The Challenge


How might we restore vibrancy in cities and regions facing economic decline?

Challenge Brief

OpenIDEO has partnered with Steelcase to explore the topic of revitalising struggling cities around the world. Together we’re looking to design solutions – from entrepreneurship and education to community mobilisation and campaigns – that reinvigorate and help restore areas facing economic decline, population loss, unemployment and erosion of social/civic services or other critical issues. As our global economies become more intertwined and interconnected, we have a unique opportunity to consider ways that we can each bring vibrancy and prosperity to our own neighborhoods, towns and cities.
This year our global population reached the 7 billion mark – an historic milestone that brings with it new questions of economic, social and environmental sustainability. With over 50% of that 7 billion now living in cities, unprecedented strain is being placed on our urban centers to adapt and innovate, to absorb newcomers or redefine their boundaries, and to continue to support and enable opportunities for their residents.

The Scale of the Problem

Many communities around the world, including Detroit, Michigan; Madrid, Spain; Athens, Greece; and others, currently find themselves struggling with issues like loss of industry, rising unemployment, increased cost of living and decreased access to city services. For example, after a precipitous decline from prosperity in the 1970s and 80s, revitalisation efforts in Detroit have faced an uphill battle. Despite encouraging signs, the latest city census revealed a 25% population loss to surrounding suburbs, which has had severe economic, cultural and sociological consequences.

The Potential for Revitalisation

Nonetheless, for all of their struggles, these regions and communities are brimming with potential. In fact, many efforts – some of them grassroots, some more formalised – are currently underway to mobilise residents, reconnect communities, identify entrepreneurial opportunities, and infuse new economic growth in cities and areas around the world.
Now’s our chance to identify the economic, cultural, social or environmental levers we can pull to usher in the vibrancy and prosperity these areas need to thrive. Steelcase and OpenIDEO are excited to tackle this question with our global community because we believe that the concepts we create together will be relevant to engaged citizens everywhere who want to bring vibrancy to their own areas. So whether we’re in Detroit or Dublin or Dubai, let’s put our heads together to create solutions that bring renewed energy and resources to our own communities.

About Steelcase

Steelcase was founded in 1912 with a strong commitment to integrity and doing the right thing for our customers, employees, business partners, associates and neighbors. Steelcase has a global initiative to benefit the communities in which we live in. Since its founding, they've made community support efforts an integral part of their operations. Read more. 


Community & Social Media Manager:

  Meena Kadri

Our Challenge Administrators

Check out how our global community is contributing – and the impact so far!

Comment on the Brief

If you'd like to leave us your thoughts on this brief, tell us what you think. Be sure to also check out the challenge

Join the conversation and post a comment.

Edmund Ng

November 18, 2013, 08:35AM
Steelcase is definitely a strong company and kudos to them for committing themselves in providing solutions to make the world a better place especially when many areas in America have still not recovered from the economic crisis that was triggered by the sub-prime crisis.

I think manufacturing is still crucial to reviving America. There needs to be more companies creating M-I-A (Made In America) products. That is the only way that could create jobs quickly. No point setting up company and bringing the production to China as that would only benefit China and it will be short-changing the US citizens. It's time when Americans need to have more pride and sense of nationalism. The similar kind of nationalism where Korean and Japanese citizens only choose to use products that are manufactured locally.

Edmund Ng

Lauren Kent

June 15, 2012, 12:35PM
Thanks team, for all your hard work. I am starting a similar kind of project in South Africa and I will be borrowing some of your ideas! Thank you!

Ashley Jablow

June 26, 2012, 17:18PM
That's great to hear! Be sure to keep us posted on your progress.

Isabel Perdomo

May 17, 2012, 17:03PM
I believe that more than creating products, we designers must share our knowledge and experience in the design process.

By sharing the design process with those communities in need, we provide tools for people.

My graduate thesis focused on teaching the design process to homeless teenagers rather than developing a product for them. The outcome was seeing their faces smiling and believing in themselves. Dreaming with design and applying their new knowledge on their everyday challenges.

We need more design for social change!

Seth Bleech

May 10, 2012, 13:55PM
I've been living in Hartford, CT for a couple years now, and with a fresh perspective being born and raised in Portland, ME. I think Hartford is a beautiful city, with lots of culture and character. The problem, is that no one wants to actually live here! During the work day, the streets are taken over by pedestrians. Professionals spend their work day here, and the small number of shops and boutiques are open. The city is, infact, quite vibrant during this time. Then, at COB, everyone with the exception of the happy hour crowd, retreat to their homes suburbs. By 8pm, the streets are DEAD.

Why? I'll offer a few possibilites I came up with:

1) Hartford has a terrible rap. If you lived here in the 90s you would have seen a much different Hartford -- one that for the life of me, I just don't seen on the streets today. But a bad rap is just that, a rap, and it's enough to keep people away.

2) Not enough 'liveable' infrastructure. No groceries, for example, within walking distance of downtown. Of course, it is hard (if not impossible) to attract business like this if no one is living in the area...

Also as a side note: Hartford is a great example to show that this Challenge is not simply a 'jobs' arguement. There are plenty of jobs here.

David Iyamah

April 02, 2012, 05:47AM
Very interest challenge. One that me and some friends have actually thought about tackling in cities across the Bay. We thought about doing it using local events to bring vibrancy back, and then using the proceeds to help improve aspects of the city.

Monica Thompson

March 29, 2012, 21:12PM
I think urban garden and edible landscape movements are very important to revitalizing cities. Organizations like Greening of Detroit are actively beautifying parts of Detroit that have subject to urban decay. Large corporations are even seeing the benefits of urban garden and edible landscape movements. Bank of America donated $200,000 to Greening of Detroit in September 2011.

I currently reside in Reno, Nevada. Nevada has been one of the states hardest hit by the recession. A number of businesses have closed down and have been abandoned for months, even years! Since investors are not willing to take a risk and buy up deserted plots of land, I believe it is up to the community to revitalize these areas with crops.

Urban gardening and edible landscape areas not only add aesthetic value, but also offer a reconnection of people to people, and people to food. Gardeners are able to educate individuals in low-income areas about growing their own crops, and making healthy food choices. Urban gardening and edible landscaping revitalizes both the city and it's citizens in distress.

Mike S

March 10, 2012, 19:12PM
300,000 residents for 3 million people?! If Detroit had the social and cultural aspect of the city such as San Francisco. It could become the NEW San Francisco. Detroit is home of the arts and music, which should also be important note on revitalizing. Mosaic Paintings on Street Walls, nearby multiple parks/playgrounds available for local residents. With more things to take care of it could be possible to create more jobs! New Ideas should also come from looking at popular international inner cities such as Tokyo, Japan Seoul, South Korea. Paris, France. Berlin, Germany.

Voola Prasad

February 23, 2012, 17:01PM
I would suggest everyone not only who resides in america, asia or any continent to save every precious resources available with them. It could be anything which can be used for multiple purposes. I would suggest wealthy people instead of wasting money in weekend parties they can use the same for the community development, provide employment opportunities by creating service jobs for unemployed like securing the area, supporting the aged persons, municipal services. By this community not only saves money but also creates employment.

Michael Gauthier

February 10, 2012, 21:46PM
I would think a great way to get a city talking is with advertisement to stress the need for the publics ideas. Billboards asking the community to send in their idea's of how to make their community better via mailing, email, or text. Where greater to get ideas than from people living in the targeted area for most of their lives? I'm sure many people want change but are afraid of the public in their area, and wouldn't meet in masses for new ideas. A title like "HELP WANTED" with information on what to send in. Maybe offer a scholarship or prize money to great ideas, not judging on looks and presentation, but pure thought and purpose. It will get the younger generation thinking about the future of where they live.

