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The Brookings Plan for Detroit

Next Thursday, some 150 city leaders, business types, activists, planners, and educators will gather to discuss the future of Detroit with experts from the Brookings Institute, the Washington, DC think tank. It should be a lively session: moderated by TIME Managing Editor Rick Stengel and Bruce Katz, Brookings' director of metropolitan policy, the discussion will be led by panelists Mayor Dave Bing, Carol Goss, CEO of the Skillman Foundation, and Steve Hamp, chairman of the New Economy Initiative. Katz, with Jennifer Bradley, wrote a piece in the December issue of the New Republic outlining the basics of a plan forward for the metropolitan area. And guess what? They're hopeful; after all, they write, if Belfast can come back, why not Detroit?

Belfast received the same sort of hammer blow from globalization as Detroit, but it now has steady job growth after decades of losses.

That's just the beginning of the unusual, helpful comparisons. Katz and Bradley cite Bilbao, Leipzig, and especially Turin, the home of Italian auto manufacturing, as examples for Detroit to follow. Like others, the authors believe a revival will take at least a decade, and they believe that there's no recovery without a considerable bailout from Washington.

The article's a sober, cautious piece. But for me it raises a central question: How long can Detroit wait to adopt a clear roadmap forward? Mayor Bing is trying to set the city's budget right first, obviously. But even if the end goal is 20 years off, don't Detroiters need a vision of where they're headed?

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