How Detroit organizations and individuals are fighting for mobility equity


Growing up in the city of Detroit and the metro Detroit area, Shavon Edwards had the privilege of always having access to at least one family car. But the experiences of her relatives on the city's East side showed her from a young age that getting around the city wasn't so easy for all Detroiters.

"My granny is deep East, off of Houston Whittier," Edwards says. "She needs to get to appointments very frequently, like going to the doctor. If she doesn't have a ride, she pretty much can't get there. A church member or a family member or one of her friends needs to take her. It's not as accessible for her to take the bus because ... that could take a couple hours. Because she's older, and especially as it gets cold outside, that's not always the ideal way to get where she needs to go."

That's inspired Edwards to join the numerous Detroit individuals and organizations working to improve access to mobility for all Detroiters. In early November Edwards co-organized a Detroit convening for The Untokening, a national collective that aims to center marginalized people's voices in advancing mobility equity.

Edwards, who works as a mobility strategist at engineering consultancy WSP USA, says there are gaps in Detroit's mobility ecosystem that those who are intimately involved in the system often overlook.

"Mobility should be accessible to everyone, regardless of your [ability], your socioeconomic status, or where you're going in the city," she says. "None of that should matter. So we're trying to fill some of those gaps and give people who usually don't have the opportunity to talk about those gaps a chance to talk about them."

Envisioning mobility in 2030

Design students at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) recently had an opportunity to engage with some of those Detroiters who usually don't have a voice in mobility conversations – and apply their skills to creating solutions. That project, 2030 Detroit Equitable Mobility, was a joint effort by CCS, Ford Motor Co., communications agency GTB, and economic development organization Design Core Detroit.

Design Core is the steward of Detroit's UNESCO City of Design designation. Design Core staffers' partners in the UNESCO network originally inspired them to do a project focusing on mobility equity. Working with the project partners, CCS students designed three long-term mobility-related scenarios and solutions focusing on the sub-topics of health, employment, and education and socialization. For example, students came up with the idea of a bus service offering onboard entrepreneurial training services for young adults who find themselves losing time – and personal opportunity – to a long commute.

In the second phase of the project, students engaged in co-creation sessions where they worked directly with ordinary Detroiters at nonprofit Focus: HOPE to identify their mobility needs and priorities. Ellie Schneider, director of advocacy and operations at Design Core, says that yielded some surprises for the students.