Dann Dykas

March 09, 2012, 21:12PM
The concept of public input is always ideal, but often the public's opinion is only limited to the few people who take the time to remember the email address, or take the time to go to town hall meetings. And this is rarely an accurate representation. The billboard concept would be great if people could have a quick number to text their ideas to. This medium would also be translatable into magazine ads, posters, etc. Very few people will go out of their way to voice an opinion, but they are always more than willing to voice it if it's convenient. QR codes are getting popular now with the smart phone crowd also.


February 06, 2012, 00:01AM
I'd say take the concept of an innovation voucher(see Enterprise Ireland) and expand it and then link the giving of the grants to the people who work and or live in the City Centre areas that you are targeting.

Chelsea Young

February 05, 2012, 18:27PM
Some inspiration from TED talks. James H Kunstler dissects suburbia and how improvements to architectural design can encourage community and business. His talk's a bit crude, but he had some good opinions on what works and doesn't work. If you don't want to watch it all my favorite part is the last 5 minutes when he discusses future of urbanism.

Michael Gauthier

February 10, 2012, 21:32PM
Ah Chelsea thats a great video, he has many great points made about how this improvement in architectural design affects the surrounding area.

Meghan Hunscher

January 19, 2012, 02:50AM
It is wise to begin the discussion of re-designing cities with a review why humans settled in cities in the first place and what driving forces there are today for this type of settlement pattern. A great story out of Baltimore about veterans who are “re-inhabiting” the city, taking claim and making the neighborhoods their own. It seems the goal is to settle a veteran on every block. In this case, the key is presence and purpose that creates critical mass. Considering that the pull of manufacturing and need for thousands of workers has waned and given that cities are more likely to see singles, empty nesters and single parent families, can intergenerational and co-housing take hold - where people share meals and the cost of shelter without the stigma of poverty? How can we get away from the isolated apartment dweller model? Can we create cottages around a single green for our aging population? Also, how have communication styles changed? If we don’t sit on our front stoops, but we do walk our dogs, we might design a neighborhood around a dog park. Inner cities usually have churches as a hub. What other institutions can be used to support the residents and can neighborhoods be designed around them? Philadelphia is an old yet fantastic model worth replicating. The central square, surrounded by high density housing, and also pedestrian-scale shops demonstrate the importance of density and critical mass to supporting a vibrant city life, as well as aesthetics – beautiful landscaping and architecture. There needs to be a “there there” to both draw people back and give others a reason to stay.

Wil Kristin

January 19, 2012, 06:47AM
Some good thinking here. In some cases, tenant rights laws can help be reworked to incentivize collective living arrangements that foster community in cities. As I understand it, out-dated laws in Philadelphia prevent groups of women from living together, for example. Your question reminded me of EngAGE, an initiative started by Tim Carpenter to encourage aging populations to be productive, engaged and dialoguing with the artistic community.

Patrick Phillips

January 18, 2012, 13:51PM
Imagination, creativity, art, innovation and implementation begin, as you know, with ideas. The health of a community in shock depends upon the resilience of its people's imagination. In my opinion, design facilitates new use patterns only when combined with new social thinking and imaginative ideas from within the community. People constantly on the edge of vulnerability don't readily invent. They move to what's needed and already known.

So, it's imperative that imagination be practiced. This comes in the form of art as a stimulant, a way to free disbelieve. It comes in transforming a momentary freedom found in art into collaborative ideas. It comes in altering the emotional framework of vulnerability and placing in its stead manageable means of community leadership—community leadership being everyone in the community, from children to the elderly. This breeds ownership of ideas and true witnessing of transformation.

Alone, a practice of community imagination is not enough. Money, models, successes are required. So I propose a synergistic approach that sees the root of ideas of social change/economic transformation occurs at the start with people. A synergy between the arts, the advocates for a community's creative economy and the power of social institutions to engage people is required.

I know my response lacks specifics, links, current actions. But, I hope we all can see models — in Cincinnati, Harlem, Detroit, LA — that use this thinking in education, theater, green industries, food production to produce long-lasting results and have an almost immediate impact on people. It's a way of practicing imagination that breeds sustained socio-economic innovation.

Rahilla Zafar

January 15, 2012, 14:14PM
There is a Professor at Wharton that has worked with the West Philadelphia community to develop a Financial Literacy Community Project. I went to the introductory meeting at a community center in West Philadelphia and the turn out was very large. The community seemed very eager to take part in the classes and wanted to bring along friends and family from other neighborhoods in Philadelphia who they think could benefit. The courses begin on the 28th and will run for 6 consecutive Saturdays. I'm happy to share the progress of how it goes for those that are interested. The professor would love to share his curriculum with other cities and communities.

He also created a high school business curriculum for high schools. You can read more about it in a Huffington Post piece I wrote:

Please get in touch if you're interested in learning more about either, the Professor's contact is at the end of the HuffPo piece.

I think these programs are quite essential and could benefit all communities, not just those in the inner-cities.

Bryce craig

January 11, 2012, 19:49PM
I also agree. One important question I would ask is why? Why is Deroit worth saving? Are the buildings, people, and memories worth saving? I have an old Christmas stocking my wife keeps pushing me to throw away. I just can't do it. I won't do it. It means too much to me. We need to remind the people of Detriot that we can't do without them.

Robin Brewer

January 11, 2012, 02:43AM
I agree with Meredith. In general, I think the best parts of a city should be exploited in a positive way. I know in the case of Spain, many of the younger students receive their education or pick up a trade, and go to a different country for work. I think it would be key to involve locals, especially the younger generation, and incorporate activities/events they want in a city.

Meredith Shelby

January 10, 2012, 04:44AM
Detroit is a city of the arts -- always has been. Some of the biggest entertainers, actors, designers, etc. have emerged from Detroit and still are. Revive the city by reviving the arts. Renovate abandoned buildings to create music, dance, theater, photography, fashion, culinary, film, architectural, concept car design, and paint studios, etc. Stage international conventions, events, competitions around these historic sites. Use Belle Isle, (non-commercial) abandoned fields and parks to plant urban farms collaborating with universities. Use large abandoned commercial buildings to create mega living walls. Use the landscape itself as a blank canvas to paint, draw, plaster upon. Cover old downtown buildings with colored glass, huge ceramic white tiles, or bright paint.

John Cooper

January 14, 2012, 03:55AM
Meredith. I totally agree, bring in the artists and many other industries follow. If we look at this on a larger scale, property prices have decreased enormously in this part of the States. I was informed the other day by a friend who works in the property market that many artists have started to take advantage of the rock bottom prices in Detroit and are snapping up some very attractive old buildings. Richard Florida talks about this in his book "Who's your city" where he says that innovative cities are able to attract talent, technology and exhibit tolerance. If Detroit can attract the talent, the technology and tolerance may follow to revive this once great city.

Rahilla Zafar

January 15, 2012, 13:55PM
Chaz Miller is an artist that left Detroit when he was young because he thought he could have no future there. He moved back a few years ago and decided to use art as a way to work with communities. He works in some of the most dangerous areas and has had great success. See his Tedx Detroit video:

Michael Gauthier

February 10, 2012, 21:50PM
Love this idea Meredith. What a great and cost effective way to almost "restore" a decaying landscape. Whats great is that whole communities can get involved in this publicly. Almost festival like if you will, of music, entertainment and maybe a goal of painting a building or area throughout the duration of the event. So many great idea's can come out of this.

Meredith Shelby

February 20, 2012, 19:40PM
@John: You are right about the real estate opportunities in the D. Now is definitely the time to snag prime commercial property. I think in Detroit's case the talent can draw the tech and tolerance if things are strategically planned well.

@Rahilla: Excellent video. Thanks for sharing.

