Detroit is arguably the most important urban crucible in which African American identity will be forged in the 21st century. The prospect looms of a black homeland for African Americans who have given up on the possibility of integration with wider society. This chapter explores the degree to which African American culturalidentity conceptions have, in the last quarter-century, influenced the approach to ‘place-making’ in the largest black metropolis of the United States. More narrowly, the focus is on the physical aspects of city development falling within the commonly accepted purview of urban planners, even if such constricting professional horizons are presently subject to critique (Healey, 1999: 119). The relationship of planners in Detroit to the spatial constitution of identity under Mayor Coleman Young (1974-93) is contrasted with that under Detroit’s second black mayor, Dennis Archer (1994-2002). In the face of prevailing racism and economic evacuation of the city Young felt pushed towards a more separatist conception of African American identity. This conception was also spatial and necessarily impinged on the horizons of planners working for the city. Under Archer, African American identity was presented in more integrationist terms. With the departure of Archer from office in 2002 this ship has now sailed. The interpretation of how the planning agenda has been shaped in Detroit by questions of black identity, and of what this says about how planners take their professional cues from forces over which they have limited control, is based on interviews with planners and policy makers conducted in South-east Michigan in the summers of 1999 and 2001. The interpretation is also seasoned by previous employment as an urban planner working for the State of Michigan in the 1970s and 1980s. Based in the State Office of Community Development this work concerned, in the main, policy matters pertaining to Detroit and the region. To some extent the interpretation presented is an attempt to make sense of why, for the most part, planners seem to stand impotent in the face of, or are accused of being implicated in the construction of, urban problems, which in the case of Detroit border on the catastrophic. The chapter proceeds by way of an initial discussion of the currently in-vogue concept of ‘place-making’ followed by a brief review of the wider regional economic and racial reality within

which and against which the shaping of the place that is the city of Detroit continues to struggle. For the most part, as far as Detroit is concerned, these are forces not of place-making but of place-destruction. An overview of ‘identity positions’ and debates within African Americanism and the relationship of this to spatiality is then considered, to better illuminate the differing place-making and urban-planning approaches of Coleman Young and Dennis Archer and the identity tensions with which they were confronted, which they embodied and which remain unresolved. Here Detroit sends out a warning about what can happen in a context of unbridled sprawl where multicultural difference has little common civic identity in which to ground itself. Creating ‘place’ by planners in such circumstances can be but an impoverished affair.