The idea for a “Detroit School of Urban Studies” began with a 2011 proposal to hire a cluster of urban studies faculty at the University of Michigan. The authors argued that as an exemplar of urban decline and racial injustice, the Detroit region “poses questions that older schools of urban studies no longer adequately address.” Noting that “major breakthroughs in urban studies have tended to occur when groups of scholars work together in loose association but with a focus on the cumulative understanding of a particular geography,” the authors called for hiring four new faculty members whose research would focus on metropolitan Detroit. This proposal lead to new positions in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, the School of Social Work, the Department of Sociology, and the Urban and Regional Planning Program.
The “Detroit School” lecture series was launched to complement the cluster hire and bring faculty and students together from across disciplines to interact and share their work related to Detroit and Detroit-like places. In 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, leading scholars were invited to Michigan to comment on the following questions: “Is it time to establish a Detroit School of Urban Studies? If so, what defines it? How does thinking about Detroit-like cities change the questions we ask and the answers we pursue in the many disciplines that contribute to urban studies? What do we gain by rallying a community of scholars under the Detroit School banner? What do we lose?”
The lecture series culminated in a Michigan Meeting called Learning from Detroit: Turbulent Urbanism in the 21st Century. The conference proposal asked: “What can scholars around the world learn from Detroit that can inform a theoretical, but also a practical, understanding of the turbulent post-industrial urbanism of the late 20th and early 21st centuries?” The panels were recorded and are viewable on YouTube.
Since 2015, the “Detroit School” series has continued on as a Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop. The workshop invites experts and researchers from around the country to share their experiences in and in-progress research on Detroit and cities facing similar disinvestment and decline. The workshops have included panel discussions on what it means to “Teach Detroit” in higher education classrooms, book launches for Rebecca Kinney, Amy Haimerl, and Tiya Miles, a symposium on how Michigan cities are positioning themselves for the next century, and talks on community-based design and avenues to maintain residents’ rights to the city. The workshop also organizes doctoral student writing workshops for students writing dissertations on Detroit.
The series is led by three doctoral student co-coordinators: Rob Pfaff, Ph.D. student in Urban Planning; Alexa Eisenberg, Ph.D. student in Public Health, and Jasmine Simington, Ph.D. student in Sociology and Public Policy;. Professor Emerita of Urban and Regional Planning Margaret Dewar and LSA Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Professor Angela Dillard (Residential College and Department of Afroamerican and African Studies) serve as faculty advisors. We thank the Rackham Graduate School for their generous support of the series.