@Michael: You are so RIGHT about the festivals! Detroit used to host multiple outdoor festivals Spring through Fall with art, music, cuisine, etc.

parul vora

January 07, 2012, 03:38AM
Hi All, I've been mostly lurking until now as a newcomer. Have been gathering some inspirations but now see that each phase closes so am adding them here:

Pop up hood (a recent mini experiment in grassroots urban renewal in Oakland, CA):

An accidental google for that last month before the event led me to this:

Bright Orange (a project aimed to draw attention to vacant houses - potentially for ease of removal but also for artistic effect):

The Ruins of Detroit (as someone that was born and raised outside of Detroit, these photos bring back that feeling of crumbling potential I feel when wandering and exploring Detroit):

Place Pulse (qualifying our snap judgement of urban setting):

That's all for now but looking forward to contributing to the discussion and collaborating with all of you!


Danny Smith

January 03, 2012, 17:42PM
I have just come to the realization that when you look at a problem like this - one that began due to events that took place in the past and continues to exist because of societal negligence - we are all just a crab in a bucket of crabs. If we all try to climb out at once for our own self interest, we're only going to pull each other back down. Restoring urban vibrancy truly depends on the citizens that reside within that city - and those are the people we should go to first before we try to come up with any solution. Talk to them and find out what they think is wrong.

Goondu Smartie

January 02, 2012, 20:29PM
Y not use what is available, recycle, innovate and create? It would create jobs, promote & encourage creativity, save the environment, create new concepts for shops, etc. Its easy when we put our minds to work but what a lot of people who have the ideas lack of the basics what is important ..... capital. :)

Kirk Soderstrom

December 24, 2011, 07:33AM
I stumbled in to this photo gallery and thought I'd share.

Emily Goligoski

December 13, 2011, 20:19PM
In the past week it's been interesting to see scientists, politicians, and urban planners win accolades for their work to imagine "City 2.0" and what a sustainable future might look like with more economic opportunities and innovation (and with lower carbon footprints and population growth):

Very timely challenge!

Daniel Bassill

December 10, 2011, 17:09PM
I've been focusing on this challenge for over 30 years through my leadership of a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program connecting Chicago youth with volunteers from a variety of workplace backgrounds, colleges and experiences. I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 to provide an information base to support the growth of mentor rich programs in more places and the decisions leaders in business, government, philanthropy make in their own efforts to help reduce poverty through education and jobs.

I encourage groups to use geographic maps to focus attention and resources to all of the highest poverty areas of a city and to the organizations working in these areas who are competing with each other for scarce resources needed to do good work. At http://www.tutormentorprogramlocator you can see maps and a searchable map-based directory that can be used to help connect with individual organizations or to build collaborations that support many organizations in the city or a specific zip code.

At you can see how maps and graphics and other visualizations are intended to show the ways people need to work together, and the many years this work needs to be continuously supported in order for programs to become great and for first graders entering school today to be entering college in 13 years and jobs and careers a few years after that. At you can see how the maps and graphics are included in blogs and how interns are creating and writing some of these stories.

The ideas shared can be applied to any city where the size of the geography and the population make extra challenges in building collective efforts and long-term strategies.

Elizabeth Littlejohn

December 10, 2011, 02:26AM
I suggest the following ideas to revitalize Detroit, and to build a green manufacturing economy, while increasing job prospects:

1) A position paper including an extensive environmental scan, with a mapping of abandoned automotive factories, including an inventory of their contents and structures, and an analysis of whether they can be preserved and retrofitted, is done of a designated area of Detroit. This area should have a high density of abandoned factories.

2) An international design competition is held to match each of these itemized buildings with green manufacturers and LEED+ certified architects, to call for project submissions on how these building can be preserved, retrofitted, and upgraded to enable the factories to move towards a green manufacturing economy and job prospects.

Manufacturers of alternate energy sources, such as solar energy panels, should be actively solicited to be included as part of this contest.

In addition, architecture firms and manufacturing companies can choose to submit as teams, and combine project designs to enable a full systems analysis of the retrofitting of these factories in relation to their workflow and equipment needs.

3) Open source maps at Ushahidi can be used to identify these buildings on a map, and to add category information about their inventory and structure for public involvement, and historicity.

In addition, Ushahidi and its dynamic mapping can be used as an information visualization tool to allow architecture firms and green manufacturing companies to choose the building they want to retrofit in the competition.

4) Another component of this contest can be an urban planning competition to redesign the residential area in a radius around the factories based upon the principles of New Urbanism, include transportation hubs and bicycle paths, and revitalize of inner city communities through brownfield remediation and community gardens.

5) Design charrettes should be held to include the community in an ongoing consultation regarding the rebuilding of these automotive factories, and to ensure that community members are re-skilled as carpenters, masons, woodworkers, and construction workers as part of these projects. It would be beneficial to have a workshop on the ground floor of the factories to enable stakeholder participation and education for green construction jobs. The retrofitting of these buildings can be used to teach and train a new generation of local workers.

Using these workshops as meeting places for upgrading community skills after-hours would ensure that this buildings would not be empty after hours.

5) As the buildings are retrofitted and upgraded, biophilic principles of design for green roofs, permeable parking lots, proper water sewage and energy efficiency through LEED+ principles should be made mandatory in the buildings' reconstruction, as well as the highest level of engagement with the stakeholders within the community in supporting the buildings' redesign and skill upgrading. This could include a type of 'gamification', using tools such as the LEED Plus calculator, can be used to earn points for the project firms.

6) Information about the environmental waste of tearing down of these automotive factories, and their attendant landfill, and waste of embodied energy, could visualized for stakeholders to understand why the buildings are being retrofitted, as well as describing the need to preserve the historical past of Detroit.

7) International best practices for rebuilding industrial areas should be applied to the design contest as part of the rules and regulations for adjudication, and international manufacturing and architecture firms should be encouraged to apply.

8) Pride of place is essential to this process as well for public outreach; this will ensure stakeholder buying and equity of social benefit. Updating the community on each stage of the project through newsletters is respectful and inclusive, as well.

9) Organizing Transition Networks with community stakeholders and businesses is helpful to explain peak oil, and the need to go to a green economy through the 12 principles of transitioning.

Recommended References:
Ellen Dunham-Jones: Retrofitting suburbia

Leed Plus Calculator

SMARTCities by MIT

Transition Town Principles

Nicole Hewitt

December 10, 2011, 02:09AM
From my experience, the first step in community revitalization is community engagement. It is essential for residents, private investors, and public sector officials to have a common understand of the challenges and work together while including marginalized populations to develop an inclusive plan to redevelop.

I have had the wonderful experience of working in Moss Point, Mississippi--a jewel of a city on the Mississippi gulf coast. Before being devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Moss Point was facing a number of other challenges including industry shutting down, crime, and unemployment. After the hurricane the community worked together on a plan to rebuild the city and bring back environmentally friendly industry around a new framework of being an environmentally sustainable "river friendly" city.

Moss Point serves as an excellent example for other cities on inclusive community revitalization.

Johanna Gereke

December 10, 2011, 01:29AM
This is a great challenge! I think there are some best practices from cities and regions around the world that faced similar challenges in the past and have successfully reinvented their urban architecture.

One example that I know well is the highly industrialized "Ruhr" region in north-western Germany that has undergone dramatic structural changes. The coal and steal mining industry has left a lot of "useless" land behind that was turned into green recreational areas or has been used for biomass production.

Also, I believe community engagement in re-designing the "Ruhr" area has been crucial for its success. Local government, local industry and community groups have partnered in the process which has given people a platform to connect, to share ideas and to voice concerns. Out of this grew fantastic initiatives, such as having classical music concerts in former steel mines.

