The goal of this project is to interlink or “stitch” back the city through a transformation of the automobile manufacturing industry. The city is like a quilt, with some patches in very poor shape and some doing quite well. These patches together form a quilt that is not functioning well. Some seams are loose, and are letting cold air in. Others do not have a strong connection to the patch next door, because either the stitches that hold them together are tattered and worn, or the patches do not complement each other. The quilt is bigger than just Detroit, it has stitches with the State of Michigan, the Rust Belt, and the greater planet as a whole. Once all of the stitches are working well with each other, the quilt can function properly.
The automobile industry in Detroit is tattered and needs a vision that will transcend it into the modern era. Automobiles of today are more about the looks, gas mileage and the gadgets in them than anything else. In the middle of the 19th century the automobile provided very little, mainly a way for transportation. Today, the automobile is becoming a mobile office and family entertainment center in addition to this mode of transportation that it has always provided. The automobile is more of a technological gadget than it ever has been. A greater number of electronic parts and instrumentation are jammed into automobiles every day, so much so that people who used to be able to work on their own vehicles are being forced to take them to a mechanic when they are having trouble. The auto mechanic is going to need an engineering degree in the future in order to work on these cars.
What is it going to take to pull Detroit out of the funk that the city has sustained over the last 40 years? Urban plans such as high speed rail, cultural museums, park space and the like have no chance of reviving the city’s pride and stopping the bleeding that is devastating the city’s urban core. Not to mention that the city has no money and is having to cut essential surfaces like police, fire and community services. What the city needs is a flood of ideas and innovation. This can be achieved through advancing the city into the digital age. The automobile manufacturing industry needs an infusion of digital technology, one that brings innovative advancement to the American car makers. These advancements go beyond the things we know today, they push the envelope and bring new creative blood to the design table. So how does this Technology Think Tank work?
In some instances, this type of process is often called a business incubator. Similar to a business incubator, this process will aid in the ushering in of ideas and creative mind-set that is necessary to maintain a business in today’s society. The only difference is that this incubation process focuses on the advancement of technology, which in turn should aid the progress of the business influenced by the process. For Detroit, the biggest downfall of the city has been the one-trick pony aspect of the manufacturing industry. Although the automobile industry has brought so much prosperity to the city, it has been the single issue with the exodus the city has experienced in recent years. The technology think tank will cultivate new ideas, which will immediately help the automobile industry, as well as usher in new industries to the city. This will provide an opportunity for diversification that is much needed in this region of the country.
How does this project work? The project starts with the introduction of a mobile think tank that is located in a degraded area of the city. The mobile structure is designed to quickly establish a presence in the city. During the time this mobile structure is established, a community committee establishes a consortium of members and stakeholders from critical organizations. This kick starts the process of creativity and gets people excited and invested into the process. Any and all interested people are invited to be involved in this process.
Following the establishment of the mobile technology laboratory, a permanent Technology Education Center is established that will provide long term support to the community through education, community outreach and collaborative support to industry. This collaborative effort provides much needed technological education to residents and cultivates a breeding ground for future innovators and entrepreneurs. The construction of the TEC utilizes vacant or abandoned space located around the mobile laboratory. The mobile laboratory and the TEC work hand-in-hand and feed off of each other. The presence of construction invigorates the team and in turn the think tank provides insight into the type of programs and education that is provided at the Technology Education Center.
This initial investment spent on TEC aids in the long-term reinvestment of the manufacturing industry, which in turn will aid in restoring the city fabric and reviving residential communities. Like an electronic circuit, all of these elements depend on each other and are interconnected through a network of necessary pieces such as education, funding, and inspiration.
What is the goal of the Technology Education Center? The Technology Education Center is the lifeblood of this project. The TEC is designed to engage a collaborative effort between industry and education. The TEC is like a cooperative, educating employees of industry who can then provide innovation to the industry as a whole. This education gives more arsenal to those who work in Detroit who can then provide new industrial possibilities outside of the automobile industry. Detroit then becomes something more than just the Motor City. The intent is not to draw the city away from its roots, but rather revive and transcend the city beyond automobiles.
In his book “Triumph of the City”, Edward Glaesner says, “If Detroit and places like it are ever going to come back, they will do so by embracing the virtues of the great pre- and postindustrial cities: competition, connection, and human capital. The Rust belt will be reborn only if it can break from its recent past, which has left it with a vast housing stock for which there is little demand, a single major industry that is dominated by a few major players, and problematic local politics. Beneath these cities’ recent history lies an instructive older story of connection and creativity, which provide the basis for reinvention. To understand Detroit’s predicament and its potential, we must compare the city’s great and tragic history with the story of other cities, like New York, that have successfully weathered industrial decline.”
So much of the industry of Detroit is based on analog processes that have been perfected for decades. The education of digital technologies will infuse the city with new opportunities. The education at the TEC is meant to digitally transcend the manufacturing community, most importantly its people, into a fabrication community.
The community becomes less focused on the direct manufacturing of the vehicles and turns its attention to fabrication of parts and electronics that supplement the automobile industry. These parts can be put into American vehicles as well as exported to foreign auto makers, thus expanding the market. At the same time, these fabrication communities can cultivate new ideas that other industries are begging for. All of this provides the diverse community the city needs, provides a larger number of higher paying jobs to its residents, and prevents the elimination of the city through economic downturns.
Who are the partners?
The lifeblood of the project may be the TEC, but the success is solely dependent on the educational and industry partners that provide the resources and dedication to the process. The Technology Education Center is meant to be a collaborative effort of education and industry. Together the sharing of knowledge, resources and innovation can flow back and forth, each providing opportunities for the other, as well as advancing the education of the people of Detroit.
Detroit is blessed with education providers within its city limits as well as some just outside the city. Wayne State University is located just north of downtown. Detroit Mercy has a campus in the north region of the city as well as a satellite building located downtown. The University of Michigan has a campus located in Dearborn, just north of the Ford manufacturing plants. Additionally, there are opportunities for community colleges and high schools to get involved as the process grows.
Initial industry investments include Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, all of which call Detroit home. Additional industry involvement will expand with the introduction of new technologies and interest in the Detroit region. Other manufacturing companies located outside of the city could include Dow Chemical, Whirlpool, Steelcase and Herman Miller.