Detroit is in the process of considering how to remake itself. After decades of population loss and a declining tax base, there is a serious discussion about if and how to deliberately and strategically shrink the city. This effort is critical to assuring Detroit is a vibrant and healthy community and to assuring a sustainable and equitable future for the city. The spatial dimensions of the city’s declining areas and infrastructure is both costly and inefficient and likely not sustainable. However, this effort will also have disparate impacts on various communities and populations in Detroit, with some communities being poised to flourish and others facing an uncertain future. To assure this process occurs in a way which is equitable and sustainable, the community (especially those who are likely to be most directly impacted) must help drive the planning process and have ownership in its outcomes. The ongoing efforts to reposition Detroit for the future require a planning process which must be grounded in robust civic engagement, with transparency and public access to information if it is going to be successful and sustainable. In addition, the planning process must consider Detroit’s relationship to the region: should this process be a re-imaging of the region in addition to the future of Detroit? Does it make sense to proceed without considering the larger metropolitan area and what the potential consequence of not including Metro-Detroit? What are some of the drawbacks to enlarging the process?
Engagement with the public is more than just passive information collecting, but should also seek to empower communities both in guiding the short term planning outcomes but also in building greater civic capacity for long term community health. This expanded and more substantial definition of engagement captures what is often referred to as robust civic engagement. Robust civic engagement goes beyond just traditional engagement activities with the public with a goal of utilizing every engagement opportunity to build long term capacity, organizational leadership and skills in impacted communities that are well- informed and help shape the process. Planning processes should not just be shaped by policy makers and planning professionals alone. Technical concepts should be “de-mystified” for local communities and planning activities should engage full decision making by local citizens and communities.i Robust civic engagement is not traditional public involvement but a longer term effort focused on relationship and community building.