Detroit is not a problem to be solved

Detroit Art (92)

Detroit is much more than a Motor City with mechanical problems.

One of the bad habits that lingers from the industrial age is a tendency to view organic situations as mechanical problems.

The City of Detroit’s financial condition cannot be dramatically improved by using a mechanical approach to problem solving. Mechanical approaches work for fixing broken machines or solving simple problems, but Detroit is neither a machine nor simple.

Detroit is an organic, living being composed of human relationships, skills and capabilities. Many of the city’s resources and assets are currently under-appreciated. An important step in Detroit’s revival is for more people to identify, see the value of, and mobilize her strengths (tangible and intangible).

Just a few of these strengths include the extraordinary community relationships and knowledge that have been developed in order to cope with cutbacks in city services, a culture of making things, a history of innovation and the unpretentious character of Detroiters who have a low tolerance for phonies.

Focus on strengths, not needs

Most people see Detroit in terms of needs. When you think only about needs, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. So it’s time to make a conscious effort to see beyond needs and pay more attention to strengths. This approach isn’t just about being positive or negative; it’s about making the most of natural assets (human and physical) that can be further developed.

Difficulties to be “outgrown,” not “fixed”

Mechanical approaches to problem-solving begin by identifying, then fixing problems and deficiencies. But since Detroit is not a problem to be fixed, it must outgrow the extreme conditions which held it back in the past. For example, the mutually destructive relationship that people in the suburbs have had with people in the city of Detroit is most likely to change through the mega-shift to cities now happening everywhere.

Many young people no longer want to work in anonymous, dismal “office parks” and live in isolated suburban neighborhoods. Older people want to “age in place,” which means being able to walk to see friends and get groceries. When sons and daughters move to the city of Detroit, a suburban parent is more likely to support funds for public safety and other services.

This process of change can be described as organically outgrowing a bad situation, rather than mechanically solving a problem. To speed up this natural growth process, it is crucial to shine a light on assets, which is what we tried to do in a fun way by creating our song “What I See in the D”

Our song is about what’s strong that will help Detroit outgrow what’s wrong. And it’s about really good reasons to move to the D.

– Sharon VanderKaay


  1. This is an extraordinary and truthful surmise of the city of Detroit. Whether the “Mechanics” know it or not, it is a natural progression that is currently underway. It’s difficult to detect because most of us are mechanically trained but it is nevertheless happening.

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    We see our collaboration with clients and colleagues as providing a living lab for enriching the creative process. Farrow’s built work has been internationally recognized for leadership in human-centric design. This is where we come to discuss our ideas as they hatch and our experiences as they happen.
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