More than a decade ago, the Michigan Suburbs Alliance was formed to represent the interests of metro Detroit’s neglected inner ring suburbs. We’ve served those cities by helping them work together when it makes sense locally and benefits the whole region, in areas like development, sustainability, transit, and civic engagement. Our member communities have been trailblazers on intergovernmental collaboration, making the most of perpetually strained budgets through truly innovative partnerships and governance models.
But the way that these communities can achieve lasting success is different than we originally imagined. Our region’s greatest wins in recent years have come about through the collaboration of diverse constituencies—local government, yes, but also business leaders, civic leaders, and advocacy organizations.
For example, transit in this region couldn’t have been catalyzed without the business community committing to build M1-Rail; it can’t be sustained without the Regional Transit Authority as an institution; and the RTA wouldn’t exist without the civic infrastructure that fought for decades for its creation. Individually, any of these efforts is laudable but limited. Together, however, they created a real opportunity to transform our region for the better. We see the need for a different organization to help discover and advance more of these opportunities.
We plan to become that organization. Our core philosophy has always been that our interdependence is our greatest strength; that is, if we can recognize and build on our commonalities rather than our divisions, our potential as a region is unlimited. Up until now, we’ve applied it as a coalition of local governments. From now on, we’ll expand our work to better unify metro Detroit’s diverse leadership around smart regional solutions.
A Broader Coalition
Our first meaningful step toward becoming a truly regional organization was to partner with the City of Detroit on a number of initiatives, which we’ve been doing now for several years. As leaders of the BetterBuildings for Michigan program we helped win more than $10M to upgrade energy efficiency of Detroit homes and businesses. We sat at the table to write the legislation that established the RTA, an historic achievement that brings us closer to bridging the city/suburb divide. Detroit recently voted to join our Millennial Mayors Congress, and appointed the first young person to represent the city in our regional discussions between elected officials and emerging leaders. We continue to advocate for municipal finance reform, and stand strong for all communities that face the same challenges that contributed to Detroit’s bankruptcy.
Building on our successes with Detroit, we’re making changes to help us better serve the entire metropolitan area. Over the coming weeks, we’ll share these changes, including an updated mission statement, new partnerships and programming, and a national advisory committee of experts that will help us lead the metropolitan revolution here in metro Detroit.
But perhaps most critically, we need to diversify our organization to better reflect the entire region. Over the years, our staff and board have been primarily white leaders accountable to suburban local government. We can’t claim to be a regional organization and not talk about race or engage our business and civic institutions in addressing our challenges.
We’re actively working to better engage a much more diverse set of voices, and in short order will announce new board members. This will not only demonstrate our commitment to diversity and our understanding of the region, it will also provide a diversity of thought and experience to help us do better work for metro Detroit.
A New Strategy
Even as we walk the regionalism walk, one glaring mismatch between our beliefs and our practices stares us in the face: our identity. The Michigan Suburbs Alliance was the perfect descriptor for our organization at its inception, but simply put, it doesn’t work anymore. When we say “we are one”, it says “we are separate”. When we say “Detroit is the heart of region”, it cuts us off with “but you are the suburbs”. When we proclaim the metropolitan space is our home and municipal borders are meant to be crossed, it insists that our borders define us.