Few topics engage the hearts and minds of Detroiters like transportation. Couple that with a heavyweight discussion on how transportation impacts economic development and you have the foundation for one fabulous Model D speaker series.
The heavyweight participants were moderator Achille Bianchi, community manager, writer, and photographer for Mode Shift
; Sue Mosey, president, Midtown Detroit Inc
.; Bob Riney, president and COO of Henry Ford Health System
; Benjamin S. Kennedy, program officer at the Kresge Foundation
; Leslie Smith, president and CEO of TechTown
; Malik Goodwin, vice president of project management at DEGC
; and Jim Geary, owner of Woodbridge Pub
Bianchi kept the conversation sharp and smart from beginning to end. The location of the event, Great Lake Coffee, was the ideal spot to talk about a proposed regional transit future that would likely begin right outside the door on Woodward Avenue, also known as M1.
Mosey addressed the need for a mass transit line as a way for "downtown and Midtown to compete for people who want to live here." Mosey also said: "One of the benefits of a regional transit system is making a greater case for living here."
Kresge's Kennedy echoed those words, saying "We are in a ruthlessly competitive environment with other cities -- for talent, for resources. Buffalo, Austin, Boston: Detroit has to compete against them."
Henry Ford's Riney talked about how the lack of mass transit from Metropolitan Airport to the city hurts efforts to bring medical conventions to Detroit. "Groups want to come to Detroit, but don't like the fact that we can't move people."
The conversation also moved to some basic, more pedestrian needs.
Woodbridge Pub's Geary talked about how his business has attracted walk up and cycling traffic from people in the neighborhood, or down the road apiece in Corktown. One of his concerns was for better lighting and increased safety on the streets. "In Woodbridge, what we need most is streetlights. It goes hand in hand with transit," Geary said. "Mass transit is the next level. If biking feels more comfortable than walking, then we need buses to feel more comfortable than biking."
Another issue that got the attention of the panel was zoning, and how restrictive codes need to be challenged and repealed. Geary, again: "Parking requirements are not urban. The city requires too much parking, which a business like mine doesn't need, and the process takes too long."
Mosey said: "I can't over-emphasize how challenging the layers of zoning can be. They're old, over-complex, and need to be redesigned."
Going big picture, the DEGC's Goodwin talked about "the catalytic effect" that comes from transit investments; and TechTown's Smith said "we need innovation around solutions. What we know is that entrepreneurs solve problems. We need thousands. We can't sit back and hope the feds or the foundations are going to take care of it. There is no single solution, it's ours to solve."