offered by metropolitan perspectives and regional strategies for economic growth, racial and social equity, governance and efficiency. 

Saturday May 31, 2014
Rackham Building  (map)

8:30 am: Continental Breakfast

9:00 am-10:45 am: Concurrent Panels on Strategies for Intervention/DIY (Amphitheatre and Assembly Hall)

During a process of urban decline, many stakeholders working at different levels of engagement generate solutions and interventions that attempt to grapple with distress. But, we have little conceptual understanding of the many grass-rootsand individual DIY (do-it-yourself) interventions that crop up in the contextof urban turmoil and decline. These strategies emerge without particular coherence and they lack coordination, even when they become widely copied responses to urban distress, as for example in the proliferation of urban gardening.

Key Questions: How can such interventions be conceptually organized and meaningfully evaluated?  Is there an interdisciplinary spectrum of analysis that might link, for example, forms of self-provisioning (“gardening angel” or metal strippers) with the informal economy or underworlds of crime and vigilantism? Do best practices emerge and, if so, under what conditions?

Concurrent Panel 1: Confronting Abandonment (Amphitheater)

Presenter 1: Dieter Rink

Presenter 2: Kimberly Kinder

Presenter 3: Kami Pothukuchi 

Chair: Martin Murray

Concurrent Panel 2: DIY Urbanism (Assembly Hall)

Presenter 1: Monica White

Presenter 2: Renia Ehrenfeucht

Presenter 3: Khalil Ligon

Chair: Sarah Swider

10:45 am-11:00 am: Break

11:00 AM-1:00 PM: Final Plenary/Synthesis Session (Amphitheater)

Synthesis 1: Bob Beauregard

Synthesis 2: Avis Vidal 

Synthesis 3: Clarence Lang

Chair: Angela Dillard

Panel Description

For this final “synthesis” session we ask the presenters – and all of the conference participants –to consider the broad themes that have emerged from this conference and to reflect on what it means for our understanding of Detroit. How can we re-imagine Detroit, both past and present? How does looking forward have to be different/distinct from looking back? How do comparisons with other shrinking and distressed – yet resilient – cities help us to frame what is happening in Detroit and what responses are and are not appropriate? And are there key issues that weave throughout the conference sessions, including those that haven’t been explicitly addressed? What kinds of questions need to be asked and answered in the future? And what might our next steps entail?

This session is designed to mix presentations by panelists with group discussions around the possibilities for future research agendas. When you enter Assembly Hall please select an appropriate thematic discussion group. Look for table top signs for topics such as “Theorizing Neighborhood Change;” Self-Provisioning as Strategy;” Regional Strategies for Governance;” “Narratives of Decline;” “Revitalization and the Arts,” and so forth.

Lunch 1:00 PM (Boxed lunches in Assembly Hall)