In 2010, Essen, as representative for the Ruhr area, was selected to become the European Capital of Culture. For more information about the area and the urban-planning project, visit:

Meghan Weir

December 09, 2011, 23:24PM
Detroit is fascinating to me, in part because of its incredibly large scale. That said, I think the most effective interventions will be discovered at a much smaller scale. The problem in Detroit is often defined in terms of the impact that the decline of a single industry has had, but we can’t solve that with another single industry or single solution. Rather, I think community and neighborhood leaders should be identified for pilot projects. Look to people doing innovative work in the context of their neighborhoods. Ask them what works, and what the most frustrating roadblocks are. Maybe what looks like a vacant land and unemployment problem from the 30,000 foot view looks more like a problem of redtape and disenfranchised youth from the ground level. Or it’s something entirely different – those of us outside their communities might require intensive research to define problems in a meaningful way, but we can learn from the experts living there. When people who experience a world on a personal level are recognized as leaders and experts, and presented with opportunities to test new ideas on a small scale, micro-success has a great deal of meaning. Some ideas will not pick up momentum, but there may be others that present solutions beyond the neighborhood scale.

Kristy Milligan

December 09, 2011, 16:22PM
Like many other posters, I also live in a city that's struggling with identity and economic vitality.The problems in Colorado Springs are exacerbated by ideological divides that seem impossible to bridge; tax-aversion v. wanting municipal services; religion v. freedom; right v. left. One thing that's happening here, which seems to be helping, is the development of projects and programs designed to bring people together around shared goals, rather than highlighting differences. We've had some success identifying our regional strengths (upon which we can build a stronger economy) and coalescing around shared ideas through community visioning initiatives (, The real challenge, of course, will be translating some of the goals identified in the processes into action and impact, across the divisions.

Milos Ribic

December 09, 2011, 09:56AM

In times when business as usual leaves a community of diminished resilience, I believe that people can be the agents of change and can do whatever it takes to create a new paradigm for the role of recognized businesses in a community. .

Years ago I had a pleasure to meet a gentleman by the name Steve Hogan who told me about his experience when he walked in the door of Futures Elementary School in East Oakland, CA on the last day of school. Kinds began jumping up and down in excitement, saying, “Do we have music class today?” After a dozen two-and-a-half-hour sessions, Steve was amazed that the kids were still looking forward to their lessons, even in the last hours before summer vacation. Steve is a professional musician and at the time worked at as music operations manager for a widely known internet radio company Pandora. Since then, Steve and many of his fellow employees created and presented a music curriculum at the nearby school, which had lost its arts programs to budget cuts. The lessons introduced the various families of instruments and even explained some music theory, using a great deal of live performance from the Pandora volunteers, who are all also professional musicians. The classes culminated in students singing or rapping on tracks that were then mixed into CDs. This was the sign for me that there are bright lights in an America that keep finding reasons for a fundamental shift towards responsibility, sustainability and greater equity.

This year people of Detroit have been experiencing a pretty good year when it comes to professional sports, Tigers have advanced to the ALCS, Lions had a great start and are doing ok despite some recent setbacks. But, I am visualizing an even greater impact that all those athletes can have if they were to be more involved in continuing to lift the spirit of their broader communities. Years ago I had a pleasure to visit The Riekes Center and I truly fell in love with the concept. The results that the Center had on its adjacent low-income neighborhood were beyond impressive. I met children of various age groups who overcame unbelievable family experiences and were thriving in anything that the Riekes Center had to offer. I can only imagine the impact that the same model would achieve in Detroit, especially when the local professional athletes pay periodic visits and spend time with young spirits that admire these athletes.

On another topic, there is no better way to show that healthy food can build communities than DC Central Kitchen The way such model empowers people while providing job training to once unprivileged, installs hope.

DC Central Kitchen but also Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles are the products of systems thinking as an essential framework. Individual parts of anything can only be fully understood in the context of the relationships they have with other parts of the system of which they are a part. Both examples present an even greater impact because they are tied to financial tools such as RentBureau
and PRBC
that empower people to perhaps elevate the possibilities for collaboration, the sharing of resources and skills, and peer-to-peer mentoring.

We absolutely have the ability to solve any current local environmental, social and economic crises. The challenge is not about technology, but rather about consciousness, values and priorities. We must move from one extreme of the dichotomy to another: from me to we and design engaging models and tools to do that. Together, we can make rapid progress and transformational change. Alone, we will all fail, only making incremental change.

We need to and can act as stakeholders.

  A day will come when there will be no
  battlefields, but markets opening to
  commerce and minds opening to ideas.

   Victor Hugo

Milos Ribic

December 09, 2011, 19:58PM
An example I missed to include is financing program for retrofitting low-income communities, ran by a very proactive non-profit, Living Cities Low income communities spend quite a bit of money heating or cooling their home and have no way of financing any retrofit that would help offset those costs. This is a wasted energy, created most likely by coal fired power plants. Interestingly enough, these power plants would like to supply less energy and minimize the costs that result from inevitable outages and would actually subsidize the energy efficiency retrofit costs because it saves them money. Imagine if pension funds, foundations, not-for-profits, educational institutions, credit unions and other socially and financially responsible entities that control huge financial resources, actually invest in energy efficiency solutions. There is a need for cooperation with each other to insistence on change. It’s about the will and the commitment that need to be presented with an engaging, well design model that demonstrates the change, warm houses, improved communities, happy people. It requires collaboration from the design to socially responsible investment community.


December 08, 2011, 22:30PM
Many of the previous posts have hit on the key factors which are necessary for urban revitalization: economic renewal and growth (via new industries, educational opportunities and public/private partnerships), the restitution of social networks (via direct mechanisms like community gardens or volunteer organizations as well as through more abstract social media links), and infrastructure that satisfies basic needs (grocery stores in blighted inner cities 'food deserts', etc). Missing among the comments so far is, in my opinion, a focus on environmental restoration. I am thinking about Manhattan in the 80s - crime ridden until a series of small, well-publicized environmental interventions like eliminating graffiti on subway cars and the ubiquitous squeegee men at intersections helped reclaim a sense of safety (vigilance) on the streets and decrease crime (or the perception of criminality). Indeed, the perception of blight is often as problematic as blight itself. Without meaning to oversimplify the complexity of urban metabolism, I think marrying environmental restoration to urban revitalization is critical. I recently completed a proposal (in the context of a graduate school class) for recycling several tons of "waste" coconut husks in Sao Paolo into coir (erosion control matting) to prevent landslides in the slums that grip the steep hills. Designing a manufacturing process that reduces the burden on existing landfills, upcycles organic 'waste' material, and provides a mechanism whereby community members could successfully engage with ensuring the (economic, infrastructural and environmental) survival of their environment was very satisfying. I don't know what the equivalent would be for rust belt cities like Detroit - I've heard everything from urban forestry on vacant lots to biofuels/algae farms fed that doubles as a wastewater 'polishing' mechanism - but I think it's really important to look beyond bank loans and Americans who bowl alone to include environmental quality as a significant factor in restoration.

Alonso Ortiz

December 08, 2011, 21:28PM
The past few weeks I have been talking to friends to gain insight on a question that has been haunting me: what makes a person belong or want to belong to a location? This question popped when I met a person who said she is from the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. Further down the conversation, I realized she had never lived there. The only relation she had to Oaxaca was that her grandparents had live there and she travelled constantly to it. I have not concluded this subject, but in the world we are living, maybe the only tie to a location is a sense of belonging. Family, culture, tradition, local insight, are some of these components. Oaxaca is so rich in tradition and culture, that in my opinion, who wouldn’t want to be from there? Tourists quickly adopt the food, the cloths and the joy this place brings about –without mentioning its local drink, similar to tequila: mezcal. Nonetheless, Oaxaca has a big migration problem, but as soon as the next generations are gaining education and economic resources, the return to create opportunity.

