Social entrepreneurship is so vital to the world because countless human-centered issues exist in our global society today. Innovation is what has been continuously improving the quality of human life since we first existed on the planet, and there are still many issues in different parts of the world that need to be addressed. However, social entrepreneurship by no means has to reach such a global scale; many successful examples of social entrepreneurship began by addressing a need in a local community.
This cannot be more true for Detroit. Throughout my time in the city so far, I have observed social innovation in Detroit that reflects its unique history as the center of the American automobile industry. Since the introduction of the automobile to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, cars have defined life in Detroit. The “Big Three” American automobile companies- Ford, General Motors, and Chrystler- all had their corporate headquarters and manufacturing sites in the Detroit metro area. Countless numbers of cars rolled out of the plants each day and into the paved roads of the city. These vehicles were fast and cool, not to mention designed right in their city; thus, it was no surprise that they became the main form of transportation for Detroiters. Beginning in the late 1920s, the streetcar system that had been in place for decades was gradually replaced with buses, and countless more personal vehicles. The city had become built for cars.
Though it seemed like a good idea at the time, this action ended up serving as a huge detriment to the city. While many European and Asian countries began building new high-speed rail systems starting after WWII, Detroit was still left with automobiles as the only form of transportation. Even other major American cities like New York, Chicago, and DC had large-scale metro systems as an alternative to cars. Automobile traffic was clogging up the roads in Detroit, but unlike in other cities, there was no other transportation option. Neighborhoods were disconnected as a result of freeway construction and those who could not afford to own a car had a very difficult time getting anywhere, creating pockets of poverty in many parts of Detroit. However, because the Big Three auto companies had such a huge influence in the city, few people advocated for better public transit and Detroit remained a car-oriented city.
Today, Detroiters still rely on cars to get from place to place. Buses are an option for public transit, but they remain unreliable. Carbon emissions are as high as ever. The QLINE, a new streetcar system, only runs for 3 miles on a single street, Woodward Avenue. However, a new plan called the Joe Louis Greenway seeks to combat these issues. I first observed this plan on a poster on the refrigerator at the MoGo office. The Joe Louis Greenway is a 31.5 mile-long biking and walking trail that extends from the Detroit Riverfront to Highland Park, Dearborn, and Hamtramck, with the first phase set to be completed in 2022. When completed, it will provide a place for people of all abilities to safely walk, bike, and run while connecting neighborhoods, commercial centers, jobs, and public transit. It is a fantastic idea that will definitely make Detroit a greener, more sustainable place to live in and serve as a nice transportation alternative for people in the city. Walkability and interconnectedness of neighborhoods are some of the most important factors for a successful city, and it makes me happy that Detroit is moving towards that. The Joe Louis Greenway is a great example of social innovation in Detroit: it addresses the decades-long need in the city of decreasing car-dependency and is inherently human-centered in design. It also shows how social entrepreneurship is not just limited to private businesses; in this case, it is the cooperation between a coalition network and the city government that is making this huge leap. I’m looking forward to seeing the impact the Greenway will make on the people of Detroit once it is completed.