How did you get to where you are?
I was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska where I lived for 22 years. I studied International Business at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, there, I took several classes in urban planning, including environmental planning and urban economics. These courses, as well as an internship with the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, inspired my fascination with cities and human behavior. So, I decided to get my master's in urban planning at the University of Michigan in 2015. There, I did my capstone for the Downtown Detroit Partnership where I investigated ways that the DDP can incorporate sustainability into its operations.
How do you describe social entrepreneurship and how do you think it relates to urban planning?
This is a great question... especially in the context of a city like Detroit where an economy sorely needs investment for entrepreneurs and creative thinkers to have a place in the change that is happening. I think social entrepreneurship is really the consideration of more than just the profit for a company to be considered successful. It is a philosophy more than a rule. It is predicated on the very requirement that the wealth generated by a company is not only benefitting people and planet, but also sharing and distributing that wealth more fairly so that all people are beneficiaries of the system, not just a few.
However, I always must qualify this by saying that I don't believe social entrepreneurship is the idea that "altruism sells." We should not be social entrepreneurs just because it is cool, trendy, and even sexy to a market of millennials who want to "do good" while justifying their over consumption.
Urban planning must be inclusive of social entrepreneurs to create vibrant, diverse, and creative communities for all the reasons I mentioned above. Because, if we believe that cities and, frankly, our world, are for ALL people, we must enable and allow our communities to be built by community members for the community. I think our cities have the potential to be more wholesome, livable, and safe places for all to live if only we can unleash the capacity of social entrepreneurship. Fortunately, I believe these changes are in the appetite of young urban planners around the world and it's only but a short amount of time before these notions are going to be manifest in planning practice.
Why did you choose to live in Detroit? Why did you choose to work at DDP?
I wanted to live in Detroit, because I see it as my responsibility as an employee that serves the public and public spaces of Detroit to be a resident and stakeholder of these spaces. It's also my first time living in a "big city" and I'm learning a lot about hustle and bustle and vibrancy and culture of what that means.
What is your view on bike culture in the city?
Bike culture is one of the best touch points for all Detroiters. One of the reasons I love it is that it is an equalizing factor for people of all socioeconomic, cultural and racial backgrounds. To me, this is missing in the narrative about bike culture right now in Detroit. Instead of bike lanes or bike services being for any one group of society, the message should be that the more, the better to enhance equity and access around the city. However, this needs to be sensitively addressed since some residents of the city are more concerned about the roof above their head than a fancy new bike lane. There's really a need for better communication and information about these initiatives.
What concerns do you have for the city, specifically related to the revitalization of downtown?
I have a concern that this development is irreverent to the history of the city. Some of the new stores and businesses are not representative of the people who live here. Specifically, in the public realm, it doesn't take much for people to stop thinking that public space is truly public. That's why we are embarking on some extensive community engagement at DDP to better understand what makes people feel a sense of belonging in public space. It's important to make sure that we continue to ask people who are both from Detroit or not, "What makes you want to be in this space?" As long as we are asking these questions and incorporating it into our work, the city can be a place for everyone.
How do you feel about working for an organization that focuses solely on downtown as opposed to other Detroit neighborhoods?
I think a strong Downtown is ever important for a strong city and strong neighborhoods. However, as Downtown continues to develop, I'm getting the itch to take my ideas and implement them elsewhere. This will definitely be an experience that goes unmatched in terms of learning and growing wherever I end up next.