Contrary to this example, recently I travelled to the city of Nogales, a border city where the lack of culture and history are one of the many reasons why the people living there move away when a better living opportunity arises (basically in the United States). Sadly, Nogales has the least local culture. All of its economy is aimed for fluctuating population, and this makes its extremely sensible to crisis and competition.

Returning to the question Jim Hackett poses, what makes community strong? I believe it is a strong local culture and live-tradition (e.g. Austin, Texas). Creating jobs and economic opportunity isn’t enough. What will happen when the next crisis hits the world? People will move again. Promoting cultural entrepreneurship can be a solution to this problem. Mexico’s capital city, Distrito Federal, accounts 10% of its GDP to cultural industries (formal and informal) that range from graffiti, museums and traditional craftsmanship. The process would be rather slow and appropriate spaces will be needed to teach how to create a cultural project, but in the long run, it can provide great results. A private/public fund can be established to commence this process. Eventually, it can provide resources to fast growing cultural SMEs and attract investment and tourism (Bilbao, Spain can be a great example). The main objective has to be creating a strong connected local community that brings cultural and economic flow to its members

Iwona Gwozdz

December 08, 2011, 16:48PM
This certainly is a complex problem. So many uncontrollable factors flow into it. And cities are really like organism. They flow and develop in unexpected ways. I heard Tim Brown mention this the other day while doing a talk at our school, and it's very true.

I have personally come across this issue of reviving cities that have gone into decline. 1) I've learned about the urbanization of cities in my sociology studies. Specifically how cities have grown and declined over time. 2) I've personally worked for a company located in a worn part of town. An area that used to be part of the city centre and had lots of historical buildings all boxed up. The managers would talk constantly about how they could revive the area.

I look forward to seeing how this project evolves and to contributing in areas I could be of help.

Bev Clark

December 08, 2011, 13:40PM
Where I live in Zimbabwe I'm finding a connection between civic disempowerment and a general disinclination to engage in community based solutions with political oppression. The lack of confidence that people have in their voice and opinion being heard and acted upon by those in power coupled with a fear to openly express oneself has meant people "shrinking" rather than boldly stepping forward to offer their innovation and creativity.

One of the small ways that I'm trying to address this is my project - - will next year be giving to our members stickers with the slogan FIX THIS.please. We are asking people to put the stickers on broken infrastructure: non-working traffic lights; broken pipes; fallen over street lights and traffic signs. Whenever local infrastructure falls over it stays where it is!

We are enclosed a postcard with a stamp on them, and pre-addressed to Kubatana. The slogan on the postcard says FIX THIS.please because we love where we live. We're asking people to return the postcard with the details of what they put the sticker on and where. They are also being encouraged to email and tweet their photos.

A few things: a) we hope that a visible reminder will draw attention to what's broken b) we will take the postcards to the relevant authorities and c) most important of all, I think, is to give people an opportunity to engage in non-violent civic activity that builds their confidence by doing something in their community when for the most part they feel too afraid to be active.

Some may say that the stickers might contribute to city eyesore litter. We are asking people to Stick UP Responsibly!


December 07, 2011, 19:17PM
I believe that this is a brilliant successful project , from my side I totally support enabling people to be productive ones by enrolling them in classes-Training so they will learn skills and it is a chance to create relationships between each other and organizers as well who shall cooperate with local partners , local partners are essential here because from my perspective I believe that they do understand their community needs better . Then after classes participants in cooperation with partners and organizers can start a career but one has to focus also one followup process where job can be evaluated andone can learn from previous mistakes

Carrie Ellett

December 06, 2011, 20:04PM
As an MSU alum, I was really inspired by this challenge. Detroit gets talked about with pity quite often and I am excited to see Steelcase heading up an inspiring challenge that is solution based.

Ashley Jablow

December 07, 2011, 22:46PM
Thanks for your feedback Carrie - hope you'll also be joining us for our Concepting phase as we design solutions to restore vibrancy to Detroit and other cities.

John Reuter

December 06, 2011, 17:56PM
We should share our winning concepts with TED in conjunction of their announcement today of this year's TED prize to the City 2.0:

This could be a great first step towards Realization.

Additionally, I wonder if Site Administrators could form a partnership with the TED prize to pull in their users into this creative process? It seems like we could benefit greatly from their contributions. While they word their design goal differently, it seems to me that everything they express is something we should be striving to meet in our Concepting, too.

Ashley Jablow

December 07, 2011, 22:47PM
Yes - wasn't that a well-timed and relevant announcement from TED?! We'll all be eager to see what comes next from them :)

Ichita Komori

December 06, 2011, 16:15PM
The First problem is that the citizens have senses of crisis and motivation to change it better, but they don't have any goals.
The Second problem is that individual motivation wouldn't work out well to stimulize the city.

First, make a huge civil gathering where motivated citizens present their opinions and ideas.
Second, make it so big that it will appear on the media.
Third, collect sponsers who will support the citizens' idea (since the congress will be on media)
Four, progress the projects and revitalize the city.

Gabriela Flores

December 06, 2011, 16:11PM
It is true that communities are the souls of a country.
Over here in Monterrey, MX. communities are growing stronger drive by a sense of belonging and unique identity.

There's a project going on called "Barrio de Tampiquito" aimed to preserve the neighborly and vibrant feeling of "barrio", tracking attention from other citizens to know and enjoy the neighborhood's diversity and increasing commerce.

Ashley Jablow

December 07, 2011, 22:48PM
Great example Gabriela! I hope you'll take some of that inspiration and use it to inform a new concept to submit in our Concepting phase!

Alonso Ortiz

December 08, 2011, 21:56PM
Hi Gabriela. I really liked the project you present: Barrio de Tampiquito. If you belong or know someone behind it, maybe you can connect with other initiatives doing similar projects in Mexico, like, or Also, the work the barrio of Tepito is doing is outstanding. I also encourage you to contact the regional office of Popular Cultures, belonging to CONACULTA. In this link you can find his contact information: Good luck!

Paul Reader

December 06, 2011, 12:03PM
Can I please ask for some help in clarifying my thinking.
Does the statement "concepts we create together will be relevant to engaged citizens everywhere who want to bring vibrancy to their own areas" mean we are concepting universally applicable solutions? - or are we to identify a particular problem to solve? - or again perhaps re-present some of the suggestions put forward in the inspiration phase?

Ashley Jablow

December 07, 2011, 22:52PM
Hi Paul, great questions! When it comes to your concepts, the sky is the limit. If you want to focus on a concept that brings vibrancy to your community, it's fine to focus on that specific location, although you'll see in our concepting submission form that we ask you about scaling your idea to bring vibrancy to communities in other parts of the world. Feel free to use the Inspiration phase and all those great examples as sparks for your own concepts - any ideas that help you and me and our entire community revitalise our communities are welcome!

Shankar Musafir

December 06, 2011, 10:38AM
Glad to be taking on my first challenge at IDEO. Its good that there is a video and print brief on the challenge. and there is a FAQ too. I have seen an erosion in civic services in cities out here in India despite economic growth. It would be interesting to work on 'vibrancy' of cities experiencing economic decline though

Ashley Jablow

December 07, 2011, 23:02PM
Shankar, you're in luck - we do want to focus on restoring vibrancy to cities facing economic decline :) Looking forward to hearing your ideas in the Concepting phase.

Jonathan R.

December 06, 2011, 01:18AM
[Meena] - Great job with all of your posts, feedback, and user encouragement.

