Former Twin Cities Leader Aims to Revitalize Detroit

The Kresge Foundation, led by former McKnight Foundation President Rip Rapson, unveiled a 50-year blueprint for Detroit and pledged $150 million to help revitalize the ailing city.

Former Twin Cities Leader Aims to Revitalize Detroit

Richard “Rip” Rapson—a one-time Minneapolis mayoral candidate and former president of the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation—is spearheading an effort to revitalize the struggling industrial city of Detroit.

Rapson’s leadership roles in the Twin Cities spanned many sectors. He was a partner at Minneapolis law firm Leonard, Street and Deinard before becoming deputy mayor of Minneapolis under Mayor Don Fraser, a role in which he helped pioneer a $400 million neighborhood revitalization plan.

He then served as a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota before joining the McKnight Foundation, Minnesota’s largest private foundation, which he led as president for six years. During his tenure at the foundation, Rapson launched numerous initiatives aimed at strengthening the region, including one that brought together government, business, and higher education leaders.

Rapson, the son of renowned architect Ralph Rapson, also helped launch the Itasca Project, a Twin Cities-based group composed primarily of local CEOs who aim to address regional economic and social issues.

In 2006, Rapson took the reins as president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation, a $3.1 billion private foundation headquartered in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Michigan. After years of supporting the region, his foundation has now introduced a comprehensive plan aimed at bringing Detroit, which has been plagued by growing fiscal issues and population decline, back to life.

The Kresge Foundation—the 17th-largest U.S. grant-making foundation based on assets, according to the New York-based Foundation Center—recently released a 357-page blueprint for the city’s future. The plan, dubbed “Detroit Future City,” calls for the foundation to invest roughly $150 million over the next five years.

The plan, which was two years in the making, was kick-started by Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and incorporates information gleaned from community meetings, surveys, and conversations with more than 30,000 Detroit residents.

The blueprint focuses on ways to transform the city’s land use, neighborhoods, economic development, and other elements over the course of five decades. Residents would benefit from the plan’s new transit options, more diverse housing offerings, and expanded park system. Vacant land would be brought to life with “green” landscapes, and the city would feature “stately boulevards, open green space, urban woodlands, ponds and streams,” and many other new elements.

To view the complete Detroit Future City plan, click here.

Urban planners have said that similar plans have had disappointing outcomes, as they were put aside by cities struggling to find the resources and political support to implement a long-term vision, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. Some community leaders, meanwhile, are reportedly skeptical about how the plan will improve the lives of average Detroit residents.

But Robin Boyle, chairman of the department of urban studies and planning at Wayne State University in Detroit, told The Wall Street Journal that the blueprint put forth by The Kresge Foundation is encouraging, and it “has the opportunity to set a new direction and a new tone that the city has to be smaller, tighter, and more dense.”

Rapson seems confident that the plan will continue to gain support. “I don’t think there’s any question that this will have real traction,” he said in a statement, adding that he expects the plan to “draw attention and capital.”

“This framework will be held by, stewarded, and grounded in the community,” he added. “It will continue to serve the community for decades.”

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