Fortune

MAKING A MOTOWN MIRACLE

JAMIE DIMON HAD A FRONT-ROW SEAT FOR DETROIT’S COLLAPSE. NOW HE AND JPMORGAN CHASE ARE FUELING THE CITY’S REVIVAL. THEIR STRATEGY IS A BLUEPRINT FOR REBUILDING AMERICA’S CITIES.
MOTOR CITY VISION JPMorgan has helped Detroit make headway against some dire economic challenges. “We could do Detroit in three or four places a year, and we could do a ‘Detroit lite’ in another 10,” says Dimon.

THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF storefronts on this stretch of Detroit’s West McNichols Road: Boarded-up and “Why isn’t this boarded up?” Most of the one- and two-story buildings are clad in drab painted plywood or the gunmetal gray of security shutters. At 10:30 on a Thursday morning, the liquor store on the corner of San Juan is the only business with noticeable traffic—unless you count the one being run out of the Honda coupe idling at a bus stop. The driver is conducting a cash-for-something-in-a-sandwich-bag transaction with a passerby, both of them oblivious to the horn blasts from the westbound Number 30 whose space they occupy.

It’s a tableau that epitomizes what people who don’t live in Detroit imagine when they think about Detroit. It’s the picture you might conjure when you read that the city’s population has shrunk by 60% since World War II, or when you see 50th-anniversary remembrances of the riots of 1967. It’s an almost-perfect image of Rust Belt stagnation; the only detail missing from the stereotype is that none of the shuttered stores is actually on fire.

But the real Detroit is not a blank canvas for apocalyptic visions of decline—and neither is McNichols Road. Along with nearby Livernois Avenue, McNichols is a main artery of a residential area that has stayed healthy through all of Detroit’s well-publicized woes. It’s within walking distance of thousands of middle-income households—and within six blocks of two college campuses and a hospital, “anchor employers” supporting decent-paying jobs.

That’s why a coalition of Detroiters wants to turn this unlikely tract into an economic hub—part of a “20-minute neighborhood” where residents could find shopping, restaurants, recreation, and jobs within a short walk from their homes. A developer plans to take over more than 100 abandoned houses and renovate or replace them, creating mixed-income housing along a “greenway” park that will link the college campuses. And nonprofit groups are acquiring some of these blank-faced storefronts, aiming to remake them to host small businesses owned by local entrepreneurs who would hire locally—creating opportunities where they’ve long been absent.

A few blocks north, Melinda Clemons shows off a bigger building on a corner lot. This was once a B. Siegel department store, the centerpiece of a stretch of Livernois known as the Avenue of Fashion. B. Siegel closed in the 1970s; the last tenant, a dollar store, fled in 2005. But Clemons is overseeing a project that could turn this vacant hulk into its own mini-neighborhood: a cluster of 10 sunny two-bedroom lofts, sitting atop a parade of street-level restaurants and boutiques. Clemons, who spent her toddler years nearby, gestures down a scrappy block lined with diners,

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