FYI: The link next to your photo is broken on page:

broken link:
correct link:

Ashley Jablow

December 07, 2011, 22:54PM
Great catch Jonathan! :)

Laetitia Lanfranchi

December 05, 2011, 22:30PM
That is a great challenge to take up, and I am so happy to see it.
The point is to make people feel as they are part of a common project. I strongly think that it is because you do activities together that you become friends, and not the opposite. It is because you share an experience with someone that you get to know him, and create a relation with him. You cannot have any feeling for someone you don’t know, even if he is your closest and only neighbor. On the other side, a friend does not stay a friend for a long time, if you do not do activities with him.
Let’s take the challenge at the neighborhood level, in big cities. I live in Paris, and I used in Atlanta, and I have visited many big cities in the world. In each of them, people are always in a hurry, and basically do not have time to make acquaintance with the persons living next to them. If we find activities to do with our neighbors, we will develop a relation with them and make our neighborhood be.
Sharing a garden – as evoked in a previous post by Patrick Gazley – is, I thing, a great idea. A garden is something you have to care about every week, if not every day. You always need an advise, or want to give one. Inevitably, it will create good opportunities to exchange and share with your neighbors.
Another idea could be to set-up an annual neighbors’ day. One day a year each neighborhood organizes something together in a shared space. In a building, you can imagine to serve a meal in the corridors. In a residence, you have even more possibilities.
You can also organize common events for the whole city, like a “musical night”. That night, each corner of each street of the city is taken by a group which plays a free concert, without boundaries between the streets. We also all know the benefit of sport to create the feeling to be part of a common project.
I am looking forward to see what other idea will come to that challenge.

Ashley Jablow

December 07, 2011, 22:56PM
Nice thinking here Laetitia - I hope you'll head over to our Concepting phase and add some of these ideas as your own concepts!

Joe Ventura

December 05, 2011, 22:18PM
Another inspiration I meant to add to this challenge is Cory Booker's Twitter Account (!/corybooker). Cory, the mayor of Newark NJ, is one of the most plugged-in, responsive, media savvy community leaders in the country. Without commenting on any of his political positions, he's an inspiration in any discussion about how to bring vibrancy to a city. His tweets are powerful, positive, and open. He regularly responds to tweets about things that are happening in the city. For example, someone will tweet about a pothole in the street in front of their house and Cory's reply is "I'm on it!" Kudos to Cory and his team for using social media to open up dialogue in Newark. I wish my major was half as responsive! Social media training to leaders in cities facing economic hardship is one way to increase vibrancy.

Ashley Jablow

December 07, 2011, 22:57PM
Joe, this is a great Inspiration and the last sentence of your comment points to a fantastic early concept! Hopefully you'll head over to our Concepting phase to share how social media can connect city leaders and citizens.

Yuliya Gorlovetsky

December 09, 2011, 20:06PM
Knowing that someone is listening encourages people to speak up and share their thoughts. What a smart way to stay connected.

Meghan Weir

December 09, 2011, 23:27PM
I agree about the great potential of social media platforms to communicate about new strategies. This example from Give A Minute presents a great way of crowdsourcing ideas about improving alternative transit in Chicago, which can be applied for all sorts of issues in Detroit as well:

Sathyan Velumani

December 05, 2011, 21:11PM
Once i heard the story of how roads and highways were planned by the government in US during the Great Depression; A country's governing body mostly recognizes lucrative cities and quickly commercializes them;

If this commercialization is planned right then it would give opportunities to thousands starting from the construction of building, roads and houses. Without proper planning and execution it leads to rapid growth with growing problems of unemployment, increased cost of living etc.,

Eg: Perungudi, Chennai, India; It's not a remote community; A decade back IT industry started booming and companies started building their big office near the area. Land rates and rents have increased but there is no underground water for people which leads to buying water even for the bathroom; this vicious circle hasn't benefited anyone even those who sell the lands; it has just benefited very few.

Joe Ventura

December 04, 2011, 20:00PM
I recently traveled to Detroit to attend a Hacking Education event, and was incredibly inspired by the entrepreneurs that I met. There's a lot of people power in Detroit (and throughout Michigan). Here's a blog post I wrote about my trip and the event:

Fred Krawchuk

December 04, 2011, 03:49AM
To further provide context to this brief, I would recommend checking out a recent Forbes article on what several Detroit leaders in government, business, education, and other sectors are thinking and doing about revitalizing Detroit (it also have some short video clips from several of the leaders interviewed by the author):

Ken Endo

December 03, 2011, 21:20PM
I am pretty happy to hear that such a for-profit company as Steelcase takes this action, as this open innovation approach will be one of standard ways for any company. sometimes it's hard to keep everything open to public though..

Patrick Gazley

December 02, 2011, 21:07PM
This brief really addresses a monumental challenge. For me, being a Toronto native, living in Chicago, with family in Detroit I'm able to see three very different perspectives on city life. Seeing Detroit struggle with a decreasing population keeps my mind's wheels turning every time I visit. While I don't think my ideas are developed far enough for an actual inspiration piece, I wanted to share my two cents nonetheless.
The biggest issue our major cities or even small towns face is a departure from social interaction. I see it every day. Even here in bustling Chicago, you'd have to be crazy to talk to a stranger on the bus-mind you own business! A silly example, but one that I believe can play a big role in revitalizing cities like Detroit, to the small towns across the world stricken by competing super-stores taking away market share. Let's put away our techno-gizmos (just for a moment) and address the human factor head on!
While working on an organic farm earlier this year in France, I saw an example of basic human necessity that offered an opportunity for social revitalization: community gardens. For urban brown spots it’s a great way to turn an area green and brimming with people! City centers are totally reliant on outside food sources (provided of course by grocery stores), but having community areas would bring a nice 'homey' feel to struggling areas.
The community garden I saw in France was in a very small village, but was always a great spot to meet-up with friends, meet new people, and of course grow some food. The gardens don't have to be enormous either, with the local city acting as the proprietor, they'd be great central areas for communities to revive themselves around.
More generically, you could argue a park would do the trick too: one great thing that keeps so Chicago so vibrant, all the lake front green space.

Not the most innovative solution-but green space always seems to be at a premium in downtown areas. Who wouldn't like to grow their own tomatoes or nap in the grass! And while we're at it, meet a new friend or two.

Ian Wyosnick

December 05, 2011, 01:34AM
Great point Patrick! Most of the great cities in this world benefit from a park or green area that draws the community to it, examples in the US being Central Park, Grant Park, and Golden Gate Park.

Stephen Gichohi

December 01, 2011, 13:24PM
This brief has a lot of insights. I relate to it especially on the basis of the rising global population against a backdrop of dismal performance of our economies and deteriorating state of our neighborhoods. For instance the rate of rural to urban migration is unprecedented. Slums are coming up from all corners of the city.. Something has to be done and we have to to do it soonest

Victoria Bartling

November 30, 2011, 04:16AM
The video definitely drew me right into the cause- great to hear someone passionate about the challenge to get me thinking

Daniel Turner

November 27, 2011, 15:45PM
Not to read minds, but it seems we've all been thinking about urban commercial and/or residential areas. There's an interesting reminder in the NY Times that office parks are a problem, too, one right up the alley of this brief.

Daniel Turner

November 27, 2011, 15:46PM

Simon Fich

November 27, 2011, 14:16PM
In my opinion the most interesting challenge so far. This touches so many people in one way or another. It has true global appeal.

I think the challenge has greater appeal than the brief indicates. In short, I think the brief is too narrowly scoped. It should/could read:

How might we enable vibrancy in cities and/or regions?

Restore: implies that vibrancy has been lost. I find it equally interesting to maintain or create vibrancy.

Facing economic decline: I find it equally interesting to target places with high growth.

Reading through the inspirations I think they fit a broader scoped brief. The best example I can think of is the city I live in: Shanghai, China. A city that has grown beyond imagination the last 15-20 years. It faces some serious challenges in terms of size (people, waste), pollution (air, noise, food scare), history (many places are disappearing to path the way for high rise buildings) and green areas (few parks and recreational areas). On the other hand it is vibrant in so many other areas (business, restaurants, night life).

