Detroit City of Design

In 2015, Detroit became the first U.S. city to receive a UNESCO City of Design designation, joining 47 cities from 33 countries as new members of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Since then, the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3), has been working to create a unified vision for Detroit’s creative economy that can support businesses and strengthen the community.

In early 2017, DC3 contracted Urbane Development (UD) to lead the efforts to design an inclusive economic development plan for the city’s creative industries. Over the course of 12 months, UD is tasked with quantifying and codifying Detroit’s creative economy and generating a series of strategies that DC3, in partnership with the City of Detroit, academic institutions, and CBOs, can implement.

“Detroit: City of Design” Detroit Creative Corridor presents a film by Stephen McGee from Detroit Creative Corridor Center on Vimeo.

The project, roughly organized into four phases, began in March of 2017 and will continue through February 2018. The first phase consists of discovery exercises, including a comprehensive literature review of the state of the creative economy – locally and globally. As part of inquiry, UD assessed fields to which design is directly or tangentially related, such as technology and innovation; the future of automation; the state of mobility; and its relationship to the built environment. UD is also developing a series of case studies that highlight national and international cities, including Austin, Seoul, Milan, and Mexico City, that are leaders in design and aspirational for Detroit.

In the second phase, UD undertook a rigorous analysis of primary and secondary data collection. Pulling on earlier research by the Detroit Economic Growth Council and the Michigan Creative Many reports, UD analyzed the current state of Detroit’s creative economy by looking at a range of indicators, including the number of firms, number of creative professionals, and fiscal impact of the design industries. UD interviewed over 75 key stakeholders, such as city officials, local designers, financiers, and academics to provide a local lens to the pressing issues facing Detroit’s design community. Lastly, UD conducted 4 interactive workshops with emerging designers, established creative professionals, and community residents to fill potential gaps unearthed in the literature review and secondary data analysis and to ensure a well-rounded approach to the strategy development.

During the last phase of the engagement, UD synthesized and validated its findings through a series of public convenings designed to engage stakeholders, design professionals, and Detroit residents. These larger gatherings were an opportunity for UD to ground-truth their findings and begin developing strategies that resonate with Detroit’s communities. In the final stage, UD produced a comprehensive strategic framework of the state of Detroit’s creative economy as well as strategies and next steps for implementation that address ways in which inclusive design practices can lead to inclusive economic growth.

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