I thought I should say a few words to start about what I intend to write here and why.
As a Ph.D. student, I am privileged to spend most of my time reading, researching, and writing about the issues I care most about. In my case, that means the challenges faced by cities like Detroit—challenges like deciding how to target public investment to neighborhoods and how to generate the governing capacity to provide the services that residents deserve. By intention, these are issues of pressing public concern. I have many interests—not all related to planning, policy, or places in decline!—but in deciding what to study, I seek out the major issues that need to be confronted if we’re ever going to create more equitable cities and regions in the United States. I’m not looking to “save” or “solve” the cities I study, but I do hope to inform public discussion by analyzing the grounds upon which policy decisions are made and the consequences those decisions have as implemented.
That puts me in the business of public scholarship. Yet the standard academic career affords surprisingly few opportunities to make knowledge public. The incentives point in the other direction, toward the cloistered pages of peer-reviewed journals. While peer review is important, and publication in peer-reviewed journals must be, at this stage in my career, my primary goal, my work can’t inform public discussion if the public never sees it. Thus why I use Twitter, and thus why I’m starting this blog. On Twitter, I post links and brief comments on the most compelling stories I read every day. It helps me keep track of trends and new information, and I hope it helps others make sense of what’s going on in Detroit and cities like it. You can follow at @rethinkdetroit. On this blog I’ll be sharing some of own my thinking as I read and work through my dissertation and other research projects.
I take inspiration from the rare writers, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, who not only write for a public audience but also learn in public, letting others witness and influence the evolution of their thinking as their work comes together. Coates’s blog is not just an outlet for promoting his published work; it’s an open journal where he works through the questions that vex him as he writes. To the extent I’m willing to let my guard down, I will be blogging here in that spirit. In fact, I suspect it is the only viable way to approach blogging as a scholar. The demands of a doctoral program are such that any activity that feels extraneous, however personally rewarding, will ultimately be neglected. Knowing that, if I find, as I hope, that blogging pushes me to write more often and advance my thinking, then I will keep blogging. If it proves to be a burdensome “extra,” I will stop.
This blog then represents an experiment of sorts to see if I can construct the kind of career I’d like to have, starting now, at the beginning of candidacy, when I have the time and the will to do so. This may prove hopelessly ambitious and the experiment short lived. But I think it’s worth trying.