Transitioning to a Knowledge-Based Economy in Detroit


Consider the rivalry between Chicago and Detroit. An outstanding new article by Saskia Sassen examines the differences in economic development between the two cities. Chicago and Detroit both have rich manufacturing histories, but Chicago was able to successfully transition to a knowledge-sharing economy, whereas Detroit has struggled to do so. This, according to Sassen, is evidence that Chicago has “re-embedded its expertise into a knowledge economy.” Chicago’s manufacturing and industrial base were much more varied than Detroit’s. An intriguing thought is posed by Sassen: “What if, before the automotive era, Detroit had a multiplicity of knowledge that may today contribute to a diverse economic basis, ranging from specialized machine crafting to the manufacture of materials?”. In this article we will discuss on Transitioning to a Knowledge-Based Economy in Detroit.

Knowledge Diversity

There is no doubt that an explosion of specialized knowledge is taking place in Detroit. In order to train the next generation of knowledge workers and creators, the city’s education and retraining programs are shifting their focus. Makers, artists, technologists, and entrepreneurs have access to training and co-working spaces thanks to the efforts of forward-thinking organizations like TechShop, Ponyride, D: Hive, TechTown, NextEnergy, M@dison, Mt. Elliot Makerspace, and the Detroit Creative Corridor. Challenge Detroit and the Detroit Revitalization Fellows program are two others that offer leadership development opportunities to people who have either relocated to Detroit or have recently returned. Young women in Detroit are learning to code thanks to Sisters Code. A+ Institutions The city of Detroit is taking a more all-encompassing approach to education by integrating teachers, curricula, and parents. Each of these groups, along with hundreds of others, has taken steps to help Detroit shift to a knowledge-based and new industrial/makers economy. It is unclear if Detroit has begun the transition toward a knowledge-based economy.

Also Read: Transforming Detroit into a Smarter City

Reconciling the Evidence

Education, training, skill development, finance and investment, workspace, mentorship, network building, and other resources from early childhood through higher education must be linked together. Transitioning to a Knowledge-Based Economy in Detroit within a generation is only possible with a comprehensive strategy that focuses on very young leaders. Then, great ideas need access to the resources that will allow them to grow.

The difficulty is in connecting talented people with appropriate opportunities without succumbing to gentrification. Sassen argues that there are significant societal consequences to urbanization’s march toward globalization. Is it possible for a city to make the shift to a knowledge economy without leaving behind a sizable population? Is it possible to phase in the change gradually over the course of a generation or two, so that the majority of people don’t get left out?

The path to a new industrial and knowledge-based economy is arduous and convoluted. It could take several generations. Although, Detroit has come a long way. Besides being an inspiration, Detroit’s innovative spirit, can-do attitude, and unwavering dedication to its rebirth provide a model for other cities throughout the world. Chicago and other global cities should take attention; they are not safe from economic or natural disasters. It serves as an example for the private sector, which, like the government, must occasionally recover from setbacks. Cities, and the people who live in them, are resilient, as futurist and author Andrew Zolli pointed out to me just last week.

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