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Vibrant Cities Challenge: Q&A with Phillip Cooley

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Phillip Cooley is a Detroit-based entrepreneur and advocate who's leading a variety of revitalisation efforts in the city. We asked Phillip to share with our OpenIDEO community his thoughts on Detroit, on new experiments for vibrancy – and why listening might just be our most important tool for revitalisation.
Why is the revitalisation of Detroit so important to you?
Detroit is at a unique point in its history. We have the ability to learn from the successes and failures of ourselves and others, and to become a roadmap for cities that have grown towards an unsustainable future. Detroit has the potential to become the first fiscally-sound, environmentally-conscious and socially-just major American city.
Detroit is also a democratic city that allows broad participation. The people are strong, hardworking and innovative. Detroiters are incredibly resourceful and are fortunately forced to collaborate due to difficult times. The citizens and environment make Detroit a perfect place to learn, share and experiment.
We've heard about the warehouse you own at 1401 Vermont Street and the local artists and businesses who work there. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Ponyride is a study to see how the foreclosure crisis can have a positive impact on our communities. Using an 'all boats rise with the tide' rent subsidy, we are able to provide cheap space for socially-conscious artists and entrepreneurs to work and share knowledge, resources and networks. We purchased a 30,000 square-foot warehouse for $100,000 and offer space for $0.10-$0.20 per square-foot, which includes the cost of utilities. We provide a home for a boat maker, 2 furniture makers, 3 build design firms, a hip-hop dance studio, an African drum and dance studio, a ballet and modern dance studio, a fencing studio, a letter press business, a fashion studio, a recording studio, a film collective, a residency program and more to come.
This type of partnership can be encouraged and replicated throughout Detroit and the nation. Even with cheap rents, Ponyride's taxes, mortgage, utilities, insurance and maintenance are covered, so all parties benefit. 
In this challenge we're keen to explore ways for folks to restore vibrancy in their areas through grassroots or low-cost initiatives. What are some small-scale ways people can contribute to revitalisation, even without big budgets?
Sharing experiences and skill sets is as important as money, but you also have to listen. It must be a two-way street for both and either party to benefit. Activating a community is far more beneficial than dropping massive amounts of money in it.
Detroit is a series of small challenges. If you look at Detroit as one massive problem it is overwhelming. When you tackle our issues one at a time, you build momentum as you go, further engaging the community through concrete examples.
What are your favorite tips for motivating other people to get involved in Detroit's revitalisation?
You can't save Detroit. Detroit will save itself.
Follow your passion here and learn the landscape before committing.
Detroiters are the city's most valuable resource, but are often overlooked and therefore some are disconnected.
Collaboration is paramount and realistic.
Clearly these lessons can be applied to revitalisation efforts in cities worldwide. Feeling inspired to incorporate Phillip's thoughts into your concepts? Head over to the Concepting phase to get started.
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making the best of a city that most people have given up on. This is fantastic; not to mention inspiring.

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it is

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