I will add my input to the challenge.

Daniel Turner

November 27, 2011, 15:44PM
Interesting thought, Simon. I would worry about a larger scope making the challenge too hard to work through, and result in too-vague recommendations that would then have to be tested for specific cases. But I think a strong point of your idea is that as concepts are refined, we keep in mind what the underlying conditions, forces acting on, and mechanisms are, and what can be applied in already-vibrant places such as Shanghai.

ikem charles

November 26, 2011, 07:04AM
Am interested in seeing how this challenge can also help cities similar to detroit in regaining theri vibrancy.cities like Lagos, will have to pick concepts from this challenge

ikem charles

November 26, 2011, 07:17AM
The physicist,Geoffrey West has interesting theories on redefining the physics of cities.This could be applied to restructuring infratsructure as well as the economy.I believe restoring cities should focus on the NOW people rather than THEN people, present and future not past while using the remixes of culture and trennds to encourage community,togetherness.

Emily Goligoski

November 26, 2011, 03:55AM
In considering urban relocation, this very visual piece from NPR about how 7 billion people came to be--and where--is worth a look:

Subrina Philip Sugumaran

November 26, 2011, 00:51AM
I think this is a great challenge to be focused on. After watching the video and reading the brief, I went on to look at Greece for example; Jorn Madslien reporting for BBC news stated that the problems in Greeces does not only affect its people, "...people elsewhere in Europe may also find that Greece's troubles could eventually hit their wallets" (Madslien, J.2010.p.1). Since we have become very much of a globalized society, we can safely say that if one country is facing hardship, it is bound to affect the rest of the countries in one way of another. Having said this, this challenge that is targeted towards places like Detroit, Madrid, Greece etc. is moving towards creating a healthier economy on the whole. In simple words, "the parts do make up the whole".

How can we bring vibrancy into these cities? I think Jim Hackett made some great points; communities, economic performance and how to bring forth these changes into the "right" place/time so that it blends in with the system of the rest of the world.

Let us look at the first aspect; communites, there are many factors that hold a community together. We will use Greece as an example, a report by David Muir for ABC news states, "With tens of thousands of protesters jamming the streets of Athens and starting fires today, smoke obscured the Acropolis on the city's skyline" (Muir, D.2010.p.1). Can we then say that safety is now a community issue? The lack of safety will result in people within the Greek community turning against one another and this is a threat to building a strong community. Basics first; food, shelter, clothing. When we offer the basics, people gain the trust thereafter it is easier to foster healthier relations to bring about more changes.


Madslien, J. (2010) Why Greece's problems matter.p.1. Retrieved November 25, 2011 from

Muir, D. (2010) How did Greek economic crisis get so bad?p.1. Retrieved November 25, 2011 from

Ana Cecilia Santos

November 16, 2011, 11:21AM
Personally, this is one of the most exciting and inspirational challenges yet for me, especially because there is such a huge potential for balancing technology with a physical space as solutions to this challenge. This is an area I really like to explore, creating experiences in the analogue/real world, and think it has so much potential as we connect with people at a personal level.

Thanks for this OpenIDEO, and I really look forward to catching up with everyone's inspirations and contributing with others for the Concepting phase !

Nicholas Capicotto

November 13, 2011, 21:36PM
This is a great challenge and one that I have somewhat of a feel for. I have been living in Ann Arbor, MI for roughly the last sixteen months and have some first hand experience witnessing the issues that exist in the Detroit area.

Although Ann Arbor is looked at often as being a stereotypical college atmosphere, it really is a bustling town that attracts all types of people in the southeast Michigan region. Walking along its busy streets are people of every different profession, ethnicity, and age group. With the University of Michigan's presence and plentiful independently-owned commerce, Ann Arbor consistently attracts and retains all types of residents and business.

Although I love living here and will have a hard time leaving if and when I ever do, there is a clear detriment to the metro Detroit area that is indirectly spurred on by Ann Arbor's presence. A number of classmates in my graduate school courses are employed in or around the Detroit area, but choose to reside in Ann Arbor (40 miles west of Detroit). The concerning issue is that a high number of young professionals (25-35 years of age) are electing to drive some times over an hour to work so they can keep living in Ann Arbor. When I ask about this, the over-arching reason is that they love living in Ann Arbor because of the atmosphere it provides.

Because of this, I wonder if an initial group to target young professionals. Additionally, would it be effective and sensible to examine the socio-economic strategies present in Ann Arbor and try to carry those into the under-developed parts of Detroit? Could expansion of some of Ann Arbor's most popular small business east-bound to Detroit take root? Finally, what more can be done through the University's highly regarded Urban Planning programs to improve the Motor City despite the struggles of the automotive industry? These are questions I ask myself frequently about reviving an area right here at home in the heart of America.

Ashley Jablow

November 15, 2011, 20:29PM
Really great questions and ideas Nicholas! I hope you'll stick around for our upcoming Concepting phase where you can submit some of these early ideas for community feedback and discussion.

Erica Stephan

November 30, 2011, 23:04PM
Nicholas, this struck a chord since I grew up with a similar situation to what you describe among your friends - my dad worked for Ford in Dearborn but chose to raise his kids in Ann Arbor. I think there is a positive aspect to this pattern as well, though. Specifically, I was happy to hear recently that the Detroit-Ann Arbor high-speed rail link is back on track because this offers an opportunity to develop a new business zone around the commuter rail area. Currently so many commuters park, go to work, and leave without spending much time or money in Detroit. Rail commuting would push them to discover the city and help channel some of that energy to Detroit... and vice versa.

Daniel Turner

November 12, 2011, 03:18AM
I want to highlight Michael Keating's comment and the inherent concept of place; a real, vital city is not just a location or collection of locations, but has identity in the sense of... well, that there's a there there.

There are convincing cases to be made by Charlie Gardner ( and Nathan Lewis ( about the power of narrower streets and closer living; I say "convincing" because even though as a cycling advocate I always want another few inches of road width, their anecdotal cases (and the distinction of Place v. Non-Place) really resonated with me about why I always felt L.A. was wrong, dovetail with where I see some many revitalized neighborhoods happening. These two seem a bit short on theoretical background and frameworks -- could someone with experience in that area comment?

What could we do to reclaim streets as a way of creating street life in a green, desirable, and efficient way? Infill housing in front of existing structures? Create urban villages and reclaim swaths of land between them? I believe there have been some civic efforts in Detroit to do something like that last, but without the structure of designing what comes next.

Ashley Jablow

November 15, 2011, 20:31PM
Hi Daniel, nice insights and questions here. I hope you'll consider uploading some of the links you've noted as Inspirations, if you haven't already. I'm sure the community would love to explore these questions with you further.

Daniel Turner

November 16, 2011, 01:25AM
Thanks, Ashley.

Probably the best post by Garnder (shades of Chauncey) is "Thinking Small: the Narrow Streets 'Movement'", in which he sums up good thinking and nascent actions on the idea, including the photofictional Narrow Streets LA and the more actual Oakland Streets, as well as links to Lewis (who has the Place v. Non-Place).

I'd like to hear from people who know about urban infill policies, and the wicked problem about how this could be sustained while large urban areas are emptying out of population. Also from design people who could create compelling ideas and pictures of how to move living and/or interaction Places in front (most infill is in the back of existing residences), out into what is now vast swaths of pavements and multi-lane roads.

