Envisioning Community

Envisioning (and re-envisioning) your neighborhood

Take a look around you. What would you change? What would you keep? What might you tweak?

It’s safe to say we all have things about our neighborhood that we enjoy and others that could use improvement. The middle ground should have us weighing these differences while thinking about what will provide the best living experience for the most people or considering what will help those with the most challenges. Either way, we work toward the goal of enriching the quality of life within our neighborhoods.

We can create the neighborhoods we want by protecting what works well, tweaking what could work better, and changing what isn’t working at all.  But it takes a collective effort; the will, drive, and determination to make a difference…one block at a time. 


Connecting the Dots

You’ve got a vision for your neighborhood, but what has the City been planning?

A major part of every large city is its master plan that guides new development (or building projects) and zoning. We learned in Responsibilities that the City is responsible for our safety, for delivering certain services, and ensuring certain rights and protections.  Zoning is the process of identifying which land in the city can be used for what kinds of projects.  For example, certain land can be used for businesses, while other land can be used for homes and residences; land that can be used for industrial work like factories is zoned separately as well. A city is zoned, or divided up into those different land uses, based upon the City’s responsibilities to its citizens.

A city’s master plan is a set of long-term goals and policies that guides the work of city officials. Detroit’s Master Plan of Policies divides its policies into 17 areas and defines 10 “neighborhood clusters” or groupings of neighborhoods.  Organizing the master plan in this way provides guidance on neighborhood investments, new buildings, etc.

Policy Areas
Arts and Culture
City Design
Community Organizations
Education and Libraries
Environment and Energy
Health and Social Services
History, Legacies and Preservation
Industrial Centers
Intergovernmental Relations
Neighborhoods and Housing
Parks, Recreation, and Open Space
Public Safety
Retail and Local Services
Transportation and Mobility
Zoning Concepts

Our city has a lot of neighborhoods! To better organize the planning process, Detroit’s Master Plan grouped those neighborhoods into clusters and the clusters into regions: East, West, and Central.  Check out the map below to see those clusters.

“Detroiters demand and deserve reliable city services, safe streets, healthy environments, access to food, jobs, public transit, and places to play, learn, and engage with one another.” 

– Detroit Future City Strategic Framework Executive Summary, 2012

Over the years there have been many plans for Detroit. Some proposed and never adopted, others adopted but implemented incompletely, and some are still in place today. In 2012, as part of Mayor Bing’s Detroit Works Project (which later evolved into Detroit Future City), a long-term plan for the city was developed with input from tens of thousands of Detroiters across the city.  The framework proposed strategies and policies to accomplish a vision for the city and improve the quality of life in the city.  

By the year 2030:

  • Detroit will have a stabilized population
  • The city will nearly double to number of jobs available for each person in the city
  • The Detroit metropolitan region will have an integrated regional public transportation system
  • Detroit will become a city for all

What do you think of this vision?

Detroit’s Master Plan of Policies is responsible for a strict law called the Zoning Ordinance.  Certain zones require types of construction, such as R2 which is a Two-Family residential district or M3 which is a general industrial district, and the Zoning Ordinance is the law guiding those requirements. The master plan specifies the general land use permitted under the zones and plans for its use– but the master plan is not law. As presented at the 2018 Planning Michigan Conference, “The master plan is a statement of policy. The zoning ordinance is a law.”

Zoning requirements are the rules of what gets built and what doesn’t. If the Zoning Ordinance is law, then who creates it? You guessed it! City Council. City Council has an advisory body on these issues called the City Planning Commission (CPC).  The CPC is the place we as citizens may first offer input on zoning changes before council votes on them. The CPC processes, advises, and makes recommendations to council on all amendments to the zoning ordinance. State law and city ordinances also establish the CPC as the Zoning Commission

The CPC also reviews and makes recommendations on the Mayor’s proposed Master Plan of Policies, Capital Agenda, Annual Budget, development of renewal projects, proposals for community development and neighborhood conservation; and proposals for acquisitions and disposition of public real property.

Every local project–projects involving land use that require the city’s approval– is reviewed to see how well it fits with the Master Plan, so being familiar with the master plan and the zoning ordinances of our city is important. They give us a sense of the parameters that can dictate new buildings, development, and the future of neighborhoods. 

City Planning is Always Happening

Detroit’s Planning and Development Department (PDD) actively forms frameworks for city regions around retail corridors, transformed streetscapes, and housing developments. Citizen input is a large part of their formulated strategies to try to align your community’s vision with the city’s vision. Community efforts and visions can reach Detroit planners through meetings, written notes and letters, reports, and much more. PDD’s goal is to ensure “a healthy and beautiful Detroit, built on inclusionary growth, economic opportunity and an atmosphere of trust.”

We will discuss how citizen engagement can blend your neighborhood goals with those of the city in the following Lessons. There are plenty of ways to engage with PDD,CPC, BSEED, City Council and more to fulfill our community and city’s vision of Detroit.

The Master Plan is just that, a plan—a way to think about the future.  Day to day, there are ordinances that are created and impact our neighborhoods and other plans and strategies that impact city development in other ways.  Remember, in How Does Local Government Serve Us? we talked about City Council being the legislative branch of our local government and as such, they are responsible for city ordinances. Protecting or changing something in our neighborhoods could require long-term planning and work or could be more quickly addressed with an ordinance. 

Council members develop ordinance language.  Often, ordinance language is developed after meetings with community members, experts, and the City’s Law Department.  Once an ordinance is written, it is submitted to the City Clerk to be distributed to other council members and announced to the public.  The City Council then holds a public hearing on the ordinance(s) for community feedback and finally the City council can vote to approve or reject the ordinance.

Look! Here are the people in your neighborhood.

We all have different needs, concerns and priorities. Families with children may be most concerned about schools; people who play sports may be most concerned with parks and basketball courts; business owners may be most concerned with safety.  While we all have different priorities, we also have commonalities we share–the issues and causes–that bind us. It’s often those very things which tend to give us some solid footing for communication. You and your friends have a lot to talk about (usually, right?) because you share some of the same tastes in music, views on life, or maybe it’s as simple as having other friends in common. 

We each have to take time to connect not only with the people we agree with, but also with those who differ in ideology and background.  You’ll find that both kinds of people are right in your own neighborhood.

To pull together a vision and act upon it you must come to a group consensus (that is, an agreed upon action) that provides a unifying framework for everyone’s voice to be heard, even amongst the crowd. It takes remixing the parts, or rather, fusing them together to make a unique—and viable—whole. 

Lesson Review

Check out the City Services Priorities group activity. Complete the activity on your own or with a group. Select one of the priorities from the activity and write a short essay about its connection to city services and departments.  How does that issue connect to your vision for your neighborhood? Is it an issue that needs to change or that you’d like to have protected so it stays the same? Which departments might be helpful in learning more about that issue? Which city services are needed in order for it to have a high quality in your neighborhood?