Forum to offer lessons from redevelopment of Detroit

ERIE, Pa. — “In Detroit, there is always a next project,” the novelist Reif Larsen wrote in a November travel dispatch for The New York Times. “There is space to dream big in Detroit … and this is part of the reason it feels like the most exciting city in America right now.”

Much of what is being done to reinvent Detroit’s urban core — Slow Roll bike clubs, micro-farm lots, public art projects, greenway parks — could have similar impact in Erie, said Larsen, who will discuss the transformation of urban spaces during a two-day public-policy forum at Penn State Behrend on March 19 and 20.

The two-day program, “Revitalizing the Rust Belt: Lessons from Detroit,” also will include photos and discussion by Andrew Moore, whose 2010 book, “Detroit Disassembled,” artfully documented the deterioration of abandoned high schools and automobile factories. A panel discussion envisioning “The 21st Century American City” will follow Larsen’s talk. The full schedule is below.

The Detroit program formally launches the Public Policy Fund at Penn State Behrend, an outreach effort of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. The fund is a community resource that will provide research-based policy solutions for leaders in Erie and similar communities in the Great Lakes and Ohio River Basin areas.

“Our goal is to provide empirically sound policy solutions to the issues that are most important to the Erie region,” said Caitlin Handerhan, the fund’s executive director. “In doing so, we hope to promote interdisciplinary approaches and emphasize the importance of research-driven policy decisions.”

The fund will use experts, including faculty members at Penn State Behrend, to research specific policy issues, such as economic inequality and community development. An interdisciplinary panel with members from each of Erie County’s universities will review research proposals from students and faculty members, whose work on policy issues will be made available to the public via an online Policy Review journal.

Redevelopment successes in Detroit can inform policy discussions here in Erie, Handerhan said. “The city is a perfect case study,” she said. “Like Erie, it had a 20th century manufacturing base. With that come the challenges of aging infrastructure and the need to adapt the urban environment for a younger population, which expects different things from a city.

“Much of what Detroit is doing to reimagine abandoned spaces could also work in Erie,” she said. “We’re doing innovative things here, and a lot of it is working. Erie is moving forward. Seeing what has worked in another city is one more way to keep that going.”

The following Public Policy Fund programs in the “Revitalizing the Rust Belt: Lessons from Detroit” forum are free and open to the public:

Monday, March 19:

Photographer Andrew Moore will discuss the impact of the photos in his 2010 book, “Detroit Disassembled” at 7 p.m. in McGarvey Commons, in the college’s Reed Union Building.

Tuesday, March 20:

Novelist and New York Times contributor Reif Larsen will discuss “The 21st American City: Habitats of Contact” at 7 p.m. in McGarvey Commons.

A panel discussion about envisioning the 21st Century American city will begin at 8 p.m. in McGarvey Commons. Panelists include Larsen; Kathy Wyrosdick, planning director for the city of Erie; Anthony Bango, assistant director of the Metro West Community Development Office in Cleveland; and Junia Howell, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh.

For more information about “Revitalizing the Rust Belt: Lessons from Detroit” or the Public Policy Fund at Penn State Behrend, contact Caitlin Handerhan at or 814-812-1434.

Media Contacts: 
Last Updated March 13, 2018