Jeanette Yeo

December 25, 2011, 13:55PM
i didn't expect to be contemplating much on Christmas, but when i saw this topic, it struck me somewhere inside.

i live in singapore. we are a people so young that we are at risk of having our identity eroded even before it has had an opportunity to express itself.

the pursuit of economic growth strips the average person's lifestyle here of texture. it renders the many stories we have yet to tell stillbirth.

but like every other place, there are pockets of people who consciously take time and make time to protect the things that matter.

it takes effort to slow down. that effort is worth it because we will not get a second chance to save an old cemetery from road expansion (; we may not get another opportunity to entrench the right values that need to be at the heart of government and in the minds of those who provide public services.

internet and social media is starting to fill the role of the free press that has been stymied for so long - citizen journalism neuters state-owned press with plain hard facts and a strong dose of satire (,

and thanks to the great advertising success story that is apple, every singaporean i sit next to on the bus is empowered with an iphone to tell it as they see it!

theses are but baby steps ... but better late than never.

merry christmas to all.

Sidd Maini

November 10, 2011, 21:19PM
Wow this is a great challenge! Although I have some thoughts that may not be directly related to it, I still wanted to point out some of my concerns.

According to the video, I get a feeling that Jim Hackett is mainly concerned about the survival of big cities like detroit, athens, new delhi, madrid etc. I am not sure if revitalizing bigger cities or making them sustainable so that they are able to absorb more and more migrants from far-off small towns and cities is a very pragmatic idea.

While I understand the current need of doing so, the underlying assumption about "bigger cities being able to sustain or absorb more people than ever" may not be a correct one due to the ever-changing dynamics of the globalized world. This assumption has infact (in a good way) led to the economic and structural developments of bigger cities, but at the same time put undue strain on city's resources.

NYC is a prime example. It is in the progress of connecting another river from somewhere in upstate NY via underground aqua-ducts or pipes to provide drinking water to its current and forthcoming residents. To what extent will the city make efforts to sustain itself? The idea of suburbia in the US has led to its economic development but at the same time, unfortunately, has also led to a vast increase in the consumption of non-renewable forms of energy primarily OIL. This same model is being followed around the world from east to west, and from north to south. Is this a correct model to follow is my first question?

With big cities having huge populations come bigger social problems; more crime etc. How can we make sure that these communities are loosely or tightly coupled (depending on the need) with each other across the world that can work together in solving local and global problems? What economic incentives can be provided by small towns so that the migration to bigger cities is a choice and not the only option? What are the main reasons behind brain-drain from these smaller towns to bigger cities? The most-obvious reason that comes up are better jobs and a better standard of living whatever that may mean.

Again these are just some of my preliminary thoughts. I am not saying that revitalizing cities like Detroit isn't a good idea, but to think about the problem from a different point of view is what we need in this era of technology. I do not think that we can afford to follow the same models of economic progress.

Paul Reader

November 11, 2011, 11:04AM
Interesting observations Sidd.
Research seems to show that there is a power law operating in the distribution of cities around the world. For any given city size (say 4 million) there are approximately 4 at half the size (2 million). Interestingly there is a similar rule for wealth accumulation. That is not to say we should simply let things take their own shape any more than we should abandon efforts to redistribute wealth. But we should perhaps understand the process will need repeating every so often.

Subrina Philip Sugumaran

November 28, 2011, 21:13PM
Hi Sidd
You made some rather valid points. I do think that bringing vibrance to a city can be quite different from a rural town; smaller towns. People within smaller towns may not necessarily like the idea of moving into a bigger city or have their small town operate like a big city. A small town may contain all the vibrance by itself. If possible at all, I think there should be focus on both the small towns and big cities concurrently however, changes brought into these places should be based on what its people deem as being vibrant rather than what developers would like it to be. On the other hand, I can see that there is a need that these changes tie in with the system of the rest of the world. Then again, I am wondering if there is a way to do this without disturbing the essence or rather the authenticity of that particular city or town so that its originality is preserved? Some things are better left untouched. I am not saying that people in small towns should not be given the opportunity to live in big cities but I think they should be educated on the transitions from a small town into a big city.

Laura Espiau

December 04, 2011, 23:12PM
Hello Sidd,

Very interesting thougths! I would like to underline the point about the economic model to follow, as you said. We have learn from the past that economic growth is not bringing necessarily to human development - which is a concept I would tie to the 'vibrancy' mentioned in the challenge- and today we see that economic growth everywhere, every time, is NOT possible anymore, it's simply not sustainable. So, I agree with you that there must be a different point of view when speaking of revitalizing big cities. I think that should include a revision of the available natural resources and the optimal population according to them.

I would like to mention also the other side of the coin; cities that, due to maybe too-well-planned development policies, are in the risk of "dying of success". This is the case of my city, Barcelona. Since the Olympic Games of 1992, there has been a great job to make this city vibrant, alive and a great place to live in. But today, Barcelona is so appealing, not only as a place to work and have a life, but also as a touristic destination, that some of the city areas are really overused (the city center mainly), and others become more and more victims of the 'gentrification' process. As a result, locals go to the city centre only if necessary, and some neighbourhoods become tourist-flats territory, with the consequent loose of local commerce and rise of prices. I don't mean that Barcelona is lost (hope this never happens!), it is still a wonderful city, but we have to be able to react to the warnings. As a signal of hearing them, I see the fact that the city council is considering now to include a tourist-tax in the city in order to protect it.

Regarding the migration between cities, maybe it would make sense not only encouraging people to stay in small towns, but to develop flows from the big city to small towns on the same time. People living in big cities with a poor quality of life could find appealing to migrate to a less strained and polluted environment. In Spain, there's an interesting inter-territories cooperation project to foster migration of entrepreneurs to rural areas. It's called "Abraza la tierra" (Embrace the land):

Michael Keating

November 10, 2011, 01:36AM
This is an exciting, timely, and challenging brief. One way in which it is challenging is the degree to which problems of urban revitalization can fall victim to sentimentality, efforts to restore what was, and to focus on the PLACE that needs revitalizing more than the PEOPLE (present and future rather than past) that make the place what it is and what it will become.

I would encourage anyone investing time in this challenge to read Edward Glaser's The Triumph of the City, published earlier this year and by far the best book on the subject (I have a Masters in Urban Planning so have read a few books on cities). There is a particularly relevant section on Detroit and cities that have suffered similar declines that takes a fresh and somewhat contrarian and unsentimental view on what can be done to turn them around.

Many people have tried to fix suffering cities. I look forward to seeing what novel ideas are inspired by the challenge.

Meena Kadri

November 10, 2011, 01:46AM
Maybe you'd also like to join us in the Inspiration phase, Michael: Collaboration loves company!

Michael Keating

November 10, 2011, 02:44AM
Done. Sorry for starting on a negative note :)

Joe Ventura

December 04, 2011, 19:59PM
I recently traveled to Detroit to attend a Hacking Education event, and was incredibly inspired by the entrepreneurs that I met. There's a lot of people power in Detroit (and throughout Michigan). Here's a blog post I wrote about my trip and the event:

Joe Ventura

December 04, 2011, 20:01PM
Sorry! I meant to add this as a comment, not a reply.

Sarah Fathallah

November 08, 2011, 22:01PM
I really really like that the video featuring the sponsor and explaining the challenge brief. Definitely something to keep in future challenges if possible :)

Amanda Drescher

November 08, 2011, 22:04PM

Chetan Mangat

November 28, 2011, 21:43PM
I think we need to help re-define what vibrancy means so that we don't start working towards creating the same type of vibrancy we had before, but a vibrancy fueled from the appreciation of advanced yet simple living.

Subrina Philip Sugumaran

December 03, 2011, 22:02PM
I think if we can bring together the different definitons of vibrancy and try and combine these into one whole systme that will work for that particular city and the rest of the system of the world, we would have accomplished our goal of satisfying the people of that city and bringing the rest of the world one step closer to greater